The Medicinal Cannabis Library

Choosing a Medicinal Cannabis Clinic in Australia: What to Look For and What to Avoid

Discover how medicinal cannabis clinics can facilitate accessibility to services for Australians and how they can streamline the process of accessing treatments.

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Published

August 1, 2023

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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.

It is crucial for individuals 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 obtain 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 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 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 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 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 that will put your well-being first.  

References

Australian Government. (2016, March 8). The Narcotic Drugs Amendment Act 2016 (Cth). Retrieved from https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2016A00012

The information on this website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Polln is not promoting the use of medicinal cannabis. Medicinal cannabis in Australia is scheduled medication and regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Details about medicinal cannabis as a scheduled drug can be found on their website. If you would like to explore medicinal cannabis for your chronic condition, please consult with a doctor.

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Medical Cannabis Access

What Medicinal Cannabis Products Are Available in Australia in 2023?

5
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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. 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. 

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)

Flower 

Dried medicinal cannabis flower is the most classic form of medicinal cannabis that is consumed via vaporisation – more on this below. 

Oils 

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

Wafers are small tablet-like medications that are administered sublingually (dissolved under the tongue). 

Capsules 

Capsules are medicinal cannabis products that are enclosed in a capsule and designed to be consumed in oral dosage forms.

Topical Products 

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

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. 

Vape Cartridges

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 will work closely with you, evaluating your condition and needs, to determine what medicinal cannabis product will be most effective for you. At a product-agnostic clinic, your doctor can prescribe any legal medications available in Australia for medical purposes.

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

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 

Ingestion involves the oral consumption of any medicinal cannabis treatment, such as edibles, tinctures, oils, capsules, and extracts. 

Sublingual 

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. 

Topical 

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 

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 natural therapies and has a strong understanding of your condition and symptoms.

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 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. 

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. 

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: 

Unbiased Recommendations 

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. 

Access to a Wide Range of Products and Brands

At product-agnostic clinics, 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 

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. 

Transparent Pricing

Any reputable clinic should believe in full transparency when it comes to their pricing.

Medical Cannabis Access

Pharmacy Dispensing Limits and Intervals: Why They Matter in Medical Cannabis Treatment

4
min read
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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. This article will 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.

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.

Medical Cannabis Access

CBD oil: explained

5
min read
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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

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:

Mood regulation

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.

Inflammatory pain

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, we recommend making an appointment with a practitioner who has experience in prescribing medicinal 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.

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 or expert.

Medical Cannabis Access

The differences between Legal & Illegal Cannabis in Australia

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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.

sought-after

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 and 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 that 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 who has extensive experience in the prescription of medicinal cannabis.


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 – 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.