Your Guide To Medical Cannabis
marijuana being grown hydroponically

If you are Australian then you are in luck; the Australian parliament has made amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act that legalised the growth and manufacturing of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes in February 2016. Following this was the legalisation of medical marijuana by the Federal Government in November 2016. These were the first steps made to bring the medicine closer to the Australian people who desperately need it.

That amendment opened doors for many terminally ill people who are suffering. Even more good news occurred this year when The Federal Government approved the importation of medicinal cannabis. A significant change for patients and the entire cannabis industry in Australia, this made the plant medicine more available and is aimed at helping give easier access to the people in need.

At the moment permits have been given to import the medicine from Netherlands, Canada, and Switzerland. As time goes, more and more Australian states are seriously looking at how to make the process of getting the medicine to the patients more accessible. Different states have different rules, but it’s encouraging to see that the patient’s wellbeing is the main priority. The first Australian medical cannabis crops are growing in Queensland, Victoria, and Western Australia; hopefully more places will soon follow as more cultivation and manufacturing licenses are given out by the government.

Cannabis use and supply for non-medical purposes still remains illegal and is regulated by state and territory laws. That also means no growing or self-prescribing!

If you have been curious about the availability and regulations of the cannabis plant in your state,  we have put together a quick overview of each state and territory in Australia:

Victoria – became accessible from early 2017.

The first step for you to get the medicine is to visit your doctor because the only way you can access medical cannabis in Victoria is via a specialist or doctor who is treating you for your illness. At the moment medical marijuana is prescribed as a pharmaceutical medicine. When the doctor finds that medical cannabis is the right fit for your treatment plan, he will decide which drug to prescribe and then the doctor must apply for approval from the TGA and the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. If the product is not yet in Australia, your doctor needs to apply to the Commonwealth Office of Drug Control to get it imported.

Medical professionals have to know the what the product is scheduled, any cannabis product that is listed in Schedule 8 of the Poisons Standard for human therapeutic use is a schedule 8 drug. Products that contain 2% or less of other cannabinoids found in cannabis are Schedule 4 drug  (this includes CBD oil). With a Schedule 8 drug your doctor has to apply for and hold a Victorian treatment permit.

Also, know that patients are grouped into Category A and Category B patients. Category A being patients who are terminally ill or dying within the next 6-12 months and Category B being all the other patients.

As you can tell there is a lot of work and effort required on behalf of the doctor to prescribe this medicine. Doctors are time poor as it is, let alone burdening them with another 3+ hrs of paperwork to apply for a permit/license to prescribe.

The Victorian Government is also developing a medicinal cannabis product that should be available for you early 2018. To see what products are currently available in Australia or who are importers and manufacturers check out The Office of Drug Control (ODC) website.

Contact The Office of Medicinal Cannabis
Department of Health and Human Services
50 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, Victoria, 3000
+61 3 9096 7768
medicinal.cannabis@dhhs.vic.gov.au

New South Wales – medicine available from July 2016.

To access cannabis-based products in your state, your doctor has to apply for authority from NSW Health and obtain approval from the Commonwealth Department of Health under:

  1. Special Access Scheme
  2. Authorised Prescriber Scheme
  3. Clinical Trial Scheme

Depending on the substance, you might need a Children and Young Person’s Care and Protection Act 1998 approval when dealing with kids. Products containing 2% or less of other cannabinoids do not require authorisation from NSW Health (this also includes CBD oil). However, TGA approval is still needed.

You might be eligible to use cannabis as a medicine if there is enough evidence that standard treatment has not been successful or that there is scientific guidance that shows the suitability of the drug to treat your condition. The doctor has to know the details of the product before applying. Details such as active ingredients, strengths, dosage and of course quality and safety of the product. The products also have to meet TGA’s quality standards.

