What Medicinal Cannabis Products Are Available in Australia in 2023?
With over 450 medicinal cannabis products available in Australia in 2023, whether you’re an experienced medicinal cannabis patient or completely new to this method of treatment, it can be difficult to wrap your head around all of the different medications available on the market.
When looking for a medicinal cannabis clinic or doctor, it’s important to know that some clinics or doctors only prescribe a limited range, or sometimes even a specific brand, of medications or medicinal cannabis products. At Polln, we’re proudly product-agnostic, always. Product-agnostic means that our doctors can freely prescribe medication with your needs in mind, and aren’t bound to prescribing medications from certain brands. When doctors have a choice over what medications they prescribe, it ensures that patients receive appropriate, unbiased, and effective treatments that are best suited to their needs and concerns.
At Polln, our doctors are continuously learning and referencing Australian clinical guidance, educational materials, and professional development programs to ensure that they are up to date with the latest developments in medicinal cannabis products and technology. What’s more, every Polln doctor is an Authorised Prescriber and has undergone extensive training in medicinal cannabis prescribing in order to guarantee the most effective treatments for their patients’ unique conditions and symptoms.
What Types of Medicinal Cannabis Products are Available in Australia?
In Australia, the following types of medicinal cannabis products are currently available and permitted for prescription under the Therapeutic Goods Administration(TGA):
Dried medicinal cannabis flower is the most classic form of medicinal cannabis that is consumed via vaporisation – more on this below.
Medicinal Cannabis oils are liquid extracts that are derived from the cannabis plant. They can be ingested orally or sublingually. More information on the different ways to consume medicinal cannabis below.
Wafers are small tablet-like medications that are administered sublingually (dissolved under the tongue).
Capsules are medicinal cannabis products that are enclosed in a capsule and designed to be consumed in oral dosage forms.
Topical products such as creams and gels are products that are formulated with cannabinoids (such as CBD and THC) and are designed to be applied directly to the skin.
Sprays are another form of medicinal cannabis that are designed to be consumed orally. Sprays are intended to provide both precise and controlled dosing of medicinal cannabis.
Also known as vape carts, vape cartridges are pre-filled cartridges designed for use with a vape pen.
How Do I Know What Medicinal Cannabis Product Is Right For Me?
Because medicinal cannabis works differently for everyone and has different onset, reactions and response times for each individual, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
A doctor at a product-agnostic clinic, like Polln, will work closely with you, evaluating your condition and needs, to determine what medicinal cannabis product will be most effective for you. Being a product-agnostic clinic means that your Polln doctor can prescribe any legal medications available in Australia for medical purposes. Our doctors take the guesswork out of determining what medicinal cannabis product is right for you and your needs. They will review your unique situation closely to come up with a completely personalised treatment plan that best suits your lifestyle, condition, and needs.
What Are the Different Ways Medicinal Cannabis Treatments Can Be Administered?
Medicinal cannabis can be delivered to the body in a number of different ways, depending on the individual needs of a patient. Each method will impact how the cannabis compounds are absorbed, distributed, and metabolised around the body differently.
Five approved methods for consumption of medicinal cannabis in Australia include:
Inhalation, including vaping, is the process of heating the cannabis plant at a high heat and allowing the cannabinoids and terpenes to be released in the form of a vapour, which is then inhaled. Smoking medical cannabis would also fall under this category, however smoking is not a recommended consumption method, more about that here.
Ingestion involves the oral consumption of any medicinal cannabis treatment, such as edibles, tinctures, oils, capsules, and extracts.
The sublingual method involves placing the medicinal cannabis treatment, such as a wafer, lozenge, tablet, oil, or spray, under the tongue. This allows for the active ingredients to be absorbed directly into the vessels of your tongue and bypass the digestive system.
The topical application of medicinal cannabis involves directly applying the products directly to the skin. The topical method provides localised relief from inflammation, pain, skin irritations and more. It comes in a variety of forms, such as balms, lotions, creams, salves and patches.
Suppositories offer a targeted dose of cannabinoids to a localised area that can help to facilitate higher absorption rates in the body. For this method, medicinal cannabis is provided in a solid form and is inserted into either the rectum or vagina.
To determine which method of consumption will be most appropriate for you and your therapeutic needs, it is important you have a discussion with a doctor who specialises in medicinal cannabis and has a strong understanding of your condition and symptoms.
Want more information on the different methods of medicinal cannabis consumption? Head on over to Polln’s Medicinal Cannabis Library for more.
What Categories of Medicinal Cannabis Are Available in Australia?
The TGA classifies medicinal cannabis into five different categories that look at the amount of cannabidiol (CBD) within the medicine. These different categories help to ensure that patients have access to appropriate treatments and that prescribing doctors can maintain appropriate safety and quality standards in their treatment plans.
Doctors at product-agnostic clinics like Polln will have access to a range of medications across the categories to offer patients truly personalised and customisable care.
The five different categories are as follows:
Category 1: CBD Medicinal Cannabis Product (CBD >98%)
Medicinal cannabis products included in Category 1 are Schedule 4 Prescription Only Medicine (aka Schedule 4 Poison). In order to obtain a Schedule 4 Prescription Only Medicine, patients require a prescription.
To be classified as Category 1, cannabidiol must comprise 98% or more of the total cannabinoid content of the medicine. Any other cannabinoids found in the medicine (with the exception of cannabidiol) must be naturally found in cannabis and equal to 2% or less of the total cannabinoid content of the medicine. The medicine must not contain any other active ingredients
Category 2: CBD Dominant Medicinal Cannabis Product (CBD >60% and <98%)
Medicinal cannabis products included in Category 2 are Schedule 8 Controlled Drugs (aka Schedule 8 Poison). Schedule 8 Controlled Drugs are medicines with strict legislative controls, including opioid analgesics.
To be classified as Category 2, cannabidiol derived from cannabis must comprise between 60-98% of the total cannabinoid content of the medicine, and other cannabinoids (such as THC) derived from cannabis must comprise the remaining cannabinoid content of the medicine. The medicine must not contain any other active ingredients.
Category 3: Balanced Medicinal Cannabis Product (CBD <60% and >40%)
Medicinal cannabis products included in Category 3 are Schedule 8 Controlled Drugs.
To be classified as Category 3, cannabidiol must comprise between 40-60% of the total cannabinoid content of the medicine. Other cannabinoids (including THC) must comprise the remaining cannabinoid content of the medicine, and the medicine must not contain any other active ingredients.
Category 4: THC Dominant Medicinal Cannabis Product (THC 60-98%)
Medicinal cannabis products included in Category 4 are Schedule 8 Controlled Drugs.
To be classified as Category 4, other cannabinoids (including THC) must comprise between 60-98% of the total cannabinoid content of the medicine. Cannabidiol derived from cannabis must comprise between 2-40% of the total cannabinoid content of the medicine, and the medicine must not contain any other active ingredients.
Category 5: THC Medicinal Cannabis Product (THC >98%)
Medicinal cannabis products included in Category 5 are Schedule 8 controlled drugs.
To be classified as Category 5, cannabinoids (other than CBD) in the medicine are only those naturally found in cannabis. They must comprise 98% or more of the total cannabinoid content of the medicine, and CBD must comprise less than 2% of the total cannabinoid content of the medicine. The medicine must not contain any other active ingredients.
At Polln, we pride ourselves on our doctors’ ability to prescribe any category of medicinal cannabis that is legally available in Australia. Because Polln is a proudly product-agnostic clinic, our doctors aren’t restricted to prescribing products or medications from just one brand. Instead, you can expect fully personalised treatment plans, optimised for you.
What Is a Product-Agnostic Clinic?
A product-agnostic clinic is one that provides recommendations and guidance on all legally available medicinal cannabis treatments. Doctors at product-agnostic clinics have the freedom to prescribe the medication that they think is best of the patient, without being incentivised or restricted to prescribing a certain medication or brand.
With clinics that are not product-agnostic, patients may only have access to a limited range of medications that may not be an appropriate fit.
A product-agnostic clinic will focus on evaluating the patient’s medical history, current condition and needs, in order to create a completely personalised treatment plan. This plan may include various different forms of medicinal cannabis from a range of different manufacturers, suppliers, and brands.
At Polln, we pride ourselves and our doctors on being completely product agnostic - always. This means that our doctors are able to prescribe any medication that is legally available in Australia, provided that they deem it medically fit to do so. Our doctors are not incentivised to promote or prescribe certain brands of medications, instead, they are motivated by their desire to help you, our patients, to achieve better health.
The Importance of Receiving Treatment From a Product-Agnostic Clinic
Your care should be at the forefront of your care provider's mind, and you should have access to bias-free recommendations and products.
When searching for a medicinal cannabis clinic that’s right for you, we recommend looking for a product-agnostic clinic that provides:
Clinics that prioritise patient health and well-being over promoting specific products are more likely to deliver unbiased recommendations to their patients. Recommendations should be based on the patient’s medical condition, research, and the clinical expertise of the prescribing doctor, rather than financial incentives from specific cannabis product manufacturers.
Access to Experts
A 2019 survey of Australian GPs showed that a large portion of Australian doctors felt uneducated about medicinal cannabis access pathways, available cannabis products, and the evidence supporting the prescription of medicinal cannabis.
Here at Polln, every single one of our doctors has completed advanced training in medicinal cannabis and medicinal cannabis prescribing – so you know you’re in safe hands. What’s more, all of our doctors is an Authorised Prescriber (or is on their way to becoming one).
Access to a Wide Range of Products and Brands
At product-agnostic clinics like Polln, doctors don’t have vested interests in promoting specific products or brands. This means that you receive unbiased treatment recommendations that are based solely on your needs and enables you to access any medical cannabis treatments that are available in Australia.
Personalised Care Plans and Patient-Centric Care
Here at Polln, we know that no two patients are the same. As such, it’s important that your doctor understands that different patients may respond differently to different medicinal cannabis products. A clinic that is product-agnostic will tailor a highly personalised treatment plan that suits your individual needs – not offer you a one-size-fits all plan or product.
Evidence-Based Approach to Treatment
A trustworthy clinic will rely on the latest scientific research and studies to guide their recommendations and prescriptions, not their allegiance with a particular brand or manufacturer. Studies show that access to current research, resources, and guides may assist in optimal clinical decision-making and beneficial patient-healthcare practitioner discussions. This approach works to ensure that patients are receiving evidence-based treatments that are more likely to be effective.
Ongoing Clinical Support
At Polln, you’ll feel supported every step of the way with complimentary post-consultation care from our Clinical Nurse team, plus ongoing support from our dedicated Care Team. Whether you’ve got a question about what medicinal cannabis products are available to you, how to administer your medicine, or how to fill your prescription, we’re here to help you.
Any reputable clinic should believe in full transparency when it comes to their pricing. As part of our commitment to transparency, trust and care here at Polln, you’ll never have to pay dispensing fees or be charged above the RRP for your treatments. Why? It’s the Polln price guarantee.
How to Find a Product-Agnostic Doctor in Australia
To speak to a product-agnostic doctor in Australia who has your best interests as their top priority, sign up as a Polln patient today and book an appointment with one of our expert cannabis clinicians.
Plant Medicine: Medicinal Cannabis and Mental Health
Anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are complex, and sometimes interconnected, mental health conditions that can significantly impact your emotional well-being, daily functioning, and overall quality of life.
Anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be caused by a variety of factors, including our genetic predisposition, environmental stressors, traumatic experiences, and neurochemical imbalances in the brain. Additionally, societal pressures, childhood upbringing, and personal coping mechanisms also play a role in the development and manifestation of these conditions.
While conventional pharmacological treatments, like antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, can be beneficial for many people, alternative mental health therapies may provide support with reduced risk of side effects or addiction for some patients. Medical cannabis, in particular, has been growing in popularity as a natural treatment option for managing the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
With the right support and treatment, people with anxiety, depression, or PTSD can achieve better mental health. Read on to find out how medical cannabis helps people improve their mental health and whether medicinal cannabis could be the right for you.
Understanding Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD:
Anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are three common mental health conditions that can significantly impact your well-being and daily life.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed before an important event; it's a persistent and often overwhelming sense of unease that can interfere with daily activities. Symptoms may include excessive worry, restlessness, rapid heartbeat, and difficulty concentrating.
If you think you might be dealing with anxiety, you’re not alone. Around 1 in 3 people will have an anxiety disorder during their lifetime. Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder are common subtypes of anxiety. The physical and emotional toll of anxiety can be overwhelming, often leading to a cycle of fear and avoidance behaviours that further worsen symptoms.
Social anxiety disorder, on the other hand, brings about intense fear and discomfort in social situations, with individuals often worrying about being judged or embarrassed.
Panic disorder is characterised by sudden and recurrent panic attacks, which are intense episodes of fear accompanied by physical sensations like a racing heart, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
Anxiety symptoms can be felt in the body too. Physically, anxiety can manifest as tension headaches, muscle pain, digestive issues, and even cardiovascular problems over time. Sleep disturbances, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating are also common.
What is Depression?
Depression is a complex and debilitating mental health condition that affects around 1 in 10 people. While everyone experiences occasional moments of sadness, depression goes beyond normal fluctuations in mood.
Common symptoms of depression include a persistent low mood, fatigue, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating, and a lack of motivation. People with depression may experience a sense of worthlessness or excessive guilt, which can further contribute to their emotional distress.
Depression can vary in its intensity and duration. Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a specific subtype of depression characterised by the presence of depressive symptoms for at least two weeks. Other types of depression include seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs in the autumn and winter months, and Dysthymia, also known as Persistent Depressive Disorder, which involves a more chronic but less severe form of depression lasting for at least two years
Emotionally, depression can lead to a long term feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and emotional numbness. It can distort one's perception of themselves and the world around them, making it challenging to see a way out of their struggles. This emotional pain can also manifest as physical symptoms such as aches, pains, and a general feeling of being unwell.
What is PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)?
PTSD extends far beyond a normal stress response to a distressing event; it's a multifaceted and profound mental health condition that affects many aspects of your life. Unlike short-term feelings of anxiety or unease, PTSD involves persistent and distressing symptoms triggered by exposure to a traumatic experience. This experience may involve incidents like accidents, violence, abuse, or other life-threatening events.
C-PTSD, known as complex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD), is a similar condition to PTSD that can develop in response to repeated or intense trauma (such as growing up with childhood abuse). C-PTSD symptoms are similar to those of PTSD, but include an ongoing sense of emptiness or a distorted self-image.
The hallmark of PTSD lies in its diverse range of symptoms, which can be broadly categorised into four groups: intrusive thoughts, avoidance behaviours, negative alterations in mood and cognition, and heightened arousal.
