Medicinal cannabis is legal in Australia and has been since 2016. However, getting your hands on medicinal cannabis is not as simple as heading down to the pharmacy and picking some up.
There are many laws surrounding medical cannabis access in Australia, so it is important to know the right way to get a medical cannabis prescription.
In this piece, we will explain how to get a medical marijuana card and a medical marijuana prescription in Australia, so keep reading to find out how.
- Australian medical marijuana cards do not work the same way as American medical marijuana cards. They are not legally recognised documents; you’ll need to keep your prescription on you for verification.
- Medicinal cannabis is never used as a first-line treatment but isn’t only used as a last resort.
- Any medical practitioner can prescribe medical cannabis. However, they must apply for approval from the TGA before providing a patient with a prescription.
What Medical Conditions Are Treated With Medical Marijuana?
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) will only deem you to be eligible for medicinal cannabis if you have tried other prescription medicines and they have not been effective or have caused unwanted side effects. If you meet these eligibility requirements, you may be allowed to trial medicinal cannabis, depending on your condition.
While there may not be a list of medical conditions that are specifically treated with cannabis medicines, the Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved medicinal cannabis treatment for many conditions, including:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Cancer pain and symptom management
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Crohn’s disease
- Sleep disorder
- Neuropathic pain
- Chronic pain
How To Get A Medical Cannabis Card in Australia?
To get a medicinal cannabis card in Australia, you’ll need a medical cannabis prescription.
We have already noted in the section above that to get a medical cannabis prescription, you need to have gone through a first-line treatment that did not work or gave you unwanted side effects. There also needs to be some evidence that medicinal cannabis products will provide relