FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions

What is Medicinal Cannabis?

In Australia, medicinal cannabis refers to a range of quality-assured pharmaceutical cannabis preparations intended for therapeutic use. Medicinal cannabis products must be prescribed by a doctor to treat the symptoms of a medical condition or the side effects of medical treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation. Medicinal cannabis preparations include tablets, oils, tinctures, dry flowers, and other extracts.
Medicinal cannabis products are defined as a product, substance, composition, mixture, or preparation that includes, or is from, any part of the cannabis plant; and is for use in alleviating symptoms of an ailment, disease, or injury.
The cannabis plants are from the botanical genus Cannabis and there are numerous different species and strains of this plant. They all contain cannabinoid compounds that have varying effects. These common compounds are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN).

What is the difference between Medicinal Cannabis and Marijuana?

There are many differences between the two products and it is very common for people to become confused about the purpose each of them serves.
Marijuana refers to the illegal recreational drug that is commonly known by many other names including weed, grass, dope or ganja. In Australia, marijuana is illegal to obtain, possess and consume recreationally.
Medicinal cannabis is legally produced in quality-assured and controlled facilities. In Australia, the term medicinal cannabis is used to distinguish it from the use of the illegal drug. The terms medicinal marijuana and medicinal cannabis can both be used to describe the substance that is legal and prescribed by a doctor for some medical conditions. Both of these terms refer to the pharmaceutical products that use the cannabis plant or the chemicals contained within it.

Is Medicinal Cannabis legal in Australia?

Recently there has been a lot of interest from the Australian public regarding the use of medicinal cannabis. Commonwealth, state, and territory governments have passed specific laws that allow the dispensing and prescribing of medicinal cannabis, including the cultivation and manufacture of the products in some circumstances. Most medicinal cannabis products are not approved therapeutic goods, meaning that they haven’t been assessed for safety, effectiveness, or quality by the TGA. Where appropriate, pathways can be accessed by doctors to access medicinal cannabis products for patients who have exhausted other treatments for their condition.
Recently, the Australian Government changed the law to allow organisations to grow cannabis to be used in the research of pharmaceutical products. Growing cannabis for personal use is still illegal in Australia.
A Medicinal Cannabis Scheme has been established in each state
to give people safer and legal access to high-quality medicinal cannabis products in appropriate circumstances.
Across all states and territories in Australia, under the legal access pathways, a patient may be permitted to take medicinal cannabis if a doctor decides that a medicinal cannabis product is appropriate for the patient’s condition and individual circumstances.

Can I drive while taking Medicinal Cannabis?

Medicinal cannabis products contain varied combinations of active ingredients which are suited for different conditions. Many of these products contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which contains psychoactive properties (known to affect the mind). When a patient uses THC-containing products, it can decrease their ability to correctly perform tasks, as mental alertness and physical coordination can be impaired.
There is no guidance or evidence available that quantifies how long  THC stays in your system, or how long it may affect you. Patients are recommended not to drive a vehicle or perform hazardous tasks after consuming THC-containing medicinal cannabis products. Even if your medication contains a slight amount of THC in its composition, this will impact your ability to drive legally.
It is a criminal offence to drive with THC in your system across most Australian states and territories. When this substance is present in your blood, urine, or saliva, you are considered unsafe to drive and could be charged by the police.
Leaders of the cannabis industry in Australia are starting a conversation regarding patients who are prescribed medicinal cannabis and their ability to drive, considering patients prescribed other prescription-only psychoactive medications may be allowed to drive. Laws and regulations can change, especially in the context of a relatively new industry. It is important that you check the driving laws in your state or territory and seek advice from your doctor at the time when you are prescribed medicinal cannabis to check the most up-to-date laws in your region.

What are the potential benefits of Medicinal Cannabis?

