2021 is giving us over-the-counter medical cannabis
Low-dose CBD cannabis oil can be sold in pharmacies from next year.
From early 2021 you’ll technically be allowed to buy low-dose cannabis oil from pharmacies without a prescription.
However, while the laws have been changed so you can buy CBD oil over-the-counter, there are currently no products approved for sale.
Firstly, these products won’t get you high. This is only low-dose CBD oil we’re talking about and products won’t be allowed to have more than 1 per cent THC (which is the psychoactive part of the plant).
When the changes come in on February 1 next year, the maximum dose for adults will be limited to 150mg per day, which is why it’s considered low-dose. It’s expected patients would use this to help them sleep, reduce anxiety or depression and treat pain, although there’s currently not much evidence the oil is effective at this strength.
The decision from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) changes low-dose CBD oil from a schedule four drug, which doctors have to prescribe, to a schedule three drug, which chemists can hand out over-the-counter without a prescription.
Cassandra Hunt, the managing director of cannabis industry consultancy, Fresh Leaf Analytics, told Hack the change is significant.
“It’s the biggest milestone since legalisation in 2016 and it’s going to dramatically change access for patients in Australia.”
She says this will make life much easier for people who want to use this drug.
“Previously, they’ve had to go to a GP and they’ve had to talk to the GP about what they’re trying to treat, and then the GP has had to get special permission in order for them to be able to access a prescription.”
There will be a wait for products
While the changes will come into effect in early 2021, it could be years before there’s actually a product to buy.
Cassandra Hunt from Fresh Leaf Analytics told Hack that it’s unlikely anything will be on the shelves in February.
“In order for companies to get these products registered or available over-the-counter in pharmacies, they have to be registered as an S3 medicine,” she said.
“What that requires is quite significant data about the safety and efficacy and quality of the products.”
According to Cassandra, because the Australian cannabis industry is still so new, they don’t know how effective their low-dose CBD products are and it could take years to get that data.
She says it’s not clear what info the TGA wants, but if it’s expecting companies to run clinical trials then it could be a five-year wait for products.
“That data, given the industry is so young, isn’t easy to come by.”
Medical Association “surprised” by down-scheduling
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) doesn’t support the TGA’s decision to down-schedule low-dose CBD oil.
In a statement to Hack, the AMA said it isn’t confident pharmacists have the education to properly advise patients, and that side effects could go unchecked.
“Medical practitioners have only been prescribing CBD products for a few years, the evidence is still emerging, more education around its use is required,” the AMA said.
When it comes to possible side effects, the medical association fears doctors won’t be able to properly monitor patients when the CBD oil is sold through pharmacies.
“There is a risk that patient conditions that are associated with CBD use (e.g. anxiety, psychosis, chronic non-cancer pain, and epilepsy) will go unchecked and cause further harm to the patient,” the AMA told Hack.
The TGA told Hack the decision to make low-dose CBD oil available over the counter wasn’t based on how well it works, just that it isn’t harmful.
“The scheduling decision was made on the basis of the safety profile of CBD at this dose,” a TGA spokesperson said.
Cassandra from Fresh Leaf Analytics admits evidence of how well these products work is hard to come by but agrees they’re not harmful.
“There is good safety data to show that at the types of doses we’re talking about CBD is very safe.”
The illicit silver lining
According to Cassandra Hunt from Fresh Leaf Analytics, the TGA could also be trying to move CBD users away from the black market.
“I think one of the other motivations of the TGA is to make it easier for people to access these products where they might otherwise be using illicit channels,” she told Hack.
“The problem with some of the illicit channels is that the quality of the products is not always good.”
“Sometimes those products say they have something in them and that’s not in there, so you can’t really rely on the fact that you’re getting a good product.”
She also says that for the first time, as the cost of medical cannabis production comes down, legal products are reaching price parity with the illegal market.
“If you couple that with making it more easily accessible through pharmacies, that should hopefully make a big difference for people who’ve been getting relief through those channels, but maybe can’t rely on those products being good quality.”
Medical Cannabis Doctors in Perth – Access, Eligibility & Regulations in Western Australia
Is Medical Marijuana Legal in Western Australia?
Medicinal cannabis, also known as medical marijuana, was rescheduled as a controlled drug by the TGA on November 1, 2016.
In Western Australia (WA), prescribing and suppling medicinal cannabis products must comply with the Medicines and Poisons legislation, as all other S4 and S8 medications and must be prescribed by a doctor.
Cannabis prescribing is regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and WA Health. Any medical practitioner in Western Australia is eligible to prescribe medicinal cannabis for their patients if they determine it is clinically appropriate.
Doctors will need to obtain the required approvals from the TGA and for S8 products, approval from the Department of Health.
If your regular doctor is not open to prescribing medical cannabis you can make an appointment with one of our medical cannabis doctors here.
For convenience, we offer phone & video appointments to patients located in Western Australia so you can consult with one of our doctors from the comfort of your own home.