Intrusive thoughts encompass vivid and distressing memories of the traumatic event, often accompanied by flashbacks and nightmares. Avoidance behaviours involve efforts to steer clear of reminders associated with the trauma, which can lead to detachment from activities and situations that were once enjoyed.
Negative alterations in mood and cognition involve a shift in one's emotional landscape, leading to feelings of guilt, blame, and a distorted sense of self-worth. These changes can also translate into difficulties in maintaining relationships and a sense of detachment from the world. Heightened arousal is shown as an enhanced state of vigilance, marked by irritability, difficulty concentrating, and an exaggerated startle response.
The impact of PTSD is profound and far-reaching, often affecting various facets of life. Physically, it can also cause headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances, and cardiovascular issues. Sleep disturbances and chronic fatigue are also common, contributing to an overall sense of poor well-being.
Challenges of Traditional Anxiety, Depression and PTSD Treatments
While traditional pharmaceutically-based treatments for anxiety, depression, and PTSD are often effective in managing various mental health symptoms, they are not without some drawbacks.
While antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs can help reduce mental health symptoms, they often also come with unwanted side effects that can include drowsiness, weight gain, nausea, sexual dysfunction, or even an emotional “numbing”.
The process of finding the right medication can be challenging too. Not all mental health medications work the same way for everyone, and so finding effective treatment for you can involve a lot of trial and error. This can be frustrating and disheartening for people who are already dealing with depression or anxiety.
Pharmaceutically-based treatments for anxiety, depression or PTSD can also come with a higher risk of addiction or withdrawal problems. Some people can become dependent on their medications, while discontinuing medications can lead to withdrawal symptoms that are severely uncomfortable or even dangerous.
For example, if someone were to suddenly stop taking higher doses of benzodiazepines (such as valium for anxiety) they could have serious withdrawal symptoms, including seizures and psychotic reactions.
It's important to engage in open and honest conversations with healthcare providers, like our Polln doctors, to discuss the benefits and risks of different medications for mental health conditions and explore alternative or complementary approaches to treatment.
Medicinal Cannabis and Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD
While research into medicinal cannabis for anxiety, depression, and PTSD is ongoing, current studies and anecdotal evidence suggest its potential as a natural therapeutic for some patients.
Research shows that specific natural compounds within medicinal cannabis, including CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), may help improve the symptoms of some mental health conditions by positively affecting the brain's neurochemical pathways.
- Anxiety: Research suggests that CBD may have anti-anxiety effects, potentially reducing symptoms of anxiety by interacting with the brain's receptors that regulate stress responses. While higher doses of THC may increase anxiety, lower doses may have a positive impact on anxiety disorders in some patients.
- Depression: Research into the antidepressant properties of cannabinoids, particularly CBD, shows promise in influencing mood-related neurotransmitters. CBD's potential to regulate serotonin levels in the brain, a neurotransmitter associated with mood regulation, may help some people manage depressive symptoms.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Medical cannabis, particularly with a balanced CBD-to-THC ratio, may be a potential treatment option for PTSD. CBD's impact on fear-related memories and its ability to modulate stress responses may contribute to its efficacy in mitigating PTSD symptoms for some patients. However, further clinical trials are necessary to further establish its effectiveness.
How Medical Cannabis May Impact Mental Health
The potential role of medical cannabis in potentially supporting mental health has gained increasing attention, particularly in relation to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Understanding how medical cannabis interacts with the body can shed light on its potential therapeutic effects.
Medicinal cannabis may help support mental health in some patients with its:
- Neurotransmitter Regulation: Medical cannabis compounds, notably CBD and THC, interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex network of receptors and neurotransmitters in the brain and body. CBD, for example, may influence serotonin receptors, which play a crucial role in mood regulation. By modulating serotonin levels, CBD may offer relief from symptoms of anxiety and depression for some patients.
- Stress Response Modulation: Both CBD and THC may impact the body's stress response. CBD's calming properties have the potential to reduce stress and anxiety by influencing the body's physiological reactions to stressors in some patients. THC, on the other hand, may help induce a sense of relaxation by binding to specific receptors in the brain. However, it's important to note that higher THC levels could also exacerbate anxiety in some individuals.
- Memory and Emotion Regulation: CBD's interaction with brain regions responsible for memory and emotional processing holds promise for managing conditions like PTSD in some patients. By influencing the consolidation of fear-based memories and promoting emotional regulation, CBD may help alleviate some distressing symptoms associated with traumatic experiences.
- Inflammation and Immune Response: Chronic inflammation has been linked to mental health conditions. CBD's anti-inflammatory properties may contribute to its potential benefits for anxiety and depression in some patients by reducing overall inflammation levels in the body. By modulating the immune response, CBD could help mitigate the physiological effects of stress on mental well-being.
- Sleep Regulation: Medical cannabis's impact has been shown to have an effect on sleep, and sleep disturbances are often intertwined with mental health conditions. CBD's potential to improve sleep quality by addressing anxiety-related insomnia may indirectly contribute to better mental health outcomes in some patients.
It's important to remember that the effects of medical cannabis on mental health can vary from person to person. Factors such as dosage, cannabinoid ratios, and an individual's unique response to the medication will play a role in determining the outcome.
Possible Risks of Medical Cannabis for Mental Health
When deciding on any kind of medication, it's also essential to acknowledge any possible risks. A comprehensive discussion with a caring medical professional can help you make an informed decision about whether medical cannabis is the right option for you and your health.
While medical cannabis is a natural treatment option, some potential risks of medicinal cannabis include:
- Cognitive Effects: Depending on the compounds present and their concentrations, medical cannabis can sometimes lead to cognitive changes, including impaired memory and concentration.
- Interactions and Side Effects: Just like any medication, medical cannabis could interact with other medications you're taking. Although side effects are fewer than with traditional medications, it’s still worth talking them over with your doctor.
- Psychoactive Effects of THC: The psychoactive nature of THC may not be appropriate for people with certain mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Accessing Medicinal Cannabis in Australia
We understand that living with a mental health condition can be an emotionally and physically challenging journey. That's why, at Polln, our specialised approach to medicinal cannabis care offers you support and relief through compassionate doctors who specialise in mental health.
Polln provides makes it easy for you to take the first step in seeking help. You can conveniently schedule appointments online and join them from the comfort of your home through a secure video call.
During your consultation, our doctors will conduct a thorough review of your condition and health history, working collaboratively with you to determine if natural medicines are the right choice for your well-being.
If you receive a prescription, our user-friendly Polln patient portal allows you to order your medications with ease, offering express delivery across Australia. And, after your appointment, our committed Care Team remains at your side, providing ongoing personalised support, including complimentary nurse check-ins.
Remember: to qualify for access to medicinal cannabis in Australia, you must have experienced a chronic condition for over three months and have tried other treatments that were either ineffective or resulted in unwanted side effects.
The Wrap Up
Medical cannabis is becoming a more widely studied natural treatment for anxiety, depression, and PTSD. While traditional therapies have many benefits, they also come with their share of challenges too.
Medical cannabis may help some patients address the complex nature of mental health conditions with fewer side effects than traditional pharmacological drugs. Its potential to improve mental health may also help some people who have not found relief in other medication or management plans.
If you’re thinking about exploring plant medicine then it’s important to approach it as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, guided by healthcare professionals who can assess individual risks and benefits. At Polln, our doctors are here to help you feel better and find the right natural treatments for you and your needs.
Medical Cannabis and Mental Health: FAQs
Is medical cannabis good for anxiety?
The effects of medicinal cannabis on anxiety can vary widely from person to person. While some individuals might experience temporary relief from anxiety symptoms due to the relaxing properties of certain compounds like CBD, others may find that medical cannabis increases their anxiety or induces feelings of paranoia.
Medical cannabis, specifically formulations with higher CBD content and lower THC levels, has shown potential in alleviating anxiety for some individuals. However, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional before using any form of medicinal cannabis to address anxiety, as individual reactions can differ and potential risks need to be carefully considered.
Can PTSD be overcome?
Yes, PTSD can be overcome with the right treatment and support. Effective medications and therapies, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), along with support from mental health professionals and a strong social network, can help individuals manage and eventually relieve the symptoms of PTSD.
Additionally, emerging research suggests that medical cannabis, particularly with balanced CBD-to-THC ratios, may hold promise in mitigating PTSD symptoms by impacting fear-related memories and stress responses, although further clinical trials are necessary to establish its safety and effectiveness as a potential treatment option.
Is medicinal cannabis a depressant?
Medical cannabis (historically known as medical weed or medical marijuana, learn more about the importance of language here), contains compounds like THC and CBD, producing a mix of effects. It's not a straightforward depressant but can have varying properties including depressive, stimulant, and hallucinogenic effects.
While some individuals may feel temporary mood enhancement or relief from depression after using medical cannabis, its impact on mental health is complex. While certain compounds like CBD show potential, more study is needed for a clear understanding of its effects, dosages, and safety.
The Caregiver's Guide to Medicinal Cannabis
Welcome to the Caregivers’ Guide to Medicinal Cannabis. As a caregiver, we understand that ensuring the well-being of your loved one during an illness can be challenging. Whether you’re looking after elderly parents, taking care of elderly family members, or caring for someone else important in your life – caregiving is a big responsibility. That’s why we’re dedicated to helping caregivers and providing them with the knowledge and support they need to care for themselves and their loved ones.
Medicinal cannabis has been shown to help people with a variety of physical and mental health issues. From glaucoma to chronic pain, chemotherapy and even sleep problems, medicinal cannabis has the potential to help some chronically or terminally ill people, including ageing parents, to manage symptoms, enhance their comfort, and improve quality of life.
This guide has been created for caregivers just like you, so that they can better understand the fundamentals of medicinal cannabis, explore the science behind medicinal cannabis, and find out how to potentially integrate medicinal cannabis into your loved one's care routine.
Understanding Medicinal Cannabis as a Caregiver
If you’re thinking about medicinal cannabis for an elderly parent or loved one, a good first step is to get to know the medicinal cannabis basics, including its therapeutic effects, potential risks, administration methods, how medicinal cannabis differs from recreational use, and the legalities of medicinal cannabis in Australia. Let’s get started.
What is a caregiver?
A caregiver is someone who provides care and support to another person who may be unable to fully take care of themselves due to age, illness, disability, or other challenges.
Caregivers help with daily tasks, offer emotional support, and ensure the well-being of those they care for. You may be looking after elderly parents, taking care of elderly family members, or caring for a child or a friend.
What Is Medicinal Cannabis?
Medicinal cannabis is a type of plant medicine with therapeutic chemical compounds, most notably tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) that have been shown to provide a range of health benefits and manage various conditions.
These chemical compounds engage with the body's endocannabinoid system (a network of receptors that control numerous bodily functions) to help people manage short-term, chronic, and end-of-life conditions.
Cannabis plants contain a wide variety of cannabinoids, each with its own potential effects and properties. Some of the most well-known and studied cannabinoids found in cannabis plants include:
Just like there are different types of common medications, there are different types of medical cannabis treatments. Treatments vary in terms of the format they come in (e.g. oils, dry herb flower that is vaporised, topicals, wafers and more), the cannabinoid and terpene content and potency.
Caring for Elderly Parents: How Medicinal Cannabis May Help
Caring for elderly parents comes with its own unique set of challenges but medicinal cannabis can support you in providing ageing parents with additional pain relief and comfort. In Australia, medicinal cannabis is becoming recognized for its wide-ranging therapeutic benefits for age-related conditions.
From providing chronic pain and arthritis relief to tackling sleep disorders and glaucoma in some patients, medicinal cannabis has the potential to offer a multifaceted approach to enhancing the well-being of seniors.
What are Cannabinoids and What Do They Do?
Cannabinoids are a group of naturally occurring chemical compounds that interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). In medicinal cannabis, there are several types of cannabinoids that work in the body in different ways.
- Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC:) This is one of the main cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. THC is commonly known as a psychoactive cannabinoid as it gives people a ‘high’ euphoric sensation that many people associate with cannabis use. THC modulates the ECS by binding with CB1 receptors in the brain. In addition to creating a high THC has many therapeutic applications, including reducing pain, alleviating nausea, and boosting appetite.
- Cannabidiol (CBD): This is another common cannabinoid found in medicinal cannabis. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive and doesn’t create a ‘high’ sensation as CBD does not bind with the CB1 receptor responsible for the euphoric feeling.
Instead, CBD interacts indirectly with our endocannabinoid system to modulate our opioid, dopamine, and serotonin receptors, which may help reduce anxiety, reduce inflammation, and regulate our mood and emotions.
There is also increasing evidence for the therapeutic potential of minor cannabinoids:
- Cannabinol (CBN): This cannabinoid is being researched for its anticonvulsant, and sedative potential. CBN is created during the breakdown of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC. Like THC, CBN also binds to the CB1 receptor, but at a much lower strength than THC.
While CBN is technically a psychoactive compound, it doesn’t produce a significant ‘high’. This is because CBN primarily modulates CB2 receptors that are associated with immune system regulation.
- Cannabigerol (CBG): CBG is considered a precursor to other cannabinoids, as it is converted into THC, CBD, and other compounds as the plant matures. It is present in lower concentrations compared to THC and CBD. CBG may have potential as an anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective agent.
- Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV): THCV is a cannabinoid that is structurally similar to THC, but it produces different effects. It is found in trace amounts in most cannabis strains, but some strains are bred to have higher THCV content. THCV may have appetite-suppressing and potential antiepileptic properties.
- Cannabichromene (CBC): CBC is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is being studied for its potential anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. It is found in relatively low concentrations in medicinal cannabis.
- Cannabidivarin (CBDV): CBDV is structurally similar to CBD and is being investigated for its potential anti-epileptic properties. It is found in minor amounts in medicinal cannabis.
- Delta-8-Tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-8-THC): Similar to Delta-9-THC, Delta-8-THC has psychoactive effects, albeit typically milder. It is found in very low concentrations in medicinal cannabis.
The cannabinoid profile of a medicinal cannabis treatment can vary significantly based on factors such as genetics, growing conditions, and processing methods. Researchers are continuing to study these cannabinoids to better understand their individual effects and potential therapeutic applications.
What are Medicinal Cannabis Terpenes and What Do They Do?
Terpenes (pronounced tur-peens) are the organic, aromatic compounds found in plants, including cannabis. Until recently, much of the cannabis industry has been focused almost solely on the therapeutic qualities of cannabinoids like THC and CBD.
However, as our knowledge of terpenes continues to grow and cannabis science expands, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that these aromatic compounds are medicinal powerhouses in their own right.
Within different strains, you’ll find specific terpenes. Again, just like with wine or other plants, terpenes are aromatic compounds that contribute to the plant's distinct smell and flavour. They also interact with cannabinoids and may influence the effects of medicinal cannabis consumption
There are more than 100 different terpenes identified in cannabis plants, each with its own unique aroma, flavour, and potential therapeutic properties, however, some common terpenes include:
- Myrcene: This is one of the most abundant terpenes in medicinal cannabis. It has an earthy, herbal, and slightly fruity aroma. Myrcene is also found in hops or basil or even earthy Merlots.
- Limonene: As the name suggests, limonene has a citrusy aroma. It's associated with elevated mood and stress relief.
- Pinene: There are two types of pinene: alpha-pinene and beta-pinene. Alpha-pinene has a piney aroma, while beta-pinene has a spicier scent. It's also found in pine trees and rosemary.
- Caryophyllene: This terpene has a spicy, peppery aroma. It's thought to have anti-inflammatory properties. Caryophyllene is also found in black pepper and cloves.
- Linalool: Linalool has a floral, lavender-like scent. It's often associated with relaxation and stress relief. Linalool is found in many flowers and herbs, including lavender.
- Humulene: With an earthy, woody aroma, humulene is also found in hops and has potential anti-inflammatory properties.
- Terpinolene: This has a complex aroma that can be floral, piney, and even a bit herbal. It's thought to have sedative effects and is also found in nutmeg and cumin.
- Ocimene: Ocimene has a sweet, herbal, and sometimes fruity scent. It's thought to have antiviral and antifungal properties.
- Borneol: Borneol has a menthol-like scent and is often associated with calming effects. It's also found in herbs like mint and camphor.
- Eucalyptol: This has a fresh, minty aroma. It's commonly found in eucalyptus trees and has the potential for respiratory benefits.
Each medicinal cannabis treatment will vary in cannabinoid and terpene content and each patient has unique needs so it’s important to work with experienced medical cannabis clinics or an experienced medical cannabis doctor to determine the best treatment plan for your loved one.
How to Administer Medicinal Cannabis
As a caregiver, you might wonder how your loved one or your ageing parents would take medicinal cannabis. Many people unfamiliar with this medication may only know of the inhalation method for medicinal cannabis (smoking/vaping) but there are actually many administration methods for medicinal cannabis that can be personalised to your loved one’s preferences and needs.
Common administration methods include:
- Sublingual: This involves placing the treatment under the tongue, a method which allows active ingredients to be absorbed directly into the blood vessels of your tongue, bypassing the digestive system and therefore making it suitable for elderly people seeking quick relief. Treatments taken sublingually can come in the form of oils, tinctures, wafers, sprays and more.
- Ingestion: Ingestion methods of cannabis consumption include any cannabis treatment that is consumed orally – such as cannabis edibles, tinctures, oils, capsules and extracts. While the effects of cannabinoid medicines will take longer to kick in when taken orally, they will also last longer. This method can be particularly appealing to people who prefer something familiar and convenient.
- Topical: These are infused creams, balms, or patches that are applied directly to the skin, providing targeted relief for localised discomfort. This non-intrusive method can be helpful for targeting specific areas.
- Inhalation: Vaporising medicinal cannabis provides fast relief, but this method might not be suitable for individuals with respiratory problems. Learn more about vaporising in the next section. Smoking is not a recommended administration method.
How Does Medicinal Cannabis Differ from Recreational Cannabis?
As a caregiver, you may not have a lot of knowledge about medicinal cannabis or you may have only heard of recreational cannabis before. If that’s the case — don’t worry! We’re here to help.
Medicinal cannabis (historically known as medical weed or medical marijuana, learn more about the importance of language here), is quite different from recreational cannabis. It involves the controlled and therapeutic use of cannabis plants to alleviate symptoms or manage specific medical conditions by modulating the body’s endocannabinoid system.
Unlike recreational use, which focuses on the THC component of the cannabis plant (sometimes known as a cannabis ‘high’), medicinal cannabis focuses on providing therapeutic relief. This may be achieved by using a medication that is not psychoactive, such as those containing CBD only, and/or by using a THC-containing medicine but at a lower dose than that required to produce a significant cannabis ‘high’.
Medicinal cannabis is prescribed by healthcare professionals who specialise in plant medicine. Like any medication, dosages, strains, and compositions will be carefully selected to cater to specific medical needs. Similarly, medicinal cannabis is highly regulated, requiring prescriptions and quality adherence to medical standards.
Is Medicinal Cannabis Legal in Australia?
Yes. Medicinal cannabis (also known as medical cannabis prescriptions) is legal in Australia and has been so since 2016. It’s recognised for its therapeutic benefits and can be accessed with a doctor's prescription. To ensure high-quality medication and treatment, it’s a good idea to go with a specialised medicinal cannabis clinic, like Polln.
What Conditions May Be Supported with Medicinal Cannabis?
There is no predetermined list of conditions for which medicinal cannabis can be prescribed — instead a doctor will work with a patient to determine whether or not medicinal cannabis could help depending on the symptoms someone is experiencing.
However, some medical conditions where medicinal cannabis may offer potential therapeutic benefits, include:
- Chronic Pain (including arthritis, neuropathy, or musculoskeletal disorders)
- Cancer-Related Symptoms (pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite)
- Neurological Conditions (multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson's disease)
- Mental Health Conditions (anxiety, PTSD)
- Sleep Disturbances (insomnia)
- Inflammatory Disorders (rheumatoid arthritis)
- Gastrointestinal Disorders (irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease)
- Autoimmune Disorders (lupus)
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
- Huntington's Disease
- Appetite Stimulation
- Neuropathic Pain (diabetes, nerve damage)
- Osteoporosis (and other bone-related issues)
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- End-of-Life Care
As many of these conditions affect older adults or ageing parents, natural treatment options, like medical cannabis, can be a good option to be used alone or in conjunction with other medications to relieve symptoms without significant side effects..
However, the effects of medicinal cannabis can vary from person to person. Caregivers should prioritise communication with medical experts when considering medicinal cannabis as part of their loved one's care plan.
What Are Some Potential Therapeutic Benefits of Medicinal Cannabis
Medicinal cannabis products have shown promise in providing various therapeutic effects and can potentially improve a range of symptoms and overall quality of life in some chronically ill or even terminally ill people.
Some ways your loved one may benefit from medicinal cannabis include:
- Pain Management: Chronic pain is a common issue, often stemming from conditions such as arthritis, neuropathy, and musculoskeletal disorders. Medicinal cannabis, particularly with a balanced ratio of THC and CBD, has been reported to alleviate pain and improve mobility. By interacting with the endocannabinoid system, medicinal cannabis compounds may even help reduce inflammation to provide pain relief.
- Sleep Improvement: Sleep disturbances and insomnia are extremely common. Certain strains of medicinal cannabis, especially those higher in CBD, have been suggested to promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. However, careful consideration of dosage and timing is crucial to avoid disrupting sleep patterns.
- Anxiety Reduction: Anxiety and stress can significantly impact the mental well-being of people living with a chronic or life-limiting illness. CBD, a non-psychoactive compound found in medicinal cannabis, has shown potential in reducing anxiety symptoms. It may have a calming effect on the nervous system without the ‘high’ effects of THC.
- Appetite Stimulation: Many people living with severe illnesses (such as cancer) may experience an associated loss of appetite, leading to nutritional deficiencies and weight loss. Certain strains of medicinal cannabis, particularly those high in THC, have been known to increase appetite and improve food intake. This can be particularly helpful when caring for people undergoing chemotherapy.
- Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Cannabinoids, especially CBD, have shown anti-inflammatory effects, which could be beneficial for conditions characterised by inflammation, such as autoimmune disorders and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Neurological Condition Management: Some research suggests that medicinal cannabis might have neuroprotective properties and could be investigated for its potential in managing neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and epilepsy.
- Muscle Spasm and Tremor Management: Medicinal cannabis is being explored for its muscle relaxant properties, which may benefit individuals with conditions causing muscle spasms, tremors, or spasticity.
- Eye Health: Medicinal cannabis may help reduce intraocular pressure, which could potentially benefit individuals with glaucoma.
- Bone Health: Some research has suggested that cannabinoids might play a role in promoting bone health and even aiding in the healing of fractures.
Remember: individual responses to medicinal cannabis can vary greatly and what works well for one person may not work the same way for someone else. As a caregiver, it’s important to talk with a healthcare professional, like one of our helpful Polln doctors, before incorporating medicinal cannabis into your loved one’s care plan.
How to Access Medicinal Cannabis as a Caregiver
As a caregiver, exploring alternative treatment options like medicinal cannabis may be a new and unfamiliar territory, but we’re here to guide you through the process of helping your loved one access this potentially beneficial treatment. By understanding the steps involved, you can ensure an informed journey towards integrating medicinal cannabis into their care plan.
Check their eligibility for medicinal cannabis
To see if a loved one might be eligible for medicinal cannabis in Australia, ask yourself the following questions:
1) Do they have a chronic medical condition? Have they been experiencing symptoms for over three months?
2) Have they tried other treatments prior to medicinal cannabis?
3) Have these other treatments failed to alleviate their symptoms, have they had adverse effects, or are you or your loved one concerned about the side effects?
If you said yes to the above, then their doctor could consider them a candidate for medicinal cannabis.
To see if a loved one might be eligible for medicinal cannabis access, you can help them take our free eligibility quiz or simply sign up as a patient to chat with one of our expert Polln doctors. Want to speak to a nurse first to ask some questions before booking with a doctor? We offer nurse discovery calls, completely free of charge for new patients.
Start by Educating Your Loved One About Medicinal Cannabis
Take the time to talk to your loved one about medicinal cannabis and how it could potentially benefit them. Medicinal cannabis can sometimes be confusing for older patients, as it may have connotations of recreational cannabis or unconscious biases attached to it.
Talk to them about how medicinal cannabis works, explain the risks and benefits, and reassure them that medicinal cannabis is prescribed and monitored by qualified doctors — like our Polln specialists.
Find the Right Medical Partner for You
Once you and your loved one feel on the same page about a potential course of medicinal cannabis, the next step is to consult with your regular healthcare professionals and medicinal cannabis specialists, like our healthcare team at Polln, who have experience working with elderly patients.
Our Polln team can work with your loved one’s regular doctors to provide oversight of their medicinal canna bis treatments in association with any other medications or treatments they may currently follow.
Work with Your Healthcare Team to Develop a Care Plan
Once you find the right healthcare team, you can work closely with them to create a personalised care plan. By having a knowledgeable medicinal cannabis expert to guide you, you can make informed decisions about your loved one’s care and ensure that the plan aligns with their overall health goals and existing treatment regimen.
Their doctor will determine the appropriate starting dosage and strain of medicinal cannabis based on your loved one’s medical history and health condition.
Access Your Loved One’s Prescriptions
Depending on the doctor or clinic you choose, your loved one will be able to access their medication in several ways. Some doctors will provide a prescription that can be picked up at a limited number of specialist pharmacies. Not every pharmacy will stock medicinal cannabis, or stock the medication that your loved one has been prescribed. In this case, make sure you do your research first to save time.
Other medicinal cannabis clinics, like Polln, can arrange for medications to be sent express to your loved one’s home or care facility. This can be particularly helpful to fit in with caregivers' busy lives and reduce the wait time between appointments and treatment.
Help Administer Medicinal Cannabis to Your Loved One
Depending on your loved ones’ capabilities, you can either teach them how to use a medication administration method (such as vaping) or administer the medication to them each day.
There are many ways your loved one can consume medicinal cannabis — including ingestion (edibles), capsules, sublingual (under-the-tongue), and topicals. Your medical cannabis specialising doctor will talk you through the application or consumption of whichever your loved one needs so that you can provide the medication to them.
And if you ever need support, as a Polln patient, you and your loved one can enjoy complimentary support from our experienced team of medicinal cannabis nurses and care coordinators who can guide you through how to administer your loved one’s medications.
If your loved one can take their own medications, it can be helpful to set up a pill box (i.e., for gummies, capsules or other edibles) or medication reminders, to ensure they are getting the correct dosage at the right times.
Set Up Regular Doctor Check-Ins
Once your loved one has started a course of medicinal cannabis, you and your loved one’s doctor can schedule regular check-ins to assess their response to medicinal cannabis. At these appointments, the doctor can review changes in their symptoms, mood, sleep patterns, and overall well-being, and adjust their dosage of medication frequency if required.
By following these step-by-step guidelines and working closely with healthcare experts, you can provide effective support and contribute to a positive experience for your loved one in exploring medicinal cannabis as a treatment option.
How to Monitor Your Loved One’s Medicinal Cannabis Treatment
As a caregiver, closely monitoring your loved one’s response to medicinal cannabis is an important part of ensuring their well-being and optimising their treatment's effectiveness. After they first start their course of medication, get a notebook or online document, to record the following:
- Track Your Loved One’s Baseline:
Before they are treated, document your loved one’s baseline symptoms — how do they feel? Track details such as pain levels, sleep patterns, mood, appetite, and any adverse effects. This baseline will serve as a reference point for assessing the impact of medicinal cannabis.
- Track Any Symptom Changes:
After your loved one begins their medicinal cannabis treatment, keep a daily or weekly journal to record any improvements or worsened or new symptoms, such as alterations in sleep quality, changes in mood, and overall comfort. By keeping these records you and your loved one’s doctor can evaluate the treatment's efficacy.
- Make Note of Any Dosage Adjustments:
Your doctor will typically start your loved one on a low dose of medicinal cannabis and gradually increase it if needed. See how they respond to any adjustment in dosage and monitor for changes, symptoms, or side effects.
- Be Aware of Potential Tolerance:
As with many other medications, some individuals may develop a tolerance to the effects after prolonged use. If you notice that there is a decrease in the efficacy of the medication over time, make an appointment with your loved one’s healthcare team for guidance on adjusting dosages or taking a tolerance break.
- Book Follow-Up Appointments:
It can be helpful to pre-book follow-up appointments so that you and your loved one can regularly check-in with their healthcare team and update them on your observations, seek guidance, and adjust the medication treatment plan as necessary.
Remember: if something seems off, you don’t have to wait until your next appointment for help. Our Polln team provides online appointments, so that it’s easy for you and your loved one to attend a video appointment whenever they need advice or a review.
- Reach Out if You Need Support:
We know that the world of natural medicines and the effects of medical cannabis can be difficult to navigate and care with Polln doesn’t end at your first consultation. One of the big benefits of accessing medicinal cannabis with a specialised, patient-first clinic like Polln is that we offer a high level of patient support - including complimentary Nurse check-ins, just for being a Polln patient. If you have any questions about your loved one’s treatment plan, dosing, or anything in between, we’re here to help.
Understanding Potential Risks of Medicinal Cannabis as a Caregiver
While medicinal cannabis can offer significant benefits for many people with chronic or life-limiting conditions, as a caregiver, it’s still important to be aware of potential risks so that you can make well-informed healthcare decisions for your loved one.
- Cognitive Effects: Medicinal cannabis, especially products containing THC, can sometimes affect cognitive function, memory, and concentration. Caregivers should closely monitor any changes in their loved one’s cognitive abilities.
- Impaired Motor Skills: Like many sedating medications, medicinal cannabis can sometimes impair motor skills and coordination. Take precautions to prevent falls or accidents, especially in elderly people, and remind your loved one to not drive after taking medicinal cannabis.
- Potential Addiction: While the risk of addiction to medicinal cannabis is lower than with opioids, dependency is possible. Make sure your loved one only takes medicinal cannabis only as prescribed and keep an eye out for signs of dependency.
- Drug Interactions: Medicinal cannabis can interact with certain medications. Always check in with your loved one’s healthcare team to avoid any potentially dangerous interactions with other prescribed medications.
- Cardiovascular Health: Medicinal cannabis use may lead to changes in heart rate and blood pressure. Caregivers should be cautious, especially if the patient has a history of heart conditions. Regular monitoring and communication with the healthcare provider are crucial.
- Respiratory Concerns: Smoking medicinal cannabis can be detrimental to respiratory health, and should be avoided by people with pre-existing lung conditions.
- Psychiatric Conditions: While medicinal cannabis is generally safe, it’s not recommended for people with an active or previous psychotic or active mood disorder, like bipolar.
By being proactive, well-informed, and attentive to potential risks, you can minimise the chances of adverse effects and help your loved one undergo a safer course of medicinal cannabis treatment.
Remembering Caregiver Self-Care
Let’s take a moment to appreciate all you do as a caregiver! Caregiving is such an important and inspiring experience — but it can be emotionally and physically exhausting too.
We understand that as a caregiver, you might feel guilty about taking time for your needs. But remember that caring for yourself doesn't mean you’re neglecting your loved one! In fact, prioritising self-care will help continue to care for your loved one without burning out.
Here are some tips for ensuring you don’t put your needs last.
- Set Boundaries: You don’t have to do it all. Establish clear boundaries between your caregiving responsibilities and personal life.
- Seek Support: Whether you’re reaching out to your healthcare team, a support group, friends, or family members, connecting with others can help you manage the stress of caregiving responsibilities.
- Maintain Your Health: When you're caring for someone who’s unwell, it can be easy to forget about your own physical health. Take regular exercise, eat a balanced diet, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
- Schedule Breaks: Even caregivers need a break! Don’t be afraid to organise caregiving breaks where another family member or friend can step in for a few days so you can unwind and come back refreshed.
The Wrap Up
This Caregiver's Guide to Medicinal Cannabis can help you understand the ins and outs of medicinal cannabis so that you can make informed choices for your loved one’s care. Caregiving is a deeply rewarding yet challenging role that requires significant support from medical communities to ensure that caregivers have the education and resources they need to help their loved ones.
Medicinal cannabis has shown significant potential in helping with a range of physical and mental health issues — from chronic pain management to sleep improvement, anxiety reduction, and appetite stimulation. By following the step-by-step guides included above, caregivers can navigate getting their loved one started with medicinal cannabis, help monitor and adjust treatments, and be aware of any potential risks
Here at Polln, we recognise the incredible role of caregivers and want to empower them to improve the lives and well-being of their loved ones. This guide along with other Polln resources, like our dedicated team of doctors, can help you confidently integrate medicinal cannabis into your loved one’s care routine.
Glossary of Medicinal Cannabis-Related Terms
Cannabinoids: These are the active chemical compounds found in cannabis plants, each with its own potential therapeutic effects. Two well-known cannabinoids are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), both of which interact with receptors in the body's endocannabinoid system.
Endocannabinoid System (ECS): A remarkable biological system within the human body that plays a crucial role in maintaining balance (homeostasis). The ECS consists of receptors, enzymes, and endocannabinoids, and it regulates processes such as mood, appetite, sleep, pain perception, and immune response.
Terpenes: These are natural aromatic compounds found in medicinal cannabis, as well as in many other plants. Terpenes contribute to the distinct scent and flavour of different strains and may also have therapeutic properties.
Tincture: A tincture is a liquid medicinal cannabis extract that is typically placed under the tongue (sublingually) for rapid absorption. Tinctures offer a discreet and efficient way to administer medicinal cannabis, allowing for precise dosing and control over the effects.
Edibles: Edibles are food products infused with medicinal cannabis extracts. These products provide an alternative method of consumption by ingesting medicinal cannabis, which is metabolised through the digestive system.
Vaping: As a caregiver, one of the common methods for administering medicinal cannabis to a loved one is through a vaporizer. Vaporisation can help ensure fast onset of the active ingredients and is considered a safer option than smoking cannabis due to reduced exposure to harmful combustion byproducts. Smoking medicinal cannabis is not recommended.
Dosing: Dosing refers to determining and administering the appropriate amount of medicinal cannabis for therapeutic purposes.
Pharmacy Dispensing Limits and Intervals: Why They Matter in Medical Cannabis Treatment
Once you have a medical cannabis prescription in Australia, you might be wondering how often you’ll be able to access your medication? Or how much medication you would be prescribed each time. At Polln, we’re here to help you understand the ins and outs of medicinal cannabis treatments, including how medical cannabis prescriptions work.
Online medical cannabis clinics actually follow the same regulations as in-person medicinal cannabis clinics. Pharmacy dispensing limits help doctors and pharmacists manage the amount of medication patients have access to at any one time, while dispensing intervals help ensure that patients are able to maintain their medication treatment plan safely without gaps.
Learn more about dispensing limits and intervals for medicinal cannabis and why they’re so important for patients, doctors, and pharmacies. Let’s get started.
What are Dispensing Limits for Medical Cannabis?
Dispensing limits are the maximum amount of a medication that can be dispensed by a pharmacy in a single medical cannabis prescription. These limits are set by your doctor and guided by the government’s classification system to make sure that patients can safely access their medications while also reducing potential risks, like misuse or addiction. For medical cannabis prescriptions in Australia, dispensing limits are influenced by a system of scheduling. Scheduling is a classification system created by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) that controls how medicines can be made available to the public.
The TGA classifies medicinal cannabis as either Schedule 8, Schedule 4, or Schedule 3, depending on its active chemical compounds — the percentages of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or CBD (cannabidiol) — and its risk potential in regards to misuse or addiction.
Depending on the type of medicinal cannabis treatment you are prescribed by your doctor, your medication could be classified as:
- Schedule 8 medicinal cannabis: These medications are considered controlled drugs and are highly regulated. Schedule 8 medicinal cannabis products usually contain high levels of THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, and as such, they are seen to have the highest level of risk in terms of addiction or misuse.
The dispensing limits and intervals for Schedule 8 medicinal cannabis will depend on your conditions and healthcare needs.
- Schedule 4 medicinal cannabis: These are prescription-only medications that are less tightly controlled than Schedule 8 medications. These typically contain low levels of THC (less than 2%).
The dispensing limits and intervals for Schedule 4 medicinal cannabis will depend on your conditions and your healthcare needs
- Schedule 3 medicinal cannabis products: These products are the least controlled and have the lowest potential for misuse and dependence. Schedule 3 medicinal cannabis products typically contain only CBD, the non-psychoactive compound in cannabis.
The maximum recommended daily dose of CBD is 150mg or less, in packs containing no more than 30 days’ supply and packed in blister packaging or in a container fitted with a child-resistant closure. People prescribed Schedule 3 CBD products must be over 18 years of age.
As of February 2022, doctors can prescribe a Schedule 8 treatment to non-drug dependent patients without having to get a specialised permit from the Victorian Department of Health.
Factors That Can Influence Dispensing Limits of Medical Cannabis
Many things can influence your dispensing limit of medicinal cannabis. These factors include:
- Your health condition: The dispensing limit and schedule of your medication will depend on your health condition and the severity of your symptoms. For example, someone with a chronic condition that requires a higher percentage of THC compounds may need a higher dispensing limit and schedule 8 medications.
- Your previous response to treatment: If you’re not responding well to a low dose of medicinal cannabis, then your doctor may increase your dose/dispensing limit. Similarly, your doctor may also reduce your dose if you’re having unwanted side effects.
- Your age and weight: Similar to many other medications, your age and weight may have an influence on the way you respond to medicinal cannabis. In some cases, younger people or people with lower body weights may be prescribed a lower dispensing limit than older people or people with a higher body weight.
Advantages of Dispensing Limits in Medical Cannabis Treatment
Even though dispensing limits can sometimes feel inconvenient, they serve as an important tool in helping manage the safe and responsible use of medicinal cannabis across Australia. Dispensing limits can help you monitor your medical routine more safely and effectively. Here are some benefits of implementing dispensing limits for medicinal cannabis:
- Improved Therapeutic Efficacy: Medicinal cannabis, like any medication, is most effective when taken according to the prescribed dosing regimen. Sticking to dispensing limits and intervals ensures that you receive the appropriate amount of active compounds to achieve its therapeutic effects.
- Consistency of Treatment: Medicinal cannabis is often used to manage chronic conditions such as pain, epilepsy, or nausea. Consistent dosing means you can maintain stable levels of cannabinoids in your body, providing you with a more reliable and steady therapeutic effect.
- Minimization of Side Effects: Adhering to dispensing limits can help minimise the risk of unwanted side effects associated with medical cannabis use. Overconsumption or inconsistent dosing may lead to adverse effects such as dizziness, nausea, anxiety, or cognitive impairment.
- Avoiding Tolerance and Dependence: Regular and controlled dosing can help reduce the likelihood of developing tolerance, where the body becomes less responsive to the effects of medicinal cannabis over time. Additionally, adhering to recommended intervals can help you reduce your risk of developing dependence or addiction.
- More Accurate Health Monitoring: Adhering to your prescribed dosing limits and intervals allows your healthcare provider to collect accurate information about your response to treatment. This is essential for monitoring your progress and making informed decisions about any potential adjustments to your treatment plan.
Remember: it’s important to communicate openly with your medicinal cannabis healthcare providers and pharmacists, especially if you have concerns or have experienced any difficulties adhering to the recommended dispensing limits and intervals. By working together, patients and healthcare professionals can optimise the therapeutic benefits of medicinal cannabis and minimise any potential risks.
What Are Medical Cannabis Dispensing Intervals?
Dispensing intervals refer to how often medications can be supplied to patients. There aren’t any set rules for dispensing intervals that apply uniformly across Australia for medical cannabis.
Dispensing intervals can vary based on several factors, including the schedule of the medical cannabis product, the patient's medical condition, the prescribing doctor's judgement, and local regulations.
How Do Prescribers Decide on Medical Cannabis Dispensing Intervals?
How a doctor decides on dispensing intervals for a medicinal cannabis patient depends on several factors. Healthcare authorities and regulatory bodies may provide guidelines or recommendations for appropriate dispensing intervals, but these are often adaptable to individual patient situations — after all, what works for one patient’s condition isn’t always guaranteed to work for someone else.
At Polln, we personalise prescriptions depending on the needs of each patient. Our dispensing limits and intervals will depend on many factors, including a patient’s health condition, symptoms, or even their location. As rural and regional patients often face a much longer wait time for their medications, reducing ordering intervals can allow them to avoid medication gaps.
The Importance of Adhering to Medical Cannabis Dispensing Limits and Intervals
Dispensing Limits and Intervals are an important part of a safe and successful medicinal cannabis treatment plan. By adhering to a consistent dosing regime, you can help ensure that your medicinal cannabis treatment can maintain its therapeutic effects and help your doctor better monitor your treatment and health outcomes.
Remember: medicinal cannabis can be either a Schedule 3, 4 or 8 medicine. So as a controlled drug, it’s even more important for patients to adhere to their set dispensing limits and intervals.
Medicinal Cannabis Dispensing Process FAQ:
How Regularly Can You Fill Your Scripts?
There is no single answer for how often you can fill your medicinal cannabis script. The frequency in which you can fill your medicinal cannabis prescriptions will vary depending on your personal situation and your health condition.
The Wrap Up
Pharmacy dispensing limits and intervals are an important part of ensuring a safe and effective medicinal cannabis treatment plan. Dispensing limits are influenced by the medication schedules of your medicinal cannabis type (Schedules 8, 4, and 3) which represent the percentage of THC vs. CBD present in your medication.
Pharmacy dispensing limits and intervals will be tailored to your healthcare needs by your doctor and are based on your condition, symptoms, and location. If you have any questions about your dispensing limits and intervals, we suggest discussing this with your doctor in your next consultation or reaching out to our friendly Care Team at email@example.com.
Dying to Know Day: Palliative Care and Medicinal Cannabis
Just like birth, death is a natural part of the human experience — yet it remains one of the most sensitive and least discussed topics in society. Dying to Know Day helps people start important discussions around end-of-life planning and ensures that people in the final stages of life can receive the compassionate care they deserve.
The annual event observed on the 8th of August each year in Australia, "Dying to Know Day" raises awareness about planning for death and encourages all adult Australians to be strong self-advocates for end-of-life and palliative care choices.
When you’re thinking about palliative care planning for yourself or a loved one, it can be hard to know where to start or what medications could provide the most comfort. Medicinal cannabis has emerged as an effective complementary therapy in the field of palliative care for some patients, with ongoing scientific research showing that medicinal cannabis may help to alleviate pain, reduce discomfort, and address distressing symptoms experienced by terminally ill patients.
So today, let’s learn more about the importance of Dying to Know Day, explore palliative care, and learn about how medicinal cannabis may help people naturally reduce their pain and improve their quality of life in their final days.
What is Dying to Know Day?
Dying to Know Day is an annual event observed on the 8th of August in Australia.
The event encourages people to start conversations about advance care planning, palliative care options, and — importantly— how to document your healthcare preferences before you think you’ll need to.
Avoiding the topic of death is fairly normal. It’s hard to imagine the end of our lives or imagine the people we love reaching the end of their lives. For many people, it’s easier to put off hard conversations and continue living in the moment. However, the fear of this natural transition can sometimes mean that our end-of-life wishes aren’t known or acted upon later.
In Australia, Death can be a very difficult subject. So much so that a recent study indicated that up to 70% of Australians don’t have a legally binding will and only 15% of the general adult community and 14% of older people have advanced care planning in place to document their healthcare decisions if they become seriously ill and unable to communicate their treatment preferences.
Through community events, workshops, and educational programs, Dying to Know Day seeks to empower individuals to make informed decisions about their healthcare, ensuring their wishes are respected. This day provides an opportunity for us to be brave and embrace the facts of death and dying, including cultural practices, spiritual beliefs, and the role of palliative care.