There’s a need for quality studies and exploration of potential benefits, safety profiles and limitations associated with the use of medicinal cannabis. As medicinal cannabis may have the potential to treat a range of symptoms linked to different health conditions, it’s incredibly important to gather as much clinical data as possible to quantify the potential benefits, safety profiles, and its limitations.
If more evidential studies can support the real world safety and efficacy of medicinal cannabis, it is more likely that doctors would feel confident in prescribing it after other treatment options have been exhausted. There are many forms, doses, and administration methods when it comes to medicinal cannabis, but there is a lack of evidence derived from clinical studies to support their respective benefits. Conducting further research has the potential to compare standard medications and medicinal cannabis to gather knowledge on how these two options interact with each other in the real world.
Companies in the medicinal cannabis industry are conducting clinical trials to determine the benefits of using this alternative therapy in a clinical setting for a variety of medical conditions. LaTrobe University’s Sport and Exercise Medicine Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia is currently investigating Levin Health’s licensed formula for treating patients with chronic pain due to musculoskeletal injury.
Alongside this study in Victoria, there are currently several observational trials being conducted in New South Wales and Queensland where the potential of medicinal cannabis treatments can be further understood. The studies are investigating medicinal cannabis for a variety of conditions, including patients with advanced cancer, PTSD, psychological distress, depression, dementia, chronic pain, amongst many other conditions.
If you’re a patient and medicinal cannabis is something you’re interested in, we recommend seeking professional advice from your doctor as each patient can be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

What are the side effects of Medicinal Cannabis?

In the context of medicinal cannabis, the term ‘side-effect’ refers to an unpleasant effect of a treatment, drug or substance ingested by an individual to alleviate a medical condition. This side effect happens in addition to the intended effect of the medication treatment, substance or drug.
Like all prescription medicines, medicinal cannabis products can have side effects. These may include:
• fatigue and sedation
• vertigo
• nausea and vomiting
• fever
• appetite increase or decrease
• dry mouth
• diarrhoea
• convulsions
• feelings of euphoria (intense happiness) or depression
• confusion
• hallucinations or paranoid delusions
• psychosis or cognitive distortion (having untrue thoughts)

The extent of side effects can vary with the type of medicinal cannabis product and between individuals. Psychoactive side effects are typically only observed with products containing THC only.

What is the cost of Medicinal Cannabis?

The cost of medicinal cannabis products can vary substantially – from $50 to $1000 per patient per week, depending on the nature of the condition being treated, the particular product required, and the prescribed dose.
Most medicines in Australia which may be prescribed by a medical doctor are subsidised by the Commonwealth Government under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). Only one medicinal cannabis product is currently subsidised by the PBS for the treatment of a rare form of paediatric epilepsy.
All other medicinal cannabis products are not subsidised by the PBS and the price is influenced by various factors including the manufacturer, distribution, and dispensing costs. The cost of medicinal cannabis products will vary depending on the dosage and the product type recommended by your doctor. For products not listed on the PBS, the full cost of the medicine must be paid by the patient.
In Victoria, there is a ‘compassionate access scheme’ run by the government that funds medicinal cannabis products for a limited number of children who suffer from severe epileptic seizures. If you’re a carer or parent of a child who has severe epilepsy, it’s best to discuss the treatment of our child with your child’s paediatric neurologist.

What conditions may potentially be treated with Medicinal Cannabis?

While cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes over the course of history, it is still yet to be vigorously studied in a scientific setting to determine its potential benefits and safety profile. There is currently insufficient evidence that doctors can rely on to guide the prescription of medical cannabis for their patients.
Medicinal cannabis may potentially be prescribed to treat conditions including:
●      Chronic pain
●      Symptoms associated with cancer
●      Sports Injuries
●      Headaches and migraines
●      Epilepsy
●      Multiple sclerosis
●      Symptom relief in palliative care
●      Nerve pain
●      Insomnia
●      Back pain
●      Arthritis
●      Anxiety and depression
Only your doctor can decide if medicinal cannabis may treat your condition. It is recommended that you consult your doctor to assess your situation, and ultimately decide if medicinal cannabis is right for you. Generally, medicinal cannabis is prescribed where all other treatment options have failed or are inappropriate, and can be prescribed in conjunction with traditional treatments.

Can I buy Medicinal Cannabis online?

