Medical Cannabis in Australia – a Growing Industry

Medical cannabis in Australia is fast becoming an alternative option for many patients struggling with conventional medicine. Eligibility in Australia is quite straightforward, although many patients and doctors are still unclear about this.

Medical cannabis has been legal in Australia since 2016. However many people are still surprised to learn this and there is much confusion about who is eligible to access this treatment. This is party due to many misconceptions about the use of medical cannabis and the stigma attached.

Healthy not High

Medical cannabis contains many different cannabinoids, the most famous being CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). Using cannabis therapeutically is not about getting high.

If appropriate, doctors prescribe THC in small quantities and always advise patients to ‘start low and go slow’, meaning start with a very low amount and slowly increase the dose until you either begin to feel relief from your symptoms or experience a side effect.

In fact, the most commonly reported side effect for those patients at our clinic who are prescribed THC is drowsiness. Please note this is not medical advice and you should always speak with your prescribing doctor when initiating treatment.

How do I Qualify for Medical Cannabis in Australia?

With a few exceptions, the vast majority of medical cannabis products are generally unregistered products in Australia meaning they are not listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.

This means doctors cannot just simply write a prescription but need to apply to the TGA via the Special Access Scheme for authority to prescribe unregistered products.

Doctors need to do this on a case by case basis but also on a product by product basis. So if you have approval to be prescribed one product, your doctor will still need to re-apply to prescribe a different product.

Some doctors have obtained Authorised Prescriber status, which means they can prescribe specific unregistered products for specific conditions, however new medical cannabis products are entering the market all the time so there is still quite a lot of work involved for doctors to stay on top of the paperwork.

Not a First Line Treatment

The TGA requires patients to have trialed conventional medication before being eligible for medical cannabis. A common misconception is that you have to have exhausted all available medications and treatments.

This is not true as the TGA only requires that medical cannabis is not a first line treatment, meaning if you’ve trialed one or two conventional medications, you are most likely eligible. We also have a quick medical cannabis eligibility test here if you would like to find out more.

If you have trialed at least one conventional medication and it has failed to fully relieve your symptoms or has caused side effects you would be generally eligible for medical cannabis treatment.

Keep in mind there are various formulations of medical cannabis and you may still only be eligible for certain formulations depending on your condition. For example, those patients with cardiovascular conditions or schizophrenia may not be eligible for formulations containing THC.

This is why its important to speak with a doctor regarding your unique condition so that they can help tailor the most appropriate treatment for you. To learn more about the various types of medical cannabis formulations click here.

Which Conditions are Eligible for Medical Cannabis Prescriptions?

Another common misconception is that there are certain conditions that affect medical cannabis eligibility, e.g., (Multiple Sclerosis, Epilepsy etc.) This is also not true as there is no specific list and the TGA will consider any condition that has not responded to conventional treatment.

The list of conditions that the TGA have approved on a case by case basis for medical cannabis is long and includes:

Epilepsy / Seizure management, ADHD symptoms, Fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s disease, Glaucoma, Anorexia,  Insomnia, Anxiety, Ischemia Arthritis,  Migraines, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) symptoms, Multiple Sclerosis, Neuropathic pain,  Cancer Pain, Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV), Parkinson’s Disease, Polymyalgia Rheumatica, Chronic pain, Neuropathy, Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome, Dementia, PTSD, Depression, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sleep disorders, Endometriosis, Spasticity from neurological conditions, Epilepsy and Tremors.

This is not an exhaustive list and new conditions are always being approved. The most common reasons we see people using medical cannabis in the clinic are for all types of chronic pain as well as anxiety, depression, and insomnia. A systematic review of the clinical evidence conducted to date is available here.

How Can I Access Medical Cannabis in Australia?

If you feel you would be a good candidate for medical cannabis, we encourage you to speak to your doctor. Your doctor can always refer you to our clinic if they feel uncomfortable prescribing. You can also start by taking our medical marihuana eligibility test here.