Guide To Medical Cannabis in Australia

In this article, we aim to unravel your burning questions about the landscape of accessing medicinal cannabis in Australia.

Key takeaways:

  • Medicinal cannabis isn’t just one product – it is a complex group of products that requires a healthcare professional to guide you through your treatment journey.
  • Medicinal cannabis is legal but can only be accessed via prescription from a registered medical practitioner.
  • Medical cannabis may not be effective for everyone, has potential side effects, and must only be used after consulting with a doctor.
  • If you are wondering if medicinal cannabis is right for you, the first and most important step is to have a conversation with your doctor.

What is Medical Cannabis?

Sometimes referred to as “medicinal marijuana”, Medicinal Cannabis refers to a group of medicinal products that are derived from the cannabis plant.

The cannabis plant naturally produces compounds called cannabinoids. These compounds are responsible for medicinal effects, and the two most common cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

For legally accessed medicinal cannabis products in Australia, the quantity and ratio of the cannabinoids THC and CBD are known, and the formulation is quality controlled to meet a minimum quality standard.

This is in contrast to recreational cannabis (marijuana), which is a drug that is illegal in most states and territories. Marijuana is not classified as a medicine, as the amount of active ingredients in marijuana is unknown.

Is Medicinal Cannabis Available in Australia?

Medicinal cannabis has been legal in Australia since 2016. Since then, avenues for access have opened to healthcare providers who consider medicinal cannabis suitable for their patients across Australia.

It is important to understand that the vast majority of medicinal cannabis products in Australia are unregistered therapeutic goods. This means that the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) have not assessed the effectiveness or safety of these products for use in any specific medical conditions.

Because most medicinal cannabis products are unregistered therapeutic goods, they can only be accessed by a registered medical practitioner prescribing under one of two legal frameworks overseen by the TGA: the Special Access Scheme (SAS) or the Authorised Prescriber (AP) scheme. These legal frameworks allow prescribers to write prescriptions for unapproved therapeutic goods, including medicinal cannabis, for patients they believe may benefit from therapy.

Because medicinal cannabis is an unregistered therapeutic good, and the effectiveness and safety of the products are largely unstudied, they are usually only considered by medical practitioners as a treatment of last resort.

What is Medicinal Cannabis Used For?

As an unapproved medicine, medicinal cannabis is not approved for use in any condition in Australia. This means that it is completely at the discretion of the prescribing medical practitioner regarding what medicinal cannabis is prescribed for.

At the moment, there is very limited scientific information that supports the use of medicinal cannabis in any medical conditions, so there is a need for quality studies to explore the potential benefits, safety profiles and limitations associated with the use of medicinal cannabis.

Because medicinal cannabis is unapproved and there is very limited scientific information on its use in any specific condition, medicinal cannabis is often only considered when other treatment options have failed or are not suitable.  

How to Access Medical Cannabinoids in Australia

Navigating the Prescription Process

Accessing medicinal cannabis can be a straightforward process that begins with a conversation with a registered medical practitioner, like your doctor or nurse practitioner. A brief overview of the process is as follows:

Reach out to a medical practitioner.
The first and most important step is to have a conversation about your medical condition so that the doctor or nurse practitioner can decide if medicinal cannabis may be an appropriate treatment for you.

Your medical practitioner will assess suitability.
Before prescribing medicinal cannabis, the prescriber will assess if the treatment is appropriate for your condition and individual circumstances, taking into consideration your medical history, current medications, as well as any problems with drug dependence and/or substance abuse.

Your doctor applies for approval to supply medicinal cannabis.
If your healthcare provider decides that medicinal cannabis is an appropriate treatment for you, they will apply for approval via the TGA’s SAS before prescribing.

Your doctor issues a prescription.
Once the TGA application is approved, medicinal cannabis can be dispensed from pharmacies with a valid prescription, so your doctor will issue a prescription to you as they would any other medication.

Fill your prescription at a pharmacy.
Medicinal cannabis is dispensed from a pharmacy much like other prescription products.

Finding a Healthcare Professional

Your regular doctor or nurse practitioner generally knows you and your medical history best and is often best placed to advise you on treatments for your condition. This is why it is always best to start with your own healthcare team when navigating access to medicinal cannabis.

While any GP or nurse practitioner can legally prescribe medicinal cannabis, it is important to remember that there is not much information available to help medical practitioners make clinical decisions, so they may not be comfortable prescribing. In such cases, you may wish to ask your own healthcare team for a referral to a different doctor or seek out medical professionals experienced in prescribing medicinal cannabis for your condition.

Finding a Pharmacy

Many pharmacies will not routinely keep medicinal cannabis products, so remember to call ahead. If your prescriber is familiar with prescribing medicinal cannabis, they may be able to recommend a local or online pharmacy that is able to dispense a prescription for medicinal cannabis.

Cost of Medicinal Cannabis

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) does not cover medicinal cannabis, so it is only available via a private prescription. Because there are no government subsidies, the cost of medicinal cannabis can vary greatly depending on the specific brand and can cost anywhere from $50 to $1,000 per week.

It is impossible to determine the cost of treatment for any individual because the cost depends on many factors, including the condition being treated, the product, and the dose used.

In most cases, private health insurance providers do not cover the cost of medicinal cannabis. However, it is worth checking with your specific insurance provider for any exceptions or coverage options.


Can cannabis be a registered medicine?

To be a registered medicine, companies need to prove the safety and efficacy of a product through robust clinical trials. There is currently a lack of such robust studies, so the vast majority of medicinal cannabis products are registered and not approved.

How is medicinal cannabis regulated in Australia?

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) govern all therapeutic goods in Australia, including both registered and unregistered therapeutic goods. Medicinal cannabis products are generally supplied under one of two legal frameworks intended to be used to access unapproved medicines: the Special Access Scheme (SAS), or the Authorised Prescriber Scheme (AP).

How can I access medical cannabis in Australia?

Accessing medical marijuana in Australia requires a valid prescription from a registered medical practitioner. Patients must have a qualifying medical condition that is responsive to cannabis-based treatments and have exhausted other conventional treatment options. The Special Access Scheme (SAS) and the Authorised Prescriber Scheme provide pathways for doctors to legally prescribe medical cannabis products to eligible patients. Patients can consult with their healthcare provider to determine if medicinal cannabis is a suitable treatment option and to initiate the process to legally buy medical marijuanas in Australia.

How can I access medical cannabis in Australia?

Accessing medicinal cannabis begins with a conversation with a registered medical practitioner, like your doctor, local GP, or nurse practitioner.

How is the quality and safety of medicinal cannabis products ensured in Australia?

Medicinal cannabis products that are legally supplied in Australia must meet the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) quality requirements which set out a minimum quality standard’ for all medicinal cannabis imported into and supplied or manufactured in Australia.