Chronic Pain

Medical cannabis as a treatment option


What is medicinal cannabis?

‘Medicinal cannabis’ refers to pharmaceutical cannabis preparations such as oil, tinctures and other extracts, intended for human therapeutic use. Medicinal cannabis contains specific active cannabinoids in known amounts and mixtures, which can be carefully controlled, standardised and administered for patient use.

Is medicinal cannabis legal in Australia?

Yes it is, the Australian government passed legislation in 2016 legalising cannabis for medicinal use. The law states that medicinal cannabis can only be prescribed legally by a doctor or specialist that either prescribes a product listed on the ARTG (Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods) or has been approved to prescribe through the Special Access Scheme or Approved Prescriber process.

All other forms of cannabis including recreational are still illegal.

How is medicinal cannabis different from recreational cannabis?

Technically both medicinal and recreational cannabis all come from the same plant genus, the difference is in the cannabinoid profile of each plant. Recreational cannabis varieties are predominantly female as they produce flowers, where the majority of the cannabinoids exist. They are generally bred to produce large quantities of THC with little to no CBD or other cannabinoids. This is done as a way to get the desired psychoactive effect.

Medicinal grade cannabis is bred to maximise the therapeutic properties of the plant. The plant varieties bred generally see higher CBD content and balanced cannabinoid profiles with treatment specific breeds being grown.

What is the difference between THC and CBD?

THC is the most abundant part of cannabis responsible for its psychoactive effects. In comparison to THC, CBD is the second most abundant, non-psychoactive part of the cannabis plant. Both THC and CBD have been shown to have therapeutic benefit for a range of medical conditions. Medicinal cannabis preparations have different ratios of THC to CBD.

Which medical conditions or diseases are medicinal cannabis products able to treat?

The Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) imposes no restrictions on the indication/s for which a doctor may apply to access an unapproved medicinal cannabis product for their patient. However, before a patient considers this treatment option they must be aware that cannabinoid therapy can only be used after standard treatments have been unsuccessful or caused unacceptable adverse effects with the exception being patients in palliative care.

What form does medicinal cannabis come in?

Medicinal cannabis comes in many forms including ingestible oils and capsules, oral sprays, inhalers and dried flowers. The most common form of medicinal cannabis in Australia has extracted cannabis oils which come in different cannabinoid ratios and concentrates that are then easily administered and adjusted using a dropper bottle.

How do I get information on medicinal cannabis products?

Information about medicinal cannabis products is limited to doctors and pharmacists, due to these products being unregistered prescription medications with the TGA. You should make an appointment to see your GP or specialist to discuss this treatment option.

I’d like to be prescribed medicinal cannabis. What do I do and what is the process?

It is recommended that you make an appointment to visit your usual treating GP or specialist as they will have a good understanding of any current medical conditions and medications you are currently taking. If your doctor decides that you are suitable for cannabinoid treatment they will then determine which product may suit your condition and circumstances. With your consent, your doctor will then apply for federal and state approval via the Special Access Scheme (SAS B) pathway. In NSW, once your doctor has been given approval they may then prescribe medicinal cannabis to you. You should then take the prescription to your pharmacist where it will then be ordered.

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