Patient's guide: How to Access Medicinal Cannabis in Australia

As medicinal cannabis products become more accessible in Australia, it becomes increasingly important to know how patients can access some themselves.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) announced a final decision to down-schedule certain low dose cannabidiol (CBD) preparations from Schedule 4 (Prescription Medicine) to Schedule 3 (Pharmacist Only Medicine), allowing select medicinal cannabis products to be available over the counter.

The decision will allow TGA approved low-dose CBD containing products, up to a maximum of 150 mg/day, for use in adults, to be supplied over-the-counter by a pharmacist, without a prescription.

The action is limited to only over-the-counter supply products that are approved by the TGA and included on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG), that also outlines additional limits on dosage form and packaging requirements, including pack size and child resistant closures.

Until now, there are currently no TGA approved products on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) that meet the Schedule 3 criteria.

The Australian final decision follows the United Nations' (UN) decision at the start of December to remove cannabis and its derivatives from Schedule IV of the international treaty governing narcotic drugs, where it was listed among addictive opioids like heroin.

With official restrictions around medicinal cannabis slowly relaxing, more Australians may be more likely to seek and accept the benefits of Cannabis-Based medicine, wriggling out from the side effects of over the counter and traditional therapies.

How can a patient access medicinal cannabis in Australia?

Australians patients must still seek a prescription for medicinal CBD products, or any products containing THC.

To be prescribed medicinal cannabis, a patient must have a condition diagnosed by a doctor, and have sought traditional treatment methods that resulted in unacceptable adverse side effects and/or no significant efficacy in treating the condition.

Patients seeking access to medicinal cannabis should first talk to their primary healthcare provider or existing medical team about the suitability of medical cannabis for their condition.

Australians can count on Cannatrek,  a digital healthcare platform that connects doctors, patients, and pharmacists with cannabis products. Cannatrek is involved in the entire supply chain end-to-end, providing complete vertical integration approach.

The company helps patients with the paperwork and provides bureaucratic assistance, connecting patients, TGA and dispensaries.

If the GP is not comfortable prescribing medicinal cannabis, but a patient still wishes to pursue it as a treatment option, Cannatrek Access links patients to qualified independent doctors with experience with medicinal cannabis and will help the patient make an informed decision about the suitability of this treatment method.

Conditions including anorexia, anxiety, cancer pain, chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis (MS) and stress regularly receive approval from the TGA, with a greater chance of success. Up to November 30 2020, the TGA has approved over 80,000 SAS Category B applications for unapproved medicinal cannabis products.

Melbournians patients already count with a few numbers of dispensaries that provide medical assistance, such as Entoura, Releaf, Medicannabis, Medicinal Cannabis Clinic, Cannadoc, iCannabis and many other options.

Medical assistance is extremely important in this context as CBD, the main and primary option for Cannabis-based treatments, is now on pharmacies shelves as over the counter medicine. An analysis by the Lambert Initiative shows that the maximum doses permitted under the TGA proposal (60 milligrams a day) may not be high enough to benefit patients. These are usually seen at higher CBD doses of between 300 and 1500 milligrams a day. This can mislead patients, as the lower dose may not achieve the desired outcome leading patients to give up the treatment.

CBD use without a prescription is an unprecedented global phenomenon. We are entering a period that is a huge exercise in self-medication. Professor Iain McGregor 

The analysis shows that even within European countries and the USA, where CBD is widely available, the legal basis of CBD access is often unclear, with uncertainty as to whether CBD should be treated as a food or a drug and whether the intoxicating component of cannabis (THC) can also be present in products.

At present the signs are promising for CBD having efficacy treating a multitude of conditions. Simplifying access to reasonable doses of CBD for consumers seems like a wise option for regulators, given the inherent safety of the drug.said Professor Iain McGregor

Specialized guidance and Medical Assistance are essential in this new scenario of Cannabis-Based Medicine to achieve the maximum benefit of the treatment and overcome problems related to self-prescription and medication.

Patients should not hesitate in seeking help from doctors and Cannabis clinics to help in this journey.

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Camila Ferezin
Camila Ferezin

Camila Ferezin is a PhD student in Cell and Molecular Biology. She holds a BA in Pharmaceutical Sciences and Biochemistry and has been working with Research and Development, both in the Academic environment and Pharma company. She is passionate about Science and loves to talk about Chemistry, Biology and Physics.