Can Patients Grow Their Own Cannabis for Medicinal Use in Western Australia?
Medical cannabis products must be obtained from manufacturers and wholesalers licensed by the Office of Drug Control. These companies must obtain a cultivation and manufacturing license that is granted under the Commonwealth licensing scheme for medical use in Australia.
This means that for the time being, Western Australian patients are not allowed to cultivate their own cannabis for medical use, even with a valid doctor’s prescription. Only residents of Canberra can grow cannabis for personal use (although this is still illegal at a national level).
Although Western Australians cannot grow their own, they still have access to over 225 medical cannabis products available for prescription in Australia. This list includes oils, flower (for vaporization), capsules, soft gels, vaporization cartridges and oral sprays.
Is There a Difference Between Medical Marijuana and Recreational Marijuana?
There are many differences between regulated, legally sourced medical marijuana and black market, recreational marijuana.
Regulated medicinal cannabis products are required to comply with the TGA’s Standard for Medicinal Cannabis (TGO 93). These regulations are in place to ensure minimum manufacturing quality requirements.
Regulated products must conform to minimum quality standards that test for various harmful substances. A recent systematic review in Canada found that pesticides, microbes, heavy metals, and other adulterants have been detected in various cannabis products sourced from the black market.
In addition, regulated medical cannabis products are tested by the TGA to ensure the stated content of each active ingredient is accurate.
This means patients will get a consistent product from batch to batch. Unregulated, recreational marijuana will vary in active ingredients making consistency uncertain, so patients will find it difficult to hone in on their ideal therapeutic dose.
Given the above and the fact that many regulated medicinal cannabis products are now lower priced than black market, it makes little sense to source medication from inconsistent, unregulated and unlawful suppliers.
If you’re uncertain about your eligibility for medical cannabis in Western Australia you can complete our quick medical cannabis eligibility test to find out.
Is CBD Oil the Same Thing as Medical Cannabis?
CBD is only one compound found in the cannabis plant along with many other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. Cannabis is a complex plant with over 400 chemical entities of which more than 60 are cannabinoid compounds, some of them with opposing effects.
Although cannabis has been used and cultivated by humans for at least 6000 years our current knowledge on its pharmacological use is limited to studies conducted only since the end of the nineteenth century. Although many patients are reporting therapeutic benefits, there is still a lot we need to learn about how exactly this occurs.
There are many different cannabis products available for prescription in Western Australia, some CBD only and some with a blend of CBD and THC. If you speak to a qualified medical cannabis doctor, they will help you understand which is the best product for your condition.
Patients often need to try one or two different formulations before finding the right dose and formulation for their individual condition and symptoms as cannabis is a very individualized medication.
Is There a List of Doctors Who Prescribe Medicinal Cannabis Products in WA?
No, as mentioned above, in Western Australia any medical practitioner is able to prescribe medicinal cannabis to their patient if clinically appropriate and they have obtained the required TGA and WA approvals.
The Schedule 8 Medicines Prescribing Code provides details of prescribing requirements for doctors in WA. A general practitioner can prescriber cannabis for most patients.
However, in some cases, including patients with a history of drug dependency, as well as children and young adults under the age of 18, support from a suitable specialist is required.
What Medical Marijuana Products are Available on Prescription in WA?
There is now a wide range of medical marijuana products available for prescription. This list includes oils, capsules, soft gels, flower (for vaporization), vaping cartridges and oral sprays.
New products are being introduced monthly to meet the increasing demand from Australian patients.
In WA, medical marijuana products are categorized as either Schedule 4 (CBD only) or Schedule 8 (containing THC). Like other Schedule 8 medicines, medical marijuana S8 products must adhere to the WA Schedule 8 Medicines Prescribing Code.
Broadly speaking, the three types of medical marijuana formulations are:
- CBD products (containing mostly CBD)
- Balanced (containing equal parts CBD and THC)
- THC products (containing mostly THC)
Once you book in an appointment with one of our doctors and they determine that medical marijuana may be a good treatment option for you, they will advise on the best product and formulation to start with, based on your condition and familiarly with marijuana.
Keep in mind, patients sometimes may need to try more than one product formulation to find their ideal dosing to help with their individual symptoms.
Which Medical Conditions Qualify for Medical Cannabis Treatment in Western Australia?
The TGA has approved a very long list of conditions for which medical cannabis has been approved. This includes but is not limited to:
Chronic pain, Neuropathy, Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome, Dementia, PTSD, Depression, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sleep disorders, Endometriosis, Spasticity from neurological conditions, Epilepsy and Tremors, Epilepsy / Seizure management, ADHD symptoms, Fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s disease, Glaucoma, Anorexia, Insomnia, Anxiety, Ischemia Arthritis, Migraines, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) symptoms, Multiple Sclerosis, Neuropathic pain, Cancer Pain, Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV), Parkinson’s Disease, Polymyalgia Rheumatica.