NSW Government says that they are supporting qualified medical practitioners in any way they can, to make sure they can access legal and safe products. They say that they are committed to research and eager to learn more about the potential of cannabis products in treating illnesses or alleviating symptoms.  To support their words they have established The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research and Innovation, investing $9 million into clinical trials with medical cannabis products.

For more information –
www.medicinalcannabis.nsw.gov.au

Queensland – legal for patients from March 2017.

There are three ways for you to access medicinal cannabis in your state:

  1. Patient-class prescriber option, where the doctor treats a group of patients who have the same condition, with the same medicine.
  2. Single-patient prescriber option, where your doctor applies for approval to treat you with medicinal cannabis.
  3. Clinical trials in Queensland, where you need to meet the specific criteria to participate.

If you choose the second option, your doctor has to apply for approval from the TGA and Queensland Health. If the applications are approved, your medicine will be prescribed. As medicinal cannabis is not on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, you need to pay for all the expenses that are involved and will have no access to any government rebates for the medicine.

These are some of the conditions that might be eligible to treat with medicinal cannabis, call your GP to find out more if you suffer from severe pain, you are feeling sick while on chemotherapy, you suffer from epilepsy or seizures or you are fighting a deadly illness. Medicinal cannabis can support the treatment you are already on. Queensland has rules that prohibit driving while being treated with medicinal marijuana, so please be sure to follow this law while taking your medicine.

Also, you cannot produce your own cannabis yet; all the medicine available is imported at the moment.

For more info go to – https://www.health.qld.gov.au/public-health/topics/medicinal-cannabis/overview.

South Australia – legal by prescription from November 2016.

A doctor can prescribe you medicinal cannabis for therapeutic use if there is enough evidence to support that medicinal cannabis can help with your condition. Consult your doctor if you have epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, severe pain or if you are undergoing chemotherapy or HIV/AIDS therapy.

Your doctor has to find a suitable product and apply for approval from Commonwealth and SA Health. The medicine will be dispensed for you at the nominated pharmacy.

Medicinal cannabis is a Schedule 8 drug, so there are specific rules for prescribing it to patients. Make sure your doctor takes into accountthe following; if you are already taking a Schedule 8 drug for a period longer than two months or if you are dependent on drugs. Exemptions may apply to people aged 70 or older, Notified Palliative Care Patients, users who are not drug addicted or have been using Schedule 8 drug for less than two months.

Also, know that products containing 2% or less of other cannabinoids are classified as a Schedule 4 medicine (CBD oil comes under this Schedule). Your doctor has to apply for Commonwealth approval to prescribe you the Schedule 4 medicine. To see the list of available products and licensed importers go to Office of Drug Control (ODC) website.

For more information contact :
Drugs of Dependence Unit
1300 652 584
HealthDrugsofDependenceUnit@sa.gov.au
Medicine and Technology Programs
Department of Health and Ageing
(08) 8226 6169
medicinal.cannabis@sa.gov.au

Western Australia – available from November 2016.

There are two options for patients in Western Australia:

  1. Notification option, where doctors apply for class approval.
  2. Authorisation option, where the doctor applies for the treatment of one patient.

At the moment the first option is only for people living with multiple sclerosis but will be expanded for other conditions.

Otherwise, your doctor has to go with option 2 and apply for an approval from the WA Department of Health, the pick a medicine that is suitable for your condition and if this drug is not registered in Australia the doctor must then apply for Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approval. You might be approved if other options of your treatment have failed, or if there is enough evidence to show that this medicine can help with your condition. The doctor needs your written consent for the treatment as well.

You should ask your doctor for more information if you suffer from chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, sleep disorders, nausea, vomiting, seizures or if you are undergoing chemotherapy or HIV/AIDS therapy.

Medicinal cannabis products that contain less than 2% THC are classified as Schedule 4 substance (CBD oil) can be prescribed as a regular prescription medication. Anything higher is classified as a Schedule 8controlled drug and requires approval from WA Department of Health.