What is Palliative Care?
Palliative care is a holistic approach to end-of-life healthcare that focuses on providing support, relief, and comfort to individuals with life-limiting illnesses. Unlike curative treatments that target the underlying disease, palliative care aims to improve the overall quality of life for patients and their families by addressing physical, emotional, psychosocial, and spiritual needs.
This specialised form of care is not always limited to end-of-life stages but can be provided alongside curative treatments to enhance the patient's well-being throughout the course of their illness.
Understanding what kind of palliative care you want, or want for your family is an important part of end-of-life planning. A multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, social workers, counsellors, or our specialist Polln doctors to provide unique medicinal cannabis support, can collaborate to create personalised care plans that cater to each patient's unique needs.
Common Palliative Care Medications
There is no one palliative care medication. Instead, a variety of medications may be prescribed to manage pain, control symptoms, and address specific medical needs. Some of the common palliative care medications that people may want to include in their end-of-life planning include:
Analgesics (Pain Medications):
- Non-Opioid Analgesics: Non-opioid pain medications like acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen may be used for mild to moderate pain relief or in combination with opioids to enhance pain control.
- Medicinal Cannabis: Medicinal cannabis, containing cannabinoids like THC and CBD, has shown promise in managing pain effectively. Some palliative care patients may find relief from chronic pain through the use of medicinal cannabis as a complementary or alternative option to traditional analgesics.
- Opioids: Opioids are potent pain-relieving medications frequently used in palliative care to manage moderate to severe pain. Common opioids include morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, and hydromorphone. They work by binding to specific receptors in the central nervous system to block pain signals.
Antiemetics (Anti-Nausea Medications):
- Ondansetron: Ondansetron is an antiemetic (anti-nausea) medication commonly used to prevent or alleviate nausea and vomiting, particularly associated with chemotherapy or opioid use. However, it’s important to note this can cause constipation with long-term use.
- Medicinal Cannabis: Medicinal cannabis has demonstrated antiemetic properties, making it a potential option for managing treatment-induced nausea and vomiting in palliative care patients.
- Metoclopramide: Metoclopramide is another antiemetic that can help manage nausea and improve gastric emptying. However, this can cause akathesia (an inability to remain still) which lasts a few hours. Unfortunately, doctors cannot predict which patients will experience this common side effect until they actually take this medication.
Anxiolytics (Anxiety Medications):
- Lorazepam: Lorazepam is a benzodiazepine used to manage anxiety, agitation, or restlessness in palliative care patients.
- Diazepam: Diazepam is another benzodiazepine with anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties, often used to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety.
- Midazolam: Midazolam is a benzodiazepine commonly used for symptom management in palliative care, such as relieving anxiety, managing seizures, or inducing sedation for comfort.
- Medicinal Cannabis: CBD-dominant strains of medicinal cannabis have shown potential as anxiolytics, providing a sense of calm and relaxation without the psychoactive effects of THC. These strains may be considered to relieve anxiety or emotional distress in end-of-life patients.
Antidepressants and Antipsychotics:
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs such as sertraline and fluoxetine may be used to manage depression and anxiety in palliative care patients.
- Atypical Antipsychotics: Atypical (lower risk) antipsychotic medications like quetiapine can help manage agitation, delirium, or psychosis.
- Medicinal Cannabis: While not a primary treatment for psychiatric conditions, some patients may find relief from symptoms of anxiety and depression through the use of medicinal cannabis, particularly CBD-rich strains.
Corticosteroids and inflammation management:
- Dexamethasone: Dexamethasone, a corticosteroid, is often used in palliative care to reduce inflammation and control symptoms like pain or edema.
- Medicinal Cannabis: Some studies suggest that certain cannabinoids in medicinal cannabis have anti-inflammatory properties, which may be beneficial in managing symptoms associated with inflammation.
Laxatives and Stool Softeners:
- Senna: Senna is a natural laxative used to treat constipation in palliative care patients.
- Docusate Sodium: Docusate sodium is a stool softener that helps ease bowel movements and prevent constipation.
Antipyretics (Fever-Reducing Medications):
- Acetaminophen: Acetaminophen (Paracetamol, sold as Panadol) is commonly used to reduce fever and relieve mild to moderate pain in palliative care patients.
Anticholinergics (inhibits involuntary muscle movements):
- Scopolamine: Scopolamine patches may be used to help manage the presence of mucus in the respiratory tract (death rattle) or help with certain symptoms like nausea or delirium.
Sedatives and Hypnotics:
- Zolpidem: Zolpidem is a sedative medication that may be used for short-term management of insomnia in palliative care.
- Medicinal Cannabis: Certain strains of medicinal cannabis, particularly those higher in CBD content, may offer potential benefits in promoting relaxation and improving sleep quality for people experiencing insomnia.
Remember that medication choices during palliative care are different for every person and that your or a loved one’s patient needs may change over time. Regular assessment, communication, and adjustments to medication regimens are an important part of overall palliative care management.
How Can Medicinal Cannabis Help People in Palliative Care?
In recent years, there has been growing interest in the potential of medicinal cannabis as a complementary therapy in palliative care. Medicinal cannabis contains various cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), which interact with the body's endocannabinoid system to produce a range of therapeutic effects.
One potential benefit of medicinal cannabis for end-of-life care is that it is able to manage several common palliative care areas at once for some patients, these include:
- Pain Management: Chronic pain is a common and distressing symptom experienced by people with advanced illnesses. By acting on the body's endocannabinoid receptors, medicinal cannabis may modulate pain perception and offer an alternative or complementary option for pain relief for some patients.
- Nausea and Vomiting Relief: Nausea and vomiting, often caused by treatments such as chemotherapy, can be managed by medicinal cannabis. It has shown promise in stimulating appetite, which can be helpful for some patients experiencing reduced food intake due to their illness.
- Anxiety and Emotional Support: Understandably, facing a life-limiting illness can trigger intense emotional distress and anxiety in both patients and their families. Incorporating medicinal cannabis into the palliative care regimen may provide emotional support to some patients during their end-of-life journey.
It’s important to note that there is a potential for cannabis to cause or increase anxiety in some patients so it’s always important to work with an experienced doctor when exploring new treatments
- Improved Sleep: Insomnia and disrupted sleep patterns are common challenges faced by palliative care patients. Medicinal cannabis has shown potential in improving sleep quality and addressing sleep disturbances in some patients.
- Reduced Dependence on Opioids: In cases where palliative care patients rely on opioids for pain management, medicinal cannabis may provide increased pain relief with lower opioid doses, minimising the risk of opioid-related side effects, including nausea, vomiting, constipation, itchy skin, dizziness, dry mouth and sedation.
If you’re thinking about including medicinal cannabis into your or a loved one’s end-of-life care plans, then it’s a good idea to reach out to a knowledgeable doctor, like a member of our caring Polln team, about your options and learn more about how medicinal cannabis can potentially support comfort care for the dying.
It’s also important to remember that while medicinal cannabis holds promise as a complementary therapy in palliative care, the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis may vary depending on individual factors such as the patient's specific medical condition, medical history, and tolerance levels.
Possible Risks of Medical Cannabis
When deciding on any kind of medication, it's also essential to acknowledge any possible risks. A comprehensive discussion with a caring medical professional can help you make an informed decision about whether medical cannabis is the right option for you and your health.
While medical cannabis is a natural treatment option, some potential risks of medicinal cannabis include:
- Cognitive Effects: Depending on the compounds present and their concentrations, medical cannabis can sometimes lead to cognitive changes, including impaired memory and concentration.
- Interactions and Side Effects: Just like any medication, medical cannabis could interact with other medications you're taking. Although side effects are fewer than with traditional medications, it’s still worth talking them over with your doctor.
- Psychoactive Effects of THC: The psychoactive nature of THC may not be appropriate for people with certain mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Commonly Used Cannabinoids in Palliative Medicine
Cannabinoids, the active compounds found in medicinal cannabis, interact with the body's endocannabinoid system in different ways to regulate various bodily functions. In palliative medicine, certain cannabinoids provide different kinds of potential therapeutic benefits for patients facing life-limiting illnesses. Some cannabinoids that could provide therapeutic benefits in palliative care include:
THC is one of the primary compounds in cannabis, commonly known for its euphoric effects (aka the ‘high’). In palliative care, THC-rich medications are often prescribed to address pain and discomfort experienced by patients.
CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in medicinal cannabis. It can provide therapeutic effects without causing the "high" associated with THC. In palliative medicine, CBD-dominant treatments are often prescribed to address symptoms like anxiety, nausea, and inflammation.
CBN is a minor cannabinoid that’s found in aged or oxidised medicinal cannabis. While CBN is not as extensively studied as THC or CBD, some research suggests potential sedative effects that may aid in sleep and relaxation for patients experiencing insomnia or restlessness.
Delta-8-THC is a less potent isomer of Delta-9-THC, the primary psychoactive compound in medicinal cannabis. It exhibits milder psychoactive effects and may be considered as an option for patients who are sensitive to Delta-9-THC.
CBG is another non-psychoactive minor cannabinoid found in medicinal cannabis. While research on CBG is still in its early stages, it has shown potential anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, which might be relevant to palliative care patients managing various symptoms.
Healthcare providers, like our experienced cannabis-friendly Polln doctors, can work closely with patients and their families to find the most appropriate and effective cannabinoids to offer symptom relief and improve the overall well-being of those facing end-of-life challenges.
How to Include Medicinal Cannabis in a Palliative Care Plan
If this Dying to Know Day, you’re thinking about incorporating medicinal cannabis into your or someone you love’s palliative care plan it is essential to seek guidance from your healthcare team. Here are some steps to include medicinal cannabis in your palliative care plan:
Step 1: Talk to Your Palliative Care Team and/or Healthcare Professionals
Whether you’re looking to include medicinal cannabis into a current or future palliative care plan, talking to a knowledgeable healthcare team is the first step. Share your interest in exploring this treatment option and ask for their guidance.
Your healthcare team can help you understand the potential benefits and risks of using medicinal cannabis for your specific symptoms and medical condition. If you’re working with a specialised medicinal cannabis doctor, like a Polln Medicinal Cannabis practitioner, then they can integrate their care with your, or a loved one’s, pre-existing healthcare team to ensure better patient outcomes.
Step 2: Discuss Your Medical History and Current Symptoms
Your healthcare team will discuss your medical history and the symptoms you are experiencing. Be open about any pain, nausea, anxiety, or other issues you are facing. If you’re planning for future care, then highlight current conditions that might need further management later on (i.e., anxiety disorders).
Step 3: Consider the Best Form of Medicinal Cannabis for You
Discuss which form of medicinal cannabis (capsules, flower, oils etc.) might be the most appropriate for you based on your preferences and medical needs. Your medical team will consider factors like ease of administration and how quickly you need relief from your symptoms. Learn more about the different medicinal cannabis formats available here.
Step 4: Work Together to Find the Right Dosage
If you decide to start a course of medicinal cannabis, your specialist doctor will start you on a low dose and adjust it based on how you respond. It's important to share any changes in your symptoms or side effects so your dose can be adjusted as necessary.
The Bottom Line
Dying to Know Day serves as an annual reminder of how death is a natural and inevitable part of life — and that rather than ignore it or hide from it, there is a lot to be gained from having open discussions about the end of life and how we can plan for a comfortable departure.
Dying to Know Day empowers people to make informed decisions about their healthcare and encourages discussions about advance care planning and palliative care options for themselves or their loved ones. Palliative care is an important part of end-of-life planning. It provides a holistic approach to end-of-life healthcare and can help support a patient's physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
For people considering medicinal cannabis to support a palliative care plan for themselves or a loved one to potentially help alleviate pain, manage symptoms like nausea and anxiety, and improve sleep quality. It’s important to involve healthcare professionals, like our Polln doctors, in the decision-making process so as to best support each person’s unique end-of-life needs.
Can cannabis cause nausea in palliative care?
Medicinal cannabis can cause nausea in some palliative care patients, but it can also relieve it. The effects of cannabis on nausea depend on the individual, the type and dose of cannabis medication used, and the underlying medical condition.
Some studies have found that cannabis can reduce nausea and vomiting in cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy, as such, medicinal cannabis is sometimes prescribed to alleviate these symptoms in palliative care. However, medicinal cannabis, like any medication, can have side effects, and some people may experience nausea from its use. Some people may also experience nausea when they consume high doses or specific types of medicinal cannabis.
Is cannabis an effective and safe treatment option in the management of palliative care pain?
The use of medicinal cannabis in managing palliative care pain is an area of ongoing research with evidence showing its potential benefits in end-of-life pain management for some patients.
However, it's important to note that individual responses to medical cannabis treatments can vary and as with all medication, there are potential risks to be aware of. It’s best to consult with a qualified medicinal cannabis doctor for a full assessment of your health history and goals. An experienced practitioner who is also experienced with geriatrics and palliative care can also address any safety concerns you might have related to THC's side effects and potential interactions with other medications.
Choosing a Medicinal Cannabis Clinic in Australia: What to Look For and What to Avoid
Since the legalisation of medicinal cannabis in Australia in 2016, more and more clinics offering medicinal cannabis treatments and prescriptions have popped up all across the country. And while more clinics means more choice for patients, more visibility, and more public recognition for medicinal cannabis being a viable treatment choice for many medical conditions, the growing number of clinics can also make it hard for patients to choose a medicinal cannabis clinic to suit their needs.
At Polln, we understand how important it is for people to find a clinic that supports them in their health goals. After all, the clinic you choose will directly impact your well-being, your patient safety, and your treatment’s effectiveness. By making an informed choice, patients can access the potential therapeutic benefits of medicinal cannabis while also receiving professional guidance from qualified medical experts.
Today, we’ll explore what to look for when choosing a medicinal cannabis clinic, teach you how to spot any red flags, explain the legal landscape surrounding medicinal cannabis access in Australia, and give you the knowledge you need to make a well-informed decision.
Understanding Medicinal Cannabis in Australia
While not as advanced as our Canadian and American counterparts, Australia has made significant strides in regulating the use of medicinal cannabis. In 2016, the Australian government amended the Narcotic Drugs Act, allowing for the legal cultivation and production of medicinal cannabis products. This change marked a crucial turning point in providing patients with access to alternative treatment options.
However, medicinal cannabis here in Australia is still subject to fairly strict regulations. Patients must meet certain eligibility criteria and get a prescription from a qualified medical practitioner to access medicinal cannabis treatments. Learn more about accessing medicinal cannabis in Australia here.
Can you get medicinal cannabis from your GP?
While you can choose to visit a general practitioner (GP) to access medicinal cannabis in Australia, there are several advantages to using a specialised medicinal cannabis clinic to access advice and treatments.
