Is Medical Cannabis Legal in Australia?
Yes, Medical Cannabis is legal in Australia. Since 2016, the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) has made several major reforms to allow suitable Australian patients to access cannabinoid medications.
These reforms came into effect after numerous medical studies showed cannabinoids to be beneficial in treating the symptoms of a variety of conditions.
Furthermore, the TGA has found moderate evidence to support the use of THC for chronic non-cancer-related pain. As a result, the stigma surrounding “medical marijuana” in Australia is diminishing. However, cannabis used for recreational purposes “weed” is still illegal in Australia (excluding ACT).
We are often asked, “Is weed legal in Australia?”. Medical Cannabis Products and their extracts (cannabinoids) are prescribable medications, legally classified into various schedules in accordance with Australian law.
‘Schedules’ are a way to classify different drugs and medications based on regulations regarding access to the medication. Medical Cannabis products fall into the following schedules in Australia:
- Schedule 3 - Over the Counter
- Schedule 4 - Prescribable Medication
- Schedule 8 - Controlled Substance
- Schedule 9 - Research Purposes.
Take our Free Online Pre-Screening to find out if you are an appropriate patient for cannabinoid medications.
Please continue for more information regarding the different schedules.
Schedule 3 – Over the Counter, CBD Products
Schedule 3, is commonly referred to as “over-the-counter” medication.
In 2020, the TGA rescheduled certain low-dose CBD products to Schedule 3. This means these specific CBD products can be purchased over the counter at a pharmacy, without a prescription.
In order to be a Schedule 3 CBD medication in Australia, it must meet the following criteria:
- Be orally administered.
- At least 98% of the medication must be CBD (cannabidiol); with no more than 1% of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) concentration.
- A maximum dose of 150mg of CBD per day.
- cannot contain more than 30 days’ worth of medication.
- You must be at least 18 years old. Child-proof packaging is required.
The original maximum dose proposed by the TGA was 60mg a day. Many authoritative figures said patients would not benefit from CBD medication at that daily dose. In December 2020, the TGA changed the maximum dose to 150mg a day.
Why can’t we buy over-the-counter CBD in Australia yet?
There are currently no Schedule 3 over-the-counter CBD products available to purchase from pharmacies in Australia. The major hurdle that manufacturers face is the strenuous clinical trials that are required to prove that the efficacy of their CBD products is compliant and safe for specific conditions.
These clinical trials cost between 5 and 10 million dollars to complete and take years to reach approval. There are currently multiple over-the-counter CBD medications that have completed stage 2 clinical trials and are expected to be available in Australian Pharmacies in early 2023.
Schedule 4 - Prescribable Medications
Schedule 4 medication requires a prescription from a Doctor.
For a medical cannabis product to be classified as Schedule 4, the CBD products must meet the following criteria:
- Consist of at least 98% or more CBD.
- The other 2% must be naturally occurring cannabinoids, such as THC.
An example of another schedule 4 medication is antibiotics.
Schedule 8 – Controlled Substance
Most Medical Cannabis Product that are not specifically compounded to meet the criteria of a Schedule 3 or 4 compound, are classified as a Schedule 8 medication in Australia. A well-known example of a Schedule 8 medication is Ritalin (Methylphenidate), which is used in the treatment of ADHD.
Schedule 8 Medications are available to use but are restricted; these restrictions include how they are manufactured, distributed, and used. This classification takes into account their high risk of misuse, abuse, and dependence, while still ensuring patients have access in certain circumstances where other treatments have not been sufficient.
Schedule 8 medical cannabis products can be prescribed as alternatives for conditions such as chronic pain, where other medications have proven ineffective.
Schedule 9 – Drugs for Research Purposes
In recent months, more cannabinoids such as CBG have been brought to Australia. Cannabinoids such as these are yet to go through the rigorous clinical trials necessary to determine their efficacy, and are therefore not considered medicines.
There are reports indicating they may offer some medical benefit, however, until further trials are conducted, these reports remain unconfirmed.
CBG is one of over a hundred cannabinoids, and is often found in low quantities in broad-spectrum oils as well as flower. These lesser studied cannabinoids are considered Schedule 9 medications, only when they are the dominant active ingredient in a medication.
The TGA may choose to reschedule these cannabinoids in the future, making them more accessible, only once more clinical trials have been conducted to ensure they do offer therapeutic benefits.
For the time being it is recommended to avoid these medications if an alternative is available. Other Schedule 9 drugs in Australia include Heroin and MDMA.
Available applications for Medical Cannabis in Australia
- Oral (oil, tablets and capsules)
- Flower (medical marijuana)
The TGA insists that cannabinoid medications are vaped, not smoked. It is difficult to accurately measure how much THC/CBD the patient will be ingesting when they smoke the whole flower.
Additionally, smoking has negative health consequences on the lungs.