To obtain medicinal cannabis legally, an Australian-registered medical practitioner must prescribe the medicine and apply for approval via the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) Special Access Scheme (SAS) or Authorised Prescriber Scheme.
Additionally, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has warned consumers to understand the risks of buying medicines online. Buying medicines online can seriously risk your health, has the potential to cause you to lose your money, and especially in the case of sourcing medicinal cannabis, could break the law!
There are many risks when sourcing medicinal products from overseas, as they are not subject to the same stringent therapeutic goods regulations that are required for products sold in Australia. Products sourced from overseas risk being counterfeit, containing the wrong amount of active ingredients and could contain toxic or dangerous chemicals, as well as being past their use-by date.
Purchasing medicinal cannabis without a prescription is illegal in Australia. To access medicinal cannabis safely and legally, consult your doctor. Australian pharmacies can access and dispense medicinal cannabis.
For information regarding accessing medicinal cannabis, visit the TGA’s website at https://www.tga.gov.au/medicinal-cannabis-information-consumers

How to access Medicinal Cannabis?

To obtain medicinal cannabis legally, an Australian-registered medical practitioner must prescribe the medicine and apply for approval via the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) Special Access Scheme (SAS) or Authorised Prescriber Scheme.
The first step you must take is to consult your doctor who will decide if medicinal cannabis may help to treat your condition, typically where after other treatments have failed or are inappropriate. If your doctor decides that medicinal cannabis is appropriate for you, they will be able to apply for approval for access to medicinal cannabis to the TGA. Following approval, your doctor will issue prescription for the product, which may then be taken to a pharmacy who is able to dispense medicinal cannabis.
For more information regarding accessing medicinal cannabis, please consult your doctor.

Who can access Medicinal Cannabis?

If you have a medical condition that may derive benefit from medicinal cannabis, then you should consult with your doctor, who will decide whether medicinal cannabis is right for you, and if so, will then seek approval via the Special Access Scheme (SAS) and issue you a prescription.
Only patients who have received the TGA approval after going through this process can access medicinal cannabis.

Can I get Medical Cannabis for someone else?

If you or someone else you know is caregiving a patient that may require medicinal cannabis, it is important to guide them to speak to their doctor. You can advise them to consult with their GP or specialist, or direct them to a telehealth service like Greencare, who have GPs specialising in prescribing medicinal cannabis.

Where can I find a GP to prescribe Medicinal Cannabis?

Any registered medical doctor can prescribe medicinal cannabis, including your local GP.
If you have a regular GP, consulting them first regarding your condition is an important first step.
If you wish to consult a doctor who is already familiar with prescribing medicinal cannabis, you can book a telehealth appointment with a GP at Greencare website or find a doctor near you via this doctor’s search tool for a face-to-face appointment.

What is the difference between THC and CBD?

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the ingredient of cannabis that is known to cause the “high,” whereas CBD (cannabidiol) is not known to be intoxicating at doses used for medicinal purposes. THC and CBD have different mechanisms of action and therapeutic uses; THC carries a higher risk of side effects, especially psychoactive side effects, compared with CBD.
THC is responsible for the psychoactive effect, and is the main reason it cannabis has been used as a recreational drug. THC may have potential to treat poor appetite, sleep, nausea, vomiting, and muscle spasms.
CBD is not known to be psychoactive. CBD may have the potential to treat seizures, and chronic pain.
Different medicinal cannabis products have different ratios of CBD and THC, and it is unclear whether THC and CBD act together to enhance therapeutic effect.

When will CBD products be available over the counter?

In Australia, it is currently only legal to obtain higher doses of medicinal cannabis with a doctor’s prescription.
In December 2020, TGA approved low-dose CBD-containing products to be supplied over-the-counter by a pharmacist without a prescription. Currently however, there are no TGA-approved products that meet Schedule 3 requirements, and it is unlikely Australians will see CBD oil over the counter until 2023.
Medicines which are not included on the ARTG are ‘unapproved’. This means that these medicines have not been evaluated by the TGA for safety, effectiveness, or quality.
CBD-only products which are unapproved can continue to be accessed by patients via the Authorised Prescriber scheme (AP) or the Special Access Scheme (SAS) with a prescription.

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