While GPs play a vital role in primary healthcare and are knowledgeable about a wide range of medical conditions, medicinal cannabis clinics offer specialised expertise and a more comprehensive approach to cannabis-based therapies.
Some reasons to choose a specialised medicinal cannabis clinic include:
- Expertise in Medicinal Cannabis: Medicinal cannabis clinics are specifically focused on cannabis-based treatments, which means they have in-depth knowledge and experience in prescribing and managing medicinal cannabis treatments - as well as the conditions and symptoms that could potentially be managed with natural therapies.
- Access to Specialised Treatment: Certain medicinal cannabis clinics provide access to a broader range of medicinal cannabis medications and treatment options that may not be readily available through a GP. This could include newer medications, treatments that may be conventionally more difficult to procure as well as uniquely compounded medications.
- Convenient All-in-One Appointments and Pharmacy Dispensing: Some specialised medical cannabis clinics like Polln provide complete end-to-end care, meaning that patients can book and attend their consultations conveniently from home and have their treatments delivered to them. This can be especially beneficial for patients living in rural or remote locations.
- In-Depth Understanding of Cannabis Laws and Regulations: Medicinal cannabis clinics stay up-to-date with the ever-evolving laws and regulations surrounding medicinal cannabis in Australia. They can navigate the complex legal landscape, ensuring patients receive treatment in full compliance with relevant regulations and obtain the necessary approvals from regulatory bodies.
- Holistic Patient-Centric Care: Some medicinal cannabis clinics, like Polln, adopt a patient-centric approach, focusing not only on the medical condition but also on the overall well-being of the individual.
- Streamlined Medical Assessment: At specialist medicinal cannabis clinics, the process of assessing a patient's eligibility for medical cannabis cannabis-based treatment is more efficient. The medical professionals at these clinics have experience in evaluating patients' medical histories and symptoms to determine whether medicinal cannabis is a suitable option for their condition.
Some clinics like Polln also help all of their doctors become Authorised Prescribers (AP) which means that they have received approval from the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) to write medical cannabis prescriptions. This focused approach can save patients time and reduce potential delays in accessing treatment.
However, it's important to note that consulting with your regular GP may be a good idea as a first step. Your GP can provide important background information and referrals to medicinal cannabis clinics and work together as a team for your healthcare needs.
Green Flags: What to Consider When Choosing a Medicinal Cannabis Clinic
Before choosing a clinic, it’s a good idea to consider a range of factors to find a clinic that will provide the best care for you. Just like any healthcare option, there is a lot to consider beyond just whether or not your clinic can provide you with medication. Some things you may want to consider include.
✅ Easy Accessibility: Just like with your local doctor's surgery, it’s important to choose a close-by or online clinic that won't add commuting stress to your regime. Depending on your circumstances, you may prefer a reputable online clinic that allows you to speak to your doctor from the comfort of your home. This can be especially beneficial if you live in a remote or rural location, if you require frequent appointments or follow-ups.
✅ Highly Qualified Medical Professionals and Staff: Look for high expertise and qualifications of the medical professionals and staff at a potential clinic. It’s best to look for additional medical cannabis qualifications or experience - bonus points if doctors are Authorised Prescribers. Look for doctors who are also Authorised Prescribers (AP) who have TGA approval to write medical cannabis prescriptions — saving you time in receiving treatment.
✅ Long and comprehensive consultations: When deciding on a clinic, make sure your doctors will take the time to fully understand your health background and needs. Some patients find that anything less than a 30-minute in-person or video consultation is not thorough enough. It’s also a good idea to consider how they make you feel — a supportive and compassionate team can enhance your treatment experience.
✅ Product agnostic clinics: Product agnostic clinics, like Polln, do not have vested interests in promoting specific medicinal cannabis products. As a result, the medical professionals in these clinics can offer unbiased treatment recommendations based solely on your medical condition and needs and have access to any medicinal products available in Australia. Their primary concern is finding the most effective treatment plan for you, regardless of which licensed producer's product it involves.
It is also essential to inquire about the sourcing and quality control measures of the medicinal cannabis products offered. Legitimate clinics work with licensed producers and adhere to stringent quality standards to ensure patients receive safe and effective treatments.
✅ Easy Delivery and Treatment Access: Your clinic should provide fast and easy delivery options for your medication. Some clinics or GPs may only provide a prescription, leaving you to search for one of the scarce medicinal cannabis prescribing pharmacies to physically fill your script. By selecting an online clinic that includes delivery services, you’ll be able to access your medication quickly and easily every time.
✅ Good Clinic's Reputation and Experience: The reputation and experience of the medicinal cannabis clinic are a good indicator of the quality of care they can provide. Research potential clinics online and look for patient reviews and testimonials to gauge the experiences of others.
What Kind of Consultation Process Should I Look For?
When choosing a medical cannabis clinic, look for one that provides a comprehensive consultation process and longer appointments.
More face-to-face time (whether it be online or in person) during the initial consultation, means that your doctor will be able to conduct a thorough assessment of your health, medical history, and the specific symptoms you are experiencing. Anything below 30 minutes for a first consultation may not give your prescribing doctor enough time to understand your conditions and symptoms and write an effective, personalised treatment plan.
The clinic should provide personalised advice on medicinal cannabis usage, including appropriate dosages and potential side effects. Follow-up appointments and the option for adjustments to your treatment plan as needed are also essential elements of a reliable medicinal cannabis clinic. These kinds of regular check-ins allow the medical team to monitor your progress and make necessary modifications to optimise treatment outcomes.
Red Flags: What to Avoid When Choosing a Medicinal Cannabis Clinic
While the growing acceptance of medicinal cannabis in Australia has opened doors to many legitimate and trustworthy clinics, it has also led to the emergence of some questionable providers.
To protect your health and ensure a positive treatment experience, it is important to be aware of red flags that may suggest a medicinal cannabis clinic is unreliable or may not provide a high level of care. Here are some warning signs to watch out for:
🚩 Not speaking with an actual doctor: When choosing a medicinal cannabis clinic, make sure you always have access to speak to a doctor (whether it’s in person or over a video call). Some providers will only provide phone consultations or even text-based consultations. Make sure you are getting the quality of care you deserve.
🚩 Product-specific clinics: A responsible medicinal cannabis clinic should tailor your treatments to you. Avoid clinics that only prescribe one brand or type of treatment. Treatment decisions should be based on your medical needs alone, not about making profits.
🚩 One-size-fits-all approaches: Avoid clinics where doctors appear to have a one-size-fits-all method, who seem to write prescriptions for medicinal cannabis without conducting thorough assessments. Each patient is unique, and a personalised treatment plan is crucial for optimising outcomes. Reputable clinics will take the time to understand your specific medical history, symptoms, and needs before recommending any treatment.
🚩 Unrealistic treatment promises: Beware of clinics that make unrealistic promises or guarantees about the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in curing/treating specific conditions. While medicinal cannabis has shown therapeutic potential for certain conditions, it is not a miracle cure for all health problems.
🚩 Slow or delayed medication delivery: Some medicinal cannabis providers might not be set up to quickly dispense and deliver your medication. While this might not be a problem for some people, if you are living with chronic pain or a condition that requires timely treatments you may want to ensure that you choose a clinic with end-to-end consultation and expedited medication delivery.
🚩 Lack of transparency or vague information: Reputable medicinal cannabis clinics prioritise transparency and medical cannabis education with their patients. If you find a clinic that seems evasive or avoids answering your questions or doesn’t have an emphasis on patient education, it could be a sign of potential issues.
🚩 Lack of referrals or positive patient reviews: A credible medicinal cannabis clinic should have a track record of positive patient experiences. Look for feedback from previous patients about their encounters with the clinic. If you find a clinic with consistently negative reviews or a lack of positive feedback, it may be best to explore other options.
🚩 Unsympathetic doctors: A trustworthy medicinal cannabis clinic should have medical professionals who genuinely care about their patient's well-being and prioritise individualised care. Be cautious if you encounter doctors who seem disinterested, rushed, or lack empathy during consultations.
Tips for Making an Informed Clinic Decision
Like any healthcare choice, choosing the right medicinal cannabis clinic for your needs is a big decision that requires careful consideration. To ensure that you make an informed decision and find a clinic that best suits your needs, here are some essential tips to guide you through the selection process:
- Conduct Thorough Research: Be wary of advertising or making impulsive decisions. Take the time to research various medicinal cannabis clinics and look for reputable clinics with a history of positive patient experiences and a track record of providing quality care.
- Seek Recommendations from Healthcare Professionals: Consulting with your other healthcare providers (including general practitioners (GP), naturopaths, nutritionists, or other specialists) can provide valuable guidance on medicinal cannabis treatments. They may recommend reliable clinics or provide advice to ensure that your treatment plan aligns with your existing medical conditions/medications.
- Contact the Clinic First, If You Need: It’s ok to need a little more information than what you find on a clinic website. A good clinic will give you the option of calling their team to ask any questions you might have before making an appointment. This also helps you gauge the clinic’s approach and how they communicate with patients.
- Compare Costs and Services Offered: Different medicinal cannabis clinics may offer varying services and pricing structures. Compare the costs of consultations, products, and any additional services provided. Remember: the cheapest option may not always be the best, so prioritise the quality of care and the reputation of the clinic over cost alone.
- Evaluate the Consultation Process: A reputable clinic will conduct a comprehensive consultation that includes an in-depth assessment of your medical history, symptoms, and overall health. The medical professionals should discuss potential treatment options, address any concerns you may have, and tailor a personalised treatment plan based on your needs.
- Trust Your Gut: At the end of the day, it’s important to trust your instincts and choose a medicinal cannabis clinic where you feel comfortable and confident in the medical professionals' abilities. A caring and supportive environment can significantly impact your treatment experience and overall well-being.
By following these tips, you can navigate the process of choosing a medicinal cannabis clinic with confidence and make an informed decision that aligns with your health needs and treatment goals. Your health is important, so take the time to find a reputable medicinal cannabis clinic that will support you and your health goals now and in the future.
The Wrap Up
The process of choosing a medicinal cannabis clinic is an important decision for many patients in Australia. By understanding the legal landscape, evaluating crucial factors, and being aware of both green and red flags, you can make an informed decision that supports your health needs and ensures a safe, effective, and compassionate medicinal cannabis treatment experience.
Remember that as everyone's medical background, health goals, and experiences with medicinal cannabis will vary, and it is essential to select a clinic that will take the time to conduct a full medical evaluation and find the right treatment schedule for you. Armed with the knowledge and insights provided in this article, we hope you can prioritise your well-being and seek a reputable, caring clinic, like Polln, that will put your well-being first.
Who Can Prescribe Medical Cannabis In Australia?
Since the Australian Federal Government first legalised access to medicinal cannabis back in 2016, hundreds of cannabis products have become available.
The supply of medicinal cannabis within Australia is regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). With most medical cannabis products falling under the ‘unregistered drugs’ category, prescription requires approval under the TGA Special Access Scheme (SAS), or as an Authorised Prescriber (AP).
Medicinal cannabis can be prescribed by any medical doctor in Australia, provided that it is clinically appropriate, and that there is evidence supporting the use of medicinal cannabis for the patient’s treatment. Nurse Practitioners are also able to prescribe medicinal cannabis in certain states or territories.
Although medicinal cannabis can be prescribed by any doctor, it is important that you find a doctor who not only understands it in depth, but has also undergone additional training specifically for medicinal cannabis.
Authorisation Pathways For Prescribing Cannabis
Should a practitioner wish to prescribe a medicinal cannabis product that is not registered on the ARTG, they will need to gain approval from the TGA in one of two ways:
- Special Access Scheme
- Authorised Prescriber Scheme
Special Access Scheme
The Special Access Scheme gives a practitioner the opportunity to apply for the ability to prescribe unapproved medicinal cannabis products to a single patient. When applying for the Special Access Scheme, the practitioner must outline the following:
- Who the patient is and what their condition is.
- How prescribing the unapproved product will improve the patient’s condition.
- How the practitioner will assess the patient’s response to the treatment.
There are 3 categories that determine how a practitioner can prescribe an unapproved medicinal cannabis product for a patient:
- Category A
- Category B
- Category C
Special Access Scheme: Category A
An unapproved therapeutic good can be prescribed for a patient who is classified as seriously ill. TGA defines seriously ill as a condition from which death is reasonably likely to occur within a matter of months, or from which premature death is reasonably likely to occur in the absence of early treatment1.
In order to prescribe a patient with medicinal cannabis under Category A, the prescriber must be a medical practitioner.
Special Access Scheme: Category B
This pathway, also known as the SAS-B pathway, allows practitioners to submit an application using clinical justification for the use of medicinal cannabis and the benefits for a particular patient2. If a practitioner doesn’t have experience with a specific unapproved therapeutic good or a condition, they must receive a letter of support from an appropriate specialist. The goods a practitioner can prescribe will depend on a few factors, including:
- The condition being treated.
- Requirements of the state/territory they practise in.
- Scope of the practitioner’s practice.
- The provision of a brief clinical justification that supports the use of the prescribed product for the patient’s condition.
Authorised Prescriber Scheme (AP)
The Authorised Prescriber Scheme gives a practitioner the opportunity to apply for the ability to prescribe an unapproved medicinal cannabis product to multiple patients3. Any Australian registered medical practitioner can apply to become an AP, however this pathway is not available to Nurse Practitioners.
Authorised Prescribers can prescribe unapproved products and will not need to seek approval for each individual patient they are prescribing the medication to. An Authorised Prescriber is required to report on:
- Suspected product defects.
- Any undesired effects caused by the products.
- The total amount of patients they have treated every 6 months in a calendar year.
Applications are generally approved in 10 business days, and once a practitioner has been approved to be an Authorised Prescriber, they may prescribe the unapproved product to patients in their care.
Here at Polln, we help all of our doctors become Authorised Prescribers. This means that patients do not experience the lengthy wait times that are commonly associated with the SAS-B scheme, and can instead be provided with access to their medications sooner.
Regulations Around Prescribing MedicinalCannabis
The cannabis plant can contain anywhere between 80 and 100 cannabinoids, the most common being major cannabinoids, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). Learn more about cannabinoids here.
CBD is generally a non-impairing, well-tolerated cannabinoid – even at high doses4. Products that contain only CBD are classified as Schedule 4 medicines and do not require approval from a state or territory health department.
Products containing THC are classified as Schedule 8 controlled drugs – regardless of the amount of THC present. Like other Schedule 8 medications, prescriptions for THC-containing products must be approved by a state or territory health department.
With such a high number of medicinal cannabis products now available, a large percentage of them have not yet been assessed for safety by the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA). As a result, products that are yet to be assessed are not eligible to be registered on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG)5.