Changes to Prescribing Medical Cannabis in Australia
Up until early 2021, doctors were forced to prescribe only one, specific brand and type of cannabinoid medication; they were not allowed to write general prescriptions, allowing patients to choose their own brand An example of an old type of cannabinoid prescription would look like the following, “Brand-A 50CBD oil (30ml)”.
Manufacturers/wholesalers of cannabinoid medication were sponsoring Australian doctors in physical clinics as well as telehealth doctors. They have been paying the doctors fees to become an authorised prescriber, and teaching the doctor how to prescribe their specific brand of medication.
In return, that doctor would predominantly prescribe that specific brand of medication to all of their patients.
There are 3 main issues with the old type of prescription:
- The price of cannabinoid medications can vary greatly between brands. Often patients were prescribed more expensive brands that generally have higher mark-ups.
- There aren’t many cannabinoid dispensing pharmacies. Not all pharmacies dispense the same brands of medication, therefore limiting consumer choice.
- Pharmacies often have stock issues with certain medications. This is a result of too many doctors prescribing the same brand of a type of medication.
The original method of prescribing was commonly used to create a closed-loop system, where patients who had already paid for consultations were then forced to purchase more expensive medications, due to an inability to choose their own brand.
The market for medical marijuana in Australia is constantly evolving. Thankfully, the TGA has made changes to help patients by categorising medications, based on the percentage of active ingredients within the particular cannabis medication.
Using the initial example of the “Brand-A CBD oil (30ml)”. This would now fall under the “Category 1 CBD Medical Cannabis product”. This category groups all cannabinoid medications in Australia that have a CBD concentration of 98% or more.
The medications in this group can either be Schedule 3 (over the counter) CBD medications, or Schedule 4 CBD Medications. Chronic Therapy is helping pioneer this new group system.
We aim to provide our patients with the highest quality cannabinoid medications at the lowest prices. While we can help our Australian patients purchase their cannabis medications online, allowing them to get their medication sent directly to their homes. We also provide all appropriate patients with an electronic prescription. Patients can use their electronic prescriptions to purchase medical marijuana, CBD and THC oil at various pharmacies which are licensed to dispense cannabinoid medications within Australia.
Unfortunately, most clinics have not adopted the new prescribing system and are profiting from the old system. Chronic Therapy aims to change this culture of closed-loop systems, therefore offering patients full flexibility in terms of which medications they take and how much they pay.
We believe this to be a must when it comes to something as serious, and potentially life-changing, as chronic pain management.
All patients should have access to buy the cheapest medical cannabis products in Australia, which are manufactured following the TGA’s standards! It is unethical to limit patients to a single brand of cannabis medication in Australia, where prices of cannabis medications can vary so dramatically.
Medical Cannabis Prescription Categories in Australia
The TGA has recently grouped cannabis medications based on the percentage of specific cannabinoids within the medicine. These categories are not to be confused with the schedules of medication explained earlier in the article. The following categories can be written on a prescription for cannabis medications in Australia:
Category 1 CBD Based Medical Cannabis Products(Schedule 3 and 4 Medications)
Category 2 CBD Dominant Medical Cannabis Products(Schedule 8 Medications)
Category 3 Balanced Medical Cannabis Products(Schedule 8 Medications)
Category 4 THC Dominant Medical Cannabis Products(Schedule 8 Medications)
Category 5 THC Based Medical Cannabis Products(Schedule 8 Medications)
All Schedule 3 (over the counter medications) and Schedule 4 (prescribable) medications fall within “Category 1 CBD Medical Cannabis Products”. All medications that fall into Category 2-5 are Schedule 8 Controlled Substances.
The new changes implemented by the TGA should be welcomed by the industry. The TGA has acted swiftly, changing the laws to prevent patients from being locked into purchasing a specific brand of medication. Patients now have access to a variety of brands of medications, based on the percentage of their active ingredients.
We recommend that all patients request their clinic uses the grouping system, as well as request an electronic prescription so that they have the option to fill their prescription at their chosen pharmacy, allowing them to choose a medication that suits their budget.
Can any Australian Doctor prescribe Medical Cannabis?
Yes, any AHPRA registered Australian Doctor can legally prescribe medical cannabis via the Special Access Scheme. Alternatively, doctors can apply to become Authorised Prescribers and not require approval from the Department of Health on a per prescription basis.
Barriers to accessing Cannabinoid Medications in Australia?
- Finding an Australian doctor willing to prescribe Cannabinoid medications.
- Like many new medicines, not many doctors currently understand how to prescribe cannabis medication in Australia, some avoid it altogether.
- Doctors must learn how to navigate the SAS-B Portal (which can be challenging for some). Alternatively, they can become Authorised Prescribers, this requires them to take on additional education as well as first using the SAS-B system.
- Doctors have to learn how to prescribe the various new medications (how to titrate doses, contraindications, etc.).
- Laws/protocols vary between the different States/Territories in Australia.
- Doctors have to be able to assist patients in sourcing the prescribed medication. Currently, there aren’t a lot of pharmacies in Australia dispensing cannabis medications.
