Medicinal Cannabis Prescribing in Australia
Medicinal cannabis is considered an ‘unapproved good’ or ‘unapproved medicine’ in Australia. This is because there is presently only one cannabis medicine which has been assessed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. It may only be prescribed legally by a medical doctor (and in some states/territories, nurse practitioners). Medicinal cannabis products are contained within two main schedules of our national drugs and poisons schedule (named the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons): they are either Schedule 4 (Prescription Only) medicines or Schedule 8 (Controlled Medicines).
For further information about scheduling see: https://www.tga.gov.au/access-medicinal-cannabis-products-1
Releaf doctors will consider the option of prescribing medicinal cannabis in consultation with yourself as the patient, taking into account its potential suitability for your medical complaint, any potential safety issues (medicinal cannabis can interact adversely with some medicines), your occupation and whether you drive.
Some cannabis medicines (not all) contain a particular component called tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC), that component of cannabis that can cause potentially intoxicating effects (these are dose-dependent and typically occur with higher doses). Under Australian state/territory-based driving laws, it is an offence to drive with any amount of THC in your body.
What Process Does the Doctor Go Through to Prescribe Medicinal Cannabis?
Doctors must use one of two main schemes operated by the TGA in order to prescribe unapproved medicinal cannabis products. These are the Special Access Scheme B and the Authorised Prescriber Scheme. The doctor may also need to gain approval from their state/territory health department if the medicine is a Schedule 8 medicine. TGA approval may take two or more days. Therefore, if your doctor agrees that medicinal cannabis is right for you, you may not necessarily get the prescription immediately after the consultation.
For more information about the two main prescribing schemes see the TGA website: https://www.tga.gov.au/access-medicinal-cannabis-products-1
What Sort of Conditions Might Be Suitable for Medicinal Cannabis?
There is no approved list of medical conditions for which the TGA may approve applications from doctors to prescribe. There is a list on the TGA website of some of the conditions for which it has approved Special Access Scheme B applications previously, but approval is on a case-by-case basis. The scientific ‘evidence base’ for the treatment of health conditions with medicinal cannabis varies widely and some conditions have stronger evidence than others. Your doctor will discuss your individual health issues with you and consider what other medicines you might be taking (and their potential adverse interactions with medicinal cannabis) and other factors to determine if medicinal cannabis is an option for you.
For more information about the scientific evidence see the TGA’s webpage: Guidance for the Use of Medicinal Cannabis in Australia: Patient Information, available at https://www.tga.gov.au/publication/guidance-use-medicinal-cannabis-australia-patient-information
Medicinal cannabis products that are able to be legally prescribed in Australia must comply with quality requirements specified by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). See https://www.tga.gov.au/access-medicinal-cannabis-products-1 for further information.