The ARTG is a public database outlining the therapeutic goods available to us in Australia, as well as ensuring their safety, effectiveness, and quality. To prescribe medicinal cannabis products that are not listed on the ARTG, practitioners are required to gain approval from the TGA.
State Specific Regulations
Each state has different rules and regulations pertaining to who can prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients.
To find out the specific regulations within your state, read on.
Who can prescribe medicinal cannabis in Western Australia?
All medical practitioners within WA are able to prescribe medicinal cannabis products. However, prior to prescribing any medical cannabis products that aren’t registered with the TGA, prescribers must obtain approval from the TGA.
State approval is not necessary for the prescription of medicinal cannabis products containing cannabidiol (CBD) only, as they are classified as a Schedule 4 medicine.
Learn more about medical cannabis access in Western Australia.
Who can prescribe medicinal cannabis in the Northern Territory?
In the Northern Territory, only an NT-based doctor is able to prescribe medicinal cannabis products. Before prescribing medicinal cannabis, the practitioner must first receive authorisation under the Authorised Prescriber Scheme or the Special Access Scheme.
A practitioner does not need to seek NT authorisation to prescribe Schedule 4 (CBD-only) products.
Learn more about medicinal cannabis access in the Northern Territory.
Who can prescribe medicinal cannabis in South Australia?
Medical practitioners within SA can apply to prescribe unapproved medicinal cannabis products through the TGA. Medical practitioners must fulfil both Commonwealth and South Australian Controlled Substances legislative requirements in order to be deemed eligible to prescribe medicinal cannabis.
If the medical practitioner is prescribing medicinal cannabis for a patient displaying a condition that they are not an expert in, depending on the circumstances, the practitioner may be required to seek a report from a specialist commenting on the effectiveness and suitability of medicinal cannabis in the patient’s treatment.
While no state-based approval is necessary for a practitioner to prescribe Schedule 4 products, a Section18A authority is required when a practitioner wishes to prescribe a Schedule 8 medication to a patient under the following conditions:
- The product is being prescribed for longer than 2 months.
- The patient has already been prescribed a Schedule 8 drug for a period longer than 2 months.
- The prescriber has reason to believe that the patient has a dependency on drugs.
Learn more about medicinal cannabis access in South Australia.
Who can prescribe medicinal cannabis in Queensland?
Both Queensland medical practitioners and medical practitioners based in other states that are prescribing to Queensland-based patients are eligible to prescribe medicinal cannabis, provided that they hold TGA approval. Queensland doctors can prescribe Schedule 4 and Schedule 8 products without a Queensland State approval6.
Learn more about medicinal cannabis access in Queensland.
Who can prescribe medicinal cannabis in New South Wales?
Any registered medical practitioner within NSW is eligible to legally prescribe medicinal cannabis if they believe it is a suitable treatment for their patient, and if they receive approval from the TGA.
The prescription of Schedule 4 medications do not require approval from the TGA, however approval from the TGA is required before a practitioner can prescribe a Schedule 8 cannabis medicine.
As of September 2019, a practitioner must submit an application to NSW Health for the prescription of a Schedule 8 cannabis medication where it is required for:
- A person with a drug dependency.
- A clinical trial.
- A child under the age of 16.
Learn more about medicinal cannabis access in New South Wales.
Who can prescribe medicinal cannabis in the ACT?
To be eligible to prescribe medicinal cannabis in the ACT, practitioners are required to receive approval from both the TGA and the Chief Health Officer of the ACT. They must also obtain Special Access Scheme approval before prescribing medicinal cannabis to any patients.
Under the ACT Controlled Medicines Prescribing Standards, medicinal cannabis can be approved for the following conditions and symptoms:
- Spasticity as a result of multiple sclerosis (MS).
- Nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.
- Anxiety and pain from a life-limiting disease with a prognosis of 12 months or less.
- Refractory paediatric epilepsy.
Applications for other conditions will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and may be referred to the Medicinal Cannabis Medical Advisory Panel for further advice.
Learn more about medicinal cannabis access in the ACT.
Who can prescribe medicinal cannabis in Victoria?
Any medical practitioner is able to prescribe medicinal cannabis to any patient with any condition, provided that they have obtained the required TGA and state approvals, and they believe it is a clinically appropriate treatment option7.
If a medical practitioner wishes to prescribe an unapproved medicinal cannabis product to one patient, they can apply to do so under the Special Access Scheme. If they wish to prescribe one medicinal cannabis product to patients with the same condition, they can apply to become an Authorised Prescriber of the product through the TGA.
If the patient receiving treatment has a drug dependency, the prescriber is required to obtain a Schedule 8 Treatment Permit under the Victorian Drugs Poisons and Controlled Substances Act.
Learn more about medicinal cannabis access in Victoria.
Who can prescribe medicinal cannabis in Tasmania?
In the event that conventional treatments and medications have failed, the Tasmanian Government has acknowledged that it is appropriate for a registered medical practitioner to prescribe a trial of an unregistered medicinal cannabis product.
Under the Tasmanian Government’s Controlled Access Scheme (CAS)8, relevant medical practitioners are authorised to prescribe medicinal cannabis. Through this scheme, medical cannabis can only be prescribed under limited circumstances where conventional treatments have otherwise been unsuccessful in treating the patient’s condition.
Learn more about medicinal cannabis access in Tasmania.
Forms of Cannabis Clinicians Can Prescribe
There are a range of different products clinicians may choose to prescribe to their patients, with some of the most popular being:
- Dried flower products
Your prescribing practitioner will determine which method will be most effective in treating your symptoms. It is also important to note that each product will have a different onset, effect, and duration of action on each person.
Learn more about the different ways you can consume medical cannabis by visiting our ‘How Medicinal Cannabis Can Be Consumed’ article.
How to find an Authorised Cannabis Prescriber
To talk to a practitioner about your medicinal cannabis journey, sign up as a Polln patient today and book an appointment with one of our cannabis clinicians.
Learn more about how you can access medicinal cannabis as a patient in Australia here.
CBD oil: explained
What is CBD oil?
CBD oil, also referred to as cannabis oil or medicinal cannabis oil, is derived from the cannabis plant. The ‘CBD’ in CBD oil stands for cannabidiol, which is a natural cannabinoid found in the plant.
Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds found in cannabis, alongside terpenes (plant compounds responsible for aromas and flavours), flavonoids (plant compounds associated with various health benefits), fatty acids, and other materials.
CBD oil contains high levels of CBD and can vary in levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the cannabinoid that produces a high because of its psychoactive properties, and other cannabinoids or compounds. There are 3 different types of CBD oil:
With so many CBD oil products now available in Australia, it can be confusing to differentiate between them. Often, the blanket term ‘CBD oil’ is used to refer to all of these products, which can make it hard to find the exact medical cannabis products you’re after.
What are the different types of CBD oils?
People tend to use the term CBD oil to refer to medical cannabis oils in general, which isn’t entirely accurate. It’s important to make a distinction between the different types of CBD oils, as they all serve different functions.
CBD Isolate is the purest form of CBD. It doesn’t contain any of the other cannabinoids (such as THC) present in the cannabis plant, or terpenes, flavonoids, and fatty acids. As CBD Isolate only contains CBD, it is often well tolerated by most patients with very few adverse effects1.
CBD Isolate is produced using the same extraction methods of other types of CBD oils, the only difference is that it goes through a final process called winterisation. During winterisation, the oil is dissolved in ethanol at sub-zero temperatures, which separates the compounds to allow them to be filtered off. What is left is pure CBD Isolate.
Full Spectrum CBD
Full Spectrum CBD uses the entire plant extract and contains the complete range of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds that are found naturally in the plant. This includes trace amounts of THC (less than 0.3%), which is unlikely to produce any psychoactive effects. This is important to note if you ever need to drive (learn more about driving and medicinal cannabis here.)
It has been found that the complete assortment of compounds found in Full Spectrum CBD can help achieve better medicinal and therapeutic outcomes than CBD alone – this is known as the entourage effect.
Broad Spectrum CBD
Broad Spectrum CBD sits somewhere between Full Spectrum and CBD Isolate. It is essentially the same as Full Spectrum CBD, however in the final stages of extraction, it has had trace amounts of THC removed. This means patients who are prescribed Broad Spectrum CBD can reap the benefits of having a range of cannabinoids, terpenes and other compounds (aka the ‘entourage effect’) without feeling the psychoactive effects of THC and are able to drive (learn more about driving as a medical cannabis patient in Australia).
Both Full Spectrum CBD and Broad Spectrum CBD contain cannabinoids other than just CBD. Technically speaking, this means they’re more than just 'CBD oils', however they still fall under this definition in the realm of medical cannabis.
How is CBD oil different from medicinal cannabis flower?
Medicinal cannabis flower is the flower of the female cannabis plant that has been harvested. Unlike CBD oil, flower is unprocessed and less manufactured.
CBD oil is usually consumed either sublingually (under the tongue) or orally. Oral or sublingual medicinal cannabis products have been shown to be better for chronic conditions, and ongoing pain that needs to be treated over a longer period of time2. This is because the cannabinoids are absorbed by the body slower, with effects that last longer.
The recommended method of consumption for cannabis flower is inhalation using a TGA-approved medical vape. Inhalation allows the cannabinoids to absorb directly into the bloodstream from the lungs, making it the ideal method for patients who require rapid relief for short-term pain or conditions2.
CBD oil, hemp oil, and hemp seed oil: what’s the difference?
The terms CBD oil and hemp oil are sometimes used interchangeably, but to be clear, we use the term CBD oil in Australia when referring to medical cannabis oil. Some people mistakenly buy hemp oil thinking it is high in CBD, but it is not.
Hemp oil is made from hemp plants that have very low concentrations of cannabinoids. CBD oil comes from cannabis plants that have large, cannabinoid-containing flowers3. The only way to get oil that is high in CBD is to get a prescription for CBD oil (learn more about accessing medicinal cannabis here).
Hemp seed oil is a different thing entirely from both hemp oil and CBD oil. Hemp seed oil is produced through cold pressing hemp seeds, is consumed for its vitamins and antioxidants, and contains no traceable amount of cannabinoids.
How is CBD oil made?
CBD oil is made by extracting CBD from cannabis plants. The way that CBD oil is extracted can have an effect on the final product that is created, changing everything from its purity to its therapeutic and health benefits.
There are a few ways that CBD is extracted from plants. These include:
- CO2 extraction - This method of extraction is one of the safest and commonly used ways to extract CBD. There are two types of CO2 extraction: supercritical and subcritical. Supercritical is the most popular and involves using heated and pressurised carbon dioxide to extract phytocompounds (like cannabinoids and terpenes) from the raw cannabis plant to create the oil.
- Liquid solvent extraction - This method of extraction uses a liquid solvent, like alcohol, to soak the plant and extract the cannabinoids. The resulting liquid is evaporated and then heated, creating an oil form of the cannabinoid concentrate.
- Oil extraction - This method of extraction involves using a carrier oil – like olive oil, coconut oil, or melted butter – to absorb the cannabinoids from the plant. The plant is heated to a certain temperature to activate its compounds, where it’s then mixed with the oil and heated again for a number of hours.
What are the potential benefits of using CBD oil?
Before going into detail about the potential benefits of using CBD oil (CBD Isolate, Broad Spectrum CBD, and Full Spectrum CBD), it’s important to understand how CBD oil works with our bodies.
One of the main systems for regulating processes and biological changes in our body is the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system is made up of three key parts: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.
Our bodies naturally create endocannabinoids, which travel and bind to the many receptors available to help regulate us when our natural state of being – called homeostasis – is disrupted.
There are two main types of receptors in our bodies. CB1 receptors are found in the central nervous system, and CB2 receptors are found in the peripheral nervous system. After an endocannabinoid binds to a receptor and carries out its function, enzymes break it down.
The effect that occurs after an endocannabinoid binds to a receptor depends on the type of receptor, and which endocannabinoid it binds to. CBD is unique because it doesn’t interact directly with our receptors. Instead, experts believe4 it works by slowing down the decomposition of endocannabinoids, which means our bodies can feel their effects for longer. THC and other cannabinoids can bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors, which produces a range of different outcomes when it comes to their potential therapeutic and health benefits5.
Because of how they interact with our endocannabinoid system, CBD oils may be able to help our bodies manage inflammation and disruptions to our nervous system more efficiently. Because of this, some potential benefits of medical cannabis in some patients may include:
Various studies have found that CBD oil may help relieve symptoms of anxiety and other mood disorders in some patients, including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, when administered acutely6.
This 2020 study7 into the antidepressant and antipsychotic effects of CBD found that CBD oil may interact with serotonin receptors in the brain in such a way that it can assist with regulating the mood of some patients and treating depression, though more research is needed in this space.
Insomnia and sleep disorders
Given how CBD interacts with the central nervous system, it may help with improving sleep quality by helping relieve symptoms of anxiety disorders, which tend to be related9. In a study10 of 24 participants over two weeks, participants reported an improvement in the time taken to fall asleep, time spent asleep, and feelings of being more rested and refreshed on waking.
Although chronic pain is one of the top reasons for medical cannabis prescriptions in Australia, there is still a lot more research that needs to be done. A study led by the Australian Government Department of Health found that medical cannabis was more likely than a placebo to produce 30% and 50% reductions in pain scores in patients with chronic pain due to conditions like multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia, and more likely than a placebo to produce a significantly greater reduction in pain intensity ratings11.
Though there have been a fair few studies done on the pain relieving effects of medicinal cannabis, more research needs to be conducted to reach a conclusive decision about the validity of it12.
How do I consume CBD oil?
The best way to take CBD oil is to drop the oil under your tongue (sublingually). This allows the oil to absorb faster into our bloodstream through your sublingual glands, which are found under your tongue. This is different to ingesting CBD oil, which goes through your gastrointestinal system and can take much longer to be absorbed by your body.
While CBD oil is typically used for long-term relief, cannabis flower may be used as an optional additional potential treatment for breakthrough pain or for patients who need more rapid relief.
When it comes to consuming all types of medical cannabis treatments, it’s important to start low and go slow and always follow the appropriate dosing prescribed by your healthcare professional so you minimise any potential negative side effects.
How can I buy CBD oil legally in Australia?
At the time of writing this, you can only legally buy CBD oil in Australia with a prescription (learn more about medicinal cannabis access in Australia here). There are two main methods of acquiring a prescription.
1. Special Access Scheme (SAS)
You can speak with your current doctor or healthcare professional who has a comprehensive understanding of your medical history. They will review your request and submit your diagnosis to the TGA, alongside a clinical justification for the prescription, any supporting evidence and details on how you will be monitored throughout your treatment. Unfortunately, many GPs aren’t well informed or prepared to go through this process with patients, so this pathway might not always be accessible. If you are unsure whether your current GP can help you access medical cannabis, you can make an appointment to speak with one of our expert Polln practitioners who are experienced in prescribing medical cannabis treatments.