Many people think that medical cannabis eligibility in WA is limited to certain conditions (i.e. Multiple Sclerosis, Cancer, Epilepsy etc.), however this is not the case. The TGA will consider any condition or symptom that isn’t responding to conventional medication or the medication is causing intolerable side effects.
A key eligibility criteria in Western Australia and nationally is that medical cannabis cannot be a first line treatment and patients must have tried at least one prescription medication before being eligible.
The most common conditions treated at our clinic are chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. A review of the clinical evidence available for using medical cannabis to treat these conditions is available here.
Can I Drive on Medical Cannabis in Western Australia?
In WA, it is an offence to drive with THC present in your system, regardless of whether the THC comes from prescribed legal medicinal cannabis or illicit recreational cannabis.
Patients that have been prescribed CBD only formulations (that don’t contain any THC) can lawfully drive, as long as they are not impaired.
THC containing products can potentially impair attention and concentration and would affect your ability to drive and operate machinery.
You can discuss your particular situation further with one of our doctors by booking in here.
To learn more about the legalities of driving while on medical cannabis medication click here.
Can I Get My Cannabis Prescription Filled at Any Pharmacy?
In Western Australia, any pharmacy is allowed to dispense medical cannabis, however the reality is the majority of pharmacies are not familiar with the process or the medication. Some pharmacies are even over charging patients to fill their scripts.
To ensure quick and reliable service, we advise our patients to opt for our preferred pharmacy partner. Doing so will ensure our patients have access to a knowledgeable pharmacist trained and experienced in cannabis medicine.
This way, prescriptions are filled faster, patients are provided appropriate counseling. without confusion and no chance of over paying for your medication.
How Much Does Medicinal Cannabis Cost in Western Australia?
There are 2 costs to consider when exploring medical cannabis treatment. The first are the consultation costs and the second are the product costs.
Consultation costs with the doctor are usually around $75. The initial consultation will be more expensive given all the paperwork involved at the start.
Product cost will depend on the patient’s individual condition, the formulation prescribed and the dosing regiment. Thus these costs can be highly variable as cannabis is a very personalized medication.
For example, with certain types of pain, a balanced formulation containing equal parts CBD and THC is considered more potent than CBD alone. Patients using balanced products in this example may find they are spending less than patients looking to achieve the same results with CBD only.
On average patients in Western Australia are paying between $4-8 per day for their medical cannabis prescription.
Unfortunately, being unregistered medicines, medicinal cannabis products are not currently subsidised under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
Medical cannabis products would need to be listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) before they can be considered for PBS subsidy.
The good news is that product prices have been decreasing every year and legal products are often cheaper than unregulated “green” market products. A recent survey on medical cannabis use in the Australian community found that patients sourcing cannabis from the black market are not spending any less than legally prescribed products, so there are few benefits of going the illegal route.
Also, more and more health insurance plans have begun to cover medical cannabis products so you may want to check with your plan if you have one.
A recent survey conducted in Australia reports that patients sourcing from the “green” market spend about the same as legally prescribed patients.
Can I Import Medical Cannabis Purchased Online Into Western Australia?
All products sold online without a doctor’s prescription are illegal. This includes imported medical cannabis products from overseas or products sourced locally in Australia.
Even though some CBD and medical cannabis suppliers claim its legal to sell to Perth patients directly without a prescription, this is not allowed under Australian law.
Medical cannabis in Western Australia can only be supplied by a pharmacy with a valid doctor’s prescription. Furthermore “green” market oils are often mislabeled. These products could contain mould, pesticides, heavy metals and other harmful substances.
The FDA recently conducted a study on products claiming to have specific amount of CBD. They found more than 55% of products had a different amount of CBD than the label and that 49% of the products tested even contained THC!
Can I Bring Medicinal Cannabis Into WA From Overseas?
Patients planning to travel into Australia are allowed to bring in a 3 months’ supply of medicinal cannabis. You will need to carry a prescription and it is advised to also get a medical certificate from your prescribing doctor.
Patients are advised to confirm this with the Office of Drug Control before they commence travel.
How Often Do I Have to See the Doctor for Medical Cannabis Treatment?
After your initial consultation, you will have a follow up consultation in 2-4 weeks time. This is to assess the efficacy of your treatment and discuss any side effects.
If the medication is not working, the doctor may prescribe a different formulation for you to trial. Patients may find they need to try a few different formulations to find a product suitable for them.
Once you find a therapeutic dose and formulation that is working for you, the doctor will advise you on a regular check up routine every few months to ensure ongoing efficacy and safety.
Keep in mind medical cannabis does not work for everyone.
How Can I Access Medical Cannabis in Perth or Regional Western Australia?
You can start by taking our quick eligibility test and book in with one of our Perth medical cannabis doctors who can help you get started.
Australian Access Clinics has been helping Perth and Western Australian patients access medical cannabis treatment since 2019.