11 Apr Medicinal Cannabis in Australia
Medical Cannabis in Australia – Access, Eligibility in Australia
Medical cannabis is an emerging topic in the Australian medical world. According to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 6.8% of Australians have used cannabis as a form of treatment, with 1 in 2 people using medical cannabis for treating chronic pain.
Over the years, there has been a rising interest in medical cannabis in Australia, especially with more people attesting that this alternative treatment has helped patients suffering from pain and other chronic medical conditions live a better quality of life. Although cannabis was considered illegal for many years in the country, there have been several changes to the laws in Australia.
What is medical cannabis?
Medical cannabis is essentially a medication that contains cannabinoids that come from the cannabis plant. Although there are 100 types of cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, two are most commonly used for medical cannabis: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
CBD has been used to treat various conditions, especially chronic pain, without any intoxicating effects. THC is also used in some medical cannabis medications.
In Australia, there are more than 100 medical cannabis products available in the market today. These medications come in the form of pills, oils and dried products and can mostly be taken by mouth. They also contain CBD and/or THC.
Medical cannabis is most commonly used for chronic pain unrelated to cancer, including nerve pain, neck pain, lower back pain, and arthritic pain. Some cannabis doctors also prescribe medical cannabis for treating epilepsy, anxiety, insomnia, multiple sclerosis and pain, nausea and vomiting, and poor appetite related to cancer.
What are the legalities of medical cannabis in Australia?
Cannabis used for recreational purposes is strictly prohibited in all the states and territories of Australia except ACT. This is why the topic of using medical cannabis can still be sensitive to some since “cannabis” is illegal in the country. That is why you don’t hear a lot of people asking “what is medical cannabis?” and openly converse about it.
However, the use of medical cannabis is legal all around the country as long as the product is prescribed by a qualified cannabis doctor and tested for its quality, efficiency and safety. This is the primary difference between medical and recreational cannabis.
Medical Cannabis Eligibility Criteria in Australia
Each state in Australia has its own eligibility criteria for medical cannabis. Here is a breakdown of the criteria for each state.
New South Wales (NSW)
Patients in New South Wales (NSW) can now access medical cannabis with a doctor’s prescription, but it is not a decision to be taken lightly. While any doctor can prescribe cannabis medicine, it should only be considered as a treatment option if deemed appropriate by the prescribing doctor and after obtaining the relevant authorities.
It is important for patients to have a good working relationship with their usual treating doctor, as they will be responsible for overseeing their overall care and ensuring their safety. If a different doctor is prescribing cannabis medicine, it is crucial that they communicate with the patient’s regular doctor to avoid any potential risks. There are still many unknown factors surrounding medical cannabis, such as how it may interact with other medications, and what side effects may occur.
Ultimately, patients should carefully consider the potential benefits and risks of medical cannabis before deciding if it is the right treatment option for them. It is important to have open and honest discussions with their doctors, weigh the available evidence, and make informed decisions together.
In Victoria, doctors and nurse practitioners are only able to prescribe medicinal cannabis for patients with specific medical conditions that have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Furthermore, patients in Victoria who wish to access medicinal cannabis must first obtain approval from the TGA and the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. This approval process involves an application from the patient’s doctor, detailing the patient’s medical condition and why medicinal cannabis is considered a suitable treatment option.
Any patient with any medical condition can potentially benefit from medicinal cannabis, as any registered medical practitioner is authorised to prescribe it if they believe it to be clinically appropriate and have obtained the necessary Commonwealth approval. This means that patients who may have exhausted traditional treatment options or those who may benefit from alternative treatment options now have access to medicinal cannabis as a potential therapeutic option. It is important for patients to have open and honest discussions with their healthcare provider to determine if medicinal cannabis may be an appropriate treatment option for their specific condition.
Thanks to federal legislative changes that took effect in November 2016 and the implementation of a patient access pathway, patients in South Australia can now access medicinal cannabis as a treatment option. This pathway allows authorized medical practitioners to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients, which can then be dispensed by pharmacists. This means that patients who suffer from chronic or debilitating conditions that may have previously been difficult to manage can now access a potentially effective treatment option that has shown promising results in alleviating symptoms. However, it’s important for patients to have an open and honest discussion with their healthcare provider to determine if medicinal cannabis is an appropriate treatment option for their specific condition.
Patients in Western Australia (WA) who are considering medicinal cannabis as a treatment option should be aware that all medicinal cannabis products must comply with the Medicines and Poisons legislation, just like other S4 and S8 medicines. This ensures that patients receive safe and effective treatment that meets the same high standards as other prescription medications. In addition, medicinal cannabis can only be prescribed by a medical practitioner who has undergone specific training and has a good understanding of the potential risks and benefits associated with its use.
Patients in Tasmania who are considering medicinal cannabis as a treatment option should be aware that their application for access will be assessed based on their medical history, current condition, and evidence of previous attempts with conventional treatments. The approval process also requires providing scientific evidence that supports the use of medicinal cannabis for the patient’s specific condition or symptoms, as required by the TGA. This ensures that patients who may benefit from medicinal cannabis receive safe and effective treatment that is supported by scientific evidence.
For patients in the Northern Territory who are considering medicinal cannabis as a treatment option, it’s important to note that medical cannabis pharmaceuticals are prescription medicines that require assessment by a medical practitioner. General practitioners (GPs) may refer patients to a specialist for further advice and support before making a decision to prescribe a medicinal cannabis pharmaceutical. It’s also important to understand that a doctor must obtain approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration before issuing a prescription or supplying a medicinal cannabis pharmaceutical that is not on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. This ensures that patients receive safe and effective treatment that meets the same high standards as other prescription medications.
Australian Capital Territory
For patients in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) who are considering medicinal cannabis as a treatment option, it’s important to note that certain formulations of medicinal cannabis may be legally prescribed. However, it’s also important to understand that most medicinal cannabis formulations in Australia are unapproved therapeutic goods and have not been assessed by the TGA for safety, quality, or effectiveness.
To access unapproved medicinal cannabis products, prescribers may apply to the TGA through the Special Access Scheme (SAS) or Authorised Prescriber Scheme. Some medicinal cannabis products, such as nabiximols (Sativex®), are approved by the TGA for use in Australia and are included on the ARTG. It’s also important to note that medicinal cannabis products may be available as either schedule 8 (controlled), schedule 4 (prescription only), or schedule 3 (pharmacist only) medicines, depending on the type and concentration of active ingredient(s) they contain.
Patients who are considering medicinal cannabis should have an open and honest discussion with their healthcare provider to determine if it is an appropriate treatment option for their individual needs.
Medical cannabis in Australia continues to be a growing area of interest, with more people exploring it as a treatment option for chronic pain and other medical conditions. The use of medical cannabis is legal in Australia, but there are strict eligibility criteria and approval processes in place to ensure its quality, efficiency and safety. Patients need to discuss their medical history and conditions with a qualified cannabis doctor or a consultant to determine if medicinal cannabis is an appropriate treatment option for their specific needs. With the continued research and advancements in the field, it is likely that medical cannabis will become an increasingly viable option for patients in the future.