- Medical cannabis has only recently become legal in Australia. There is still a negative stigma associated with “medical marijuana” in Australia. Doctors that have not looked into the potential therapeutic benefits are often put off by its negative stigma, therefore choosing not to associate themselves with medical cannabis products.
- Limitations with Accessing Cannabinoid Medications
- Once a patient has a prescription, there aren’t many pharmacies that dispense cannabinoid medications. This makes it difficult to buy medical cannabis in Australia.
- There have been numerous shortages of cannabis medications in Australia.
- Many patients are given prescriptions for a specific brand/type of medication. These often don’t fit the particular patient’s needs and are therefore not suitable.
- The price of cannabis medications in Australia.
- Cannabinoid medications can greatly vary in price, depending on which brand the patient chooses or is given. Some brands charge up to five times as much as others, despite containing the same amount of active ingredient.
- fIf you decide to have a consultation with an Australian telehealth doctor, make sure that the telehealth doctor uses electronic prescriptions and writes prescriptions for groups of medications. That way you can easily take/send your prescription to another pharmacy if the medication is too expensive.
Buy Medical Cannabis in Australia (CBD and THC oil)
Patients are often looking for the cheapest medical cannabis products available in Australia. For many people, these medications treat the symptoms of an ongoing disease. The high price of some medications can compound over time. Before buying medical cannabis in Australia, it is essential to find out which medication offers the best value for money.
This is because price and quality do not always correlate, however by using a simple formula you can calculate which medication offers the best value for money. To do so, you need to figure out how much you are paying per milligram of the active ingredient for CBD and THC oil. To do this, one must find out the total quantity of milligrams (of CBD and THC) within the whole medication and then divide the price of the medication by the total milligrams of the medication.
(Price of the Medication) ÷ (Total milligrams of active compound)
For example, if you wanted to buy CBD oil and had the option to choose between Brand-A and Brand-B below:
Brand-A 50 CBD oil (30ml) costs $139.
The medication is dosed at 50mg of CBD/ per mg of solution. To calculate the total milligrams within the entire medication; you multiply 50mg x 30ml = 1,500mg of CBD within the 30ml bottle.
$139/1500 = 9c paid per milligram of CBD.
Brand-B 15 CBD oil (100ml) costs $200
15mg x 100ml =1,500mg of CBD within the 100ml bottle
$200/1500 = 13c paid per milligram of CBD
In the example above, both Brand-A and Brand-B are selling 1,500 milligrams of cannabidiol (CBD) per bottle. Many people are fooled into thinking that Brand-B has more medication and is better value for money because there is over 3x as much liquid in the bottle. For this reason, it is important to pay attention to the concentration of CBD and THC when in the market to buy cannabinoid oils. Using the formula mentioned above, one can buy the cannabinoid oil that offers the best value for money.
Manufacturers of these medications know that not all patients understand how to properly calculate the price per milligram of the active ingredients in CBD cannabinoid oil. Therefore, manufacturers take advantage of this lack of knowledge by marking up products that could (and should) be sold for much less, leaving patients out of pocket. For this reason, it is essential that you do your research before you buy Medical Cannabis in Australia.
The same formula can be applied to anyone with a prescription looking to buy medical marijuana in Australia. Most people choose to calculate the price of the flower on a per-gram basis.
Is Medical Cannabis covered by Medicare?
Unfortunately, no cannabinoid medications are currently subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). This means that patients must pay the full price when buying medical cannabis in Australia. Hopefully, it will not be long until some cannabinoid medications will be subsidised.
How to get Cannabis Medications in Australia (Telehealth Doctor)
If you have a chronic condition and believe you may benefit from cannabinoid medications, we recommend completing our Free Online Pre Screening. This medical questionnaire has been created by our team of telehealth doctors, which screens patients for the suitability of cannabinoid medications.
If you are deemed an appropriate patient, you can book a video consultation with one of our telehealth doctors. During this consultation, you can expect the telehealth doctor to explain the potential benefits and risks of the treatment. Chronic Therapy has streamlined the process for appropriate patients to buy medical cannabis legally in Australia. Our telehealth doctors write electronic prescriptions, allowing you to purchase your prescribed medications from the comfort of your home.
We encourage all patients to compare cannabis oil prices between clinics and pharmacies. While we can arrange for the medication to be purchased online and delivered to your door, we believe that it's essential that you have the option to have your medication dispensed wherever you may choose. We aim to give our patients access to the best quality medical cannabis products at the cheapest prices in Australia. If you manage to find a cheaper price for any medical cannabis product (available in Australia), please reach out and let us know.
Our aim is to help patients legally source the cheapest medical cannabis products (both cannabis oil and medical marijuana) in Australia. We will continue to lower the prices as we increase our patient base and expand our platform. We believe that cannabinoid medications are essential for many people with different medical conditions and therefore need to be affordable.