2. Authorised Prescriber
You can speak with an Authorised Prescriber (AP), who is a specialist doctor that has already received authority from the TGA to write prescriptions for medicinal cannabis. These practitioners don’t need to apply for approval from the TGA for individual patient prescriptions as they are pre-approved. One of the benefits of taking this pathway is that APs are experts in prescribing medicinal cannabis and can write prescriptions as soon as they have assessed your eligibility – this means you’ll experience none of the wait time associated with the SAS pathway. An issue that arises when considering this route is that it’s not always easy to know if there is an AP located near you. At Polln, we’re breaking down this barrier by working with APs who know how to support patients through their journey with medicinal cannabis.
You may have heard that CBD oil has been approved for over-the-counter (OTC) use, however, you can’t actually purchase CBD products without a prescription in Australia13. This is because so far no specific products have been approved for the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG), which is a requirement for OTC sales in Australia.
Can I purchase CBD oil online?
You may notice many online stores are now selling unregulated CBD oil products to ‘cash in’ on the rise in popularity of CBD oil. It’s important to understand that if you purchase nonprescription CBD products online that actually contain CBD, this is technically illegal in Australia, and comes with quite a large risk. The alternative is you’re buying CBD oil that doesn't actually contain CBD, which is just as bad.
Because CBD oil and other medicinal cannabis products are prescription medicines they need to follow strict protocols during manufacturing, to make sure the end product is consistently produced. These same protocols aren’t implemented with black market products, and regulating them is practically impossible. There are limited quality control measures, and as a result, the end product could contain dangerous byproducts and contaminants. If you’re thinking of buying CBD oil online, it’s important to keep in mind that such a product has not been approved by the TGA. Learn more about legal vs. illegal cannabis in Australia here.
As with any treatment, the best way to ensure you’re getting what you need in terms of quality and effectiveness is to speak with a qualified specialist doctor. Sign up as a Polln patient to discuss your options and suitability for medicinal cannabis with one of our expert cannabis clinicians.
The differences between Legal & Illegal Cannabis in Australia
The medical cannabis system in Australia hasn’t always been easy to navigate. With many still finding the pathways to accessing medicinal cannabis confusing and frustrating, and with Australian medical and legal attitudes towards cannabis being somewhat behind those of other countries, it’s no surprise that people are still turning to illegal pathways to access their cannabis products.
While recreational cannabis remains illegal in all states and territories except the ACT, medical cannabis is legal Australia-wide. Medicinal cannabis is any cannabis product prescribed by a qualified doctor to relieve the symptoms of a medical condition. And recreational cannabis is the illegal use (at the time of writing in Australia) of cannabis for any purpose, including social, pleasure, creativity, relaxation and/or self-medication. Cannabis is sometimes also referred to as 'marijuana' – learn about the history and implications of this term here.
In this article, we’ll answer some of your questions about accessing medical cannabis in Australia so you can make informed decisions about what you’re buying when it comes to your health.
What are the differences between medical and recreational cannabis, besides how you access them?
The differences between the regulated cannabis products you can get with a prescription and the black-market products you might get from other sources run deeper than just who you get them from. The biggest differences between the two are quality, regulation, cost, and assurance and consistency regarding the active ingredients (cannabinoids) found within the product.
Put simply: with a medicinal cannabis prescription, you might pay more, but you’ll know exactly what you’re getting. When you buy cannabis illegally, you often won’t.
This may not be an important consideration for people who use cannabis for more recreational purposes like socialising or getting high. But for those who use cannabis to relieve the symptoms of a medical condition like anxiety or chronic pain, knowing what’s in your product and what dose you should be taking can make a big difference to your health.
Because recreational cannabis is unregulated in Australia, there’s a big risk that your therapeutic goals will not be met by the product you buy without a prescription. This is because the active ingredients in unregulated products have varied concentrations, may differ from what you’ve been told they are, or in some cases may not be present at all.
Why are active ingredients in cannabis important?
When treating a medical condition or taking cannabis for a specific purpose like relaxation or boosting creativity, it’s important to consider which cannabinoids are active within the product you’re taking. Knowing what’s in your product will help you ensure that your therapeutic or other goals are met, and that you’ll be less likely to experience any unwanted effects associated with specific cannabinoids.
In Australia, medicinal cannabis is categorised into three different types. These are:
- Mainly THC
- Mainly CBD
- THC and CBD combination
How you experience your product will depend on the cannabinoids present, what dose you take, how it is taken and the quality of the product itself. For example, if your product contains mainly CBD, you won’t experience psychoactive effects. You may experience medicinal benefits such as pain or anxiety reduction, improved sleep, relaxation and/or relief from other symptoms associated with a specific medical condition. If your product contains mainly THC, you may also experience pain relief, reduced nausea or other medicinal benefits depending on your health condition/s. You will also likely experience the ‘high’ associated with THC, given its psychoactive properties.
When you access cannabis legally, you may be prescribed CBD, THC or a medication containing a combination of both, depending on the condition you’re treating. If you’re going to use cannabis as a medication, speaking with your medical professional is your best bet for ensuring you’re getting the treatment and care you need.
Is CBD oil legal in Australia?
At the time of writing in Australia, CBD oil is legal with a prescription – just like any other medicinal cannabis product. As of 2021, you can legally purchase low-dose CBD (containing 98% cannabidiol and no more than 2% of other cannabinoids) over the counter at pharmacies without a prescription, however there are regulatory hurdles still to be cleared before you’ll see these products become available. And many experts are questioning the effectiveness of CBD oil at such a low dose, meaning more research is still to be done.
CBD oil has quickly become one of the most popular and sought after health products in Australia. But as the cannabis industry grows, so does the spread of false promises misinformation. Because of the lack of clarity around the laws and pathways to buying regulated CBD oil in Australia, many have turned to online sellers to buy their products. And this comes at a risk.
With the abundance of unregulated CBD oil products online claiming to cure everything from cancer to diabetes, it’s easy to see why Australians are choosing to buy their products from local or overseas websites. The important thing to note here is that buying any product online that actually contains CBD is technically illegal in Australia. Many buyers are aware of this and may choose to still buy online due to cost and convenience, however many are unaware that the products they are purchasing – if they do contain CBD – are illegal. If you are buying reputable products from overseas, you might want to consider whether the costs are actually that different to obtaining a prescription and purchasing regulated medicinal cannabis in Australia, as the prices often don’t vary much per mg level.
If you are buying CBD oil from local Australian websites, you are either buying products which do contain CBD (and are therefore illegal) or you are buying products which do not contain any CBD, but say they do (meaning you’re being lied to). In fact, in Australia, there’s a 1 in 4 chance that the CBD oil you buy online is ‘not what you think it is in terms of strength and potency’ and a 1 in 9 chance that you’re being sold an entirely fake product.
As with any treatment, the best way to ensure you’re getting what you need in terms of quality and effectiveness is to speak with a health professional.
Where can you get medical cannabis in Australia?
To legally access medicinal cannabis products in Australia, you need a prescription from a qualified doctor. While many Australian doctors are still uncomfortable or unfamiliar with prescribing medicinal cannabis, there are a number of doctors who specialise in medical cannabis prescribing – often called cannabis doctors – who are familiar with the many health benefits that these treatments can offer. The best way to access medical cannabis is to find a trusted doctor – either your current GP or an authorised prescriber such as our Polln Practitioners – and discuss your current condition/s and why medicinal cannabis might be right for you.
The bottom line
When buying cannabis in Australia, it’s important to consider what you’re using it for and whether things like active compounds, quality, regulation and consistency of the product are important to you and your needs. This is especially true if you are using cannabis to treat a medical condition. While the pathways to accessing medicinal cannabis in Australia have not always been clear, the rise of cannabis clinics and increasing government action and public awareness about the benefits of these products is making it easier for patients to access the treatments they need.
At Polln, our biggest mission is to make alternative treatments like medical cannabis more accessible to patients living in Australia. If you’re unsure whether your current doctor can help you access medicinal cannabis, you can book a consultation with one of our Polln Practitioners who specialise in these treatments to discuss whether they might be right for you.
Getting Access To Medicinal Cannabis In Australia - 2023
Over 130 conditions have already been approved for prescriptions, but many doctors and patients are still unsure about how to access medical cannabis treatments.
In this article we’ll help you understand your options and eligibility when it comes to accessing medical cannabis as a patient in Australia.
What is medicinal cannabis?
Medicinal cannabis (also referred to as ‘medical marijuana’) is any cannabis product approved for therapeutic use and prescribed by a doctor to potentially help alleviate the symptoms of a medical condition. One of the main differences between prescribed cannabis products and recreational cannabis, which is often used to self-medicate, is that prescriptions are made with individual patients' needs and symptoms in mind. Because recreational cannabis is unregulated in Australia, you won't have transparency around the origins, cannabinoid content, quality or safety of what you're consuming. But because medical cannabis is highly regulated in Australia, all prescribed cannabis treatments available to Australians have passed stringent tests for quality, content and safety. Meaning you'll know exactly what you're getting and how it can help with your individual symptoms and medical condition/s.
In Australia, medicinal cannabis mostly fits into three categories – mainly CBD, mainly THC, and a mix of CBD and THC. These are the main chemical compounds (also known as cannabinoids) found in cannabis plants that are most commonly used for medicinal purposes, though other ingredients – like terpenes and flavonoids – are also important.
While recreational cannabis use (any use of cannabis without a prescription) remains illegal in all states and territories except ACT, medical cannabis is legal in every state in Australia.
Is medicinal cannabis legal in Australia?
Medicinal cannabis has been legal Australia-wide since 2016. It is considered an ‘unapproved’ medicine. So, to access it, your doctor must gain approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration — the regulatory body that doctors apply to when seeking approval for patient prescriptions.
Am I eligible for medicinal cannabis?
So, you’ve learnt what medical cannabis is… but are you eligible?
Even though medical cannabis has been legal for over seven years now, there are still many misconceptions about who can obtain prescriptions.
Although it is always best to learn about the process and eligibility criteria yourself, it is your prescribing doctor’s responsibility to assess your condition and decide whether medicinal cannabis would be beneficial for you.
Criteria may sound like a daunting word to come up against when seeking out treatments, but don’t let it scare you away. The boxes you need to check off when considering your eligibility are:
- You have a chronic medical condition – (e.g. have your symptoms been with you for over three months?)
- You have tried other treatments,
- Other treatments haven’t alleviated your symptoms or;
- Other treatments have had adverse effects, or you are concerned about the side effects of treatments suggested to you.
To see if you might be eligible for medicinal cannabis access, you can book a free Nurse Discovery Call, take our free eligibility quiz or simply sign up as a patient to chat with one of our expert Polln doctors.
Pathways to access
If you’re a patient considering medicinal cannabis, there are three pathways you can take to access it:
- Special Access Scheme
- Authorised Prescriber
- Clinical trials
Special Access Scheme
Like other prescription medicines, your doctor can write a prescription for you after assessing your eligibility, medical condition/s, and other treatments you have tried. The Special Access Scheme allows your doctor to obtain approval to prescribe medicinal cannabis from the Therapeutics Goods Administration (TGA). Once the TGA approves your doctor’s request, your doctor can organise access to treatments and write up prescriptions.
While this might sound complicated, it is the most commonly used pathway to access medicinal cannabis. Unfortunately, many GPs aren’t well informed or prepared to go through this process with patients, so this pathway might not always be accessible. Although reliable information is shared more regularly now, stigma and misinformation still get in the way of patients seeking support.
If you are unsure whether your current GP can help you access medicinal cannabis, you can make an appointment to speak with one of our expert Polln practitioners who are experienced in prescribing medicinal cannabis treatments.
An Authorised Prescriber (AP) is a doctor who has already applied for and received the authority from the TGA to write prescriptions for specified patients. These practitioners don’t need to apply for approval from the TGA for individual patient prescriptions as they are pre-approved.
One of the benefits of taking this pathway is that APs are experts in prescribing medicinal cannabis and can write prescriptions as soon as they have assessed your eligibility – this means you’ll experience none of the wait time associated with other cannabis access pathways, such as the SAS pathway. An issue that arises when considering this route is that it’s not always easy to know if there is an AP located near you.
This pathway might not be the right option for everyone, but there is an urgent need for participants in clinical trials. As the demand for medicinal cannabis grows, so does the number of clinical trials.
Medical Cannabis Cards
Unlike patients in the USA and some other countries, Australian patients do not need, nor will they receive, a ‘medical marijuana card’ to access medical cannabis. Instead, Australian patients simply need to obtain a prescription from a healthcare professional using one of the above pathways to access medicinal cannabis treatments. Your prescription will allow you to access the specific medications you have been prescribed, and will be an important document to have handy incase you need to verify your legal patient status to law enforcement while on the move.
I know my options now, but how long will this take?
Wait times will vary between each access pathway, but the fastest route is through Authorised Prescribers as these practitioners don’t need to wait for the TGA to approve prescriptions. If you’re looking into the SAS pathway, note that it can take between 24–72 hours for your doctor to get a response from the TGA before your script can be provided to you or your treatments made available.
How do I know where to start?
If you’ve read this article and are still feeling overwhelmed or confused – breathe. It might be daunting to begin this process, but there are guides you can follow and support you can access to help you along the way. To break this all down into simple steps:
Read up on facts and reliable information so you can make informed decisions. Learn about what medicinal cannabis is and how it can help you.
Check your eligibility.
Consider which option is best for you – GPs, Authorised Prescribers, or clinical trials.
Prepare to reach out. Once you’ve done your research and chosen your access pathway, it’s time to reach out to a doctor, Authorised Prescriber or an organisation running clinical trials for medicinal cannabis. To chat with an expert prescriber, you can sign up as a Polln patient or reach out to our Care Team who can provide additional support and guidance.
Increasing access for patients in Australia
As the industry has expanded, we've seen and continue to see the following positive changes in the medical cannabis industry:
- More doctors and patients are learning about the pathways to accessing medicinal cannabis
- The cost is still a barrier for potential patients, but the price is declining as more products become available
- The waiting time between seeking prescriptions and receiving products is decreasing
- Stigma around cannabis is slowly reducing
- Clinical trials are increasing
At Polln, our biggest mission is to make natural alternatives like medicinal cannabis more accessible to the patients who need them. That's why all of our services are designed to be as accessible as possible, with no hidden costs or surprises down the track. Access video consultations, expert advice from Authorised Prescribers, treatment delivery services and ongoing care from wherever you are. All online and Australia-wide. Learn more or sign up as a patient today.