If you are dealing with an authorised prescriber, you can access the medicine without seeking individual authorisation from the Department of Health, as long as the doctor is following The Schedule 8 Medicine Prescription Code. Under the code the products have to be registered with TGA, the prescriber must provide a written Notification of Treatment form to the Department of Health for each patient.

Anything else outside of the code needs to get the approval by the WA Department of Health. If TGA has not yet approved the product, or you are drug dependent or have misused substances in the past, or if you have more than one identified psychiatric disorder, your doctor has to apply for the approval to treat you.

WA pharmacies can store medicinal cannabis products the same way they do with other Schedule 8 medicines, present your approved prescription to any WA pharmacy for dispensing. If the medication you seek is not yet registered or available, then your doctor has to apply for approval from the TGA to get the medicine imported.

As Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme does not yet fund medicinal cannabis, you have to pay for all cost involved. No government rebates are available for the medicine.

For more information:
http://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Cannabis-based-products

Tasmania – Controlled Access Scheme from 2017.

The CAS Program started with patients who have paediatric epilepsy but the pathway is open also to any other condition that can benefit from medicinal cannabis products. The focus is on patients whose previous treatment plans have failed and their disease could benefit from medical cannabis treatment.

For you to access the medicine, you will have to get referred by your GP to visit a medical specialist who then can apply for the approval from Department of Health and Human Services. When your doctor gets the approval, your medicine will be dispensed by Tasmanian Health Services hospital pharmacy.

The good news for Tasmanians is that medicinal cannabis goes under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, meaning that it’s not all on you, the government pays part of the cost of getting the medicine. Your doctor has to apply for the Commonwealth approval, if the medication is not registered yet.

The state government has invested $3.75 million into the medical cannabis Controlled Access Scheme and hopes to make it as easy as possible for people who suffer to get access to the medicine. They encourage people to talk with their GP to see if medicinal cannabis is something that can help you. You have to sign a consent form to show that you understand all the risks that come with using a medicinal cannabis product.

The unauthorised growing of cannabis is illegal, even if you have a prescription, everyone interested in growing medicinal cannabis has to contact the Australian Government Office of Drug Control.

For more information got to:
http://www.dhhs.tas.gov.au/psbtas/publications/medical_cannabis/medical_cannabis_controlled_access_scheme
or call the Department of Health and Human Services – 1300 135 513

Northern Territory

If you are from the Northern Territory, you must access medicines containing cannabinoids through a Northern Territory doctor who has been authorised under the Special Access or Authorised Prescriber Schemes administered by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)

Access is only for appropriate patients with certain medical conditions where there is evidence to support its therapeutic use.

For more info go to:
https://www.tga.gov.au/access-medicinal-cannabis-products
or phone Therapeutic Goods Administration – 1800 020 653

Australian Capital Territory –access from 1 November 2017.

To prescribe cannabis as a controlled medicine, your doctor should apply for authority from the ACT Chief Health Officer (CHO), under the same rules which currently apply for other controlled medication.

Products which are intended for medicinal use and are either:

a) manufactured in Australia by the Commonwealth Department of Health regulations; and

b) imported by a valid customs import license issued by the Commonwealth Department of Health

and will be able to be prescribed as a schedule 8, ‘controlled’ medicine in the ACT.

Cannabidiol (when containing no more than 2% of other cannabinoids) is a schedule 4 medicine, and as such no ACT Health authorisation is required.

Medical practitioners can obtain information on how to prescribe medicinal cannabis by contacting the ACT Health Protection Service on (02) 6205 0998.

As you see the state and territory governments and the Australian Government Department of Health work together in regulating medicinal cannabis in Australia. Health departments have a significant role in medicine scheduling and particular requirements on how medicinal marijuana may be available for use.

First steps are made and seems that more and more people are supporting the fact that medicinal cannabis should be available for people in need.

We are on our way, but there is a long way to go before it is accessible to all of those that can benefit from this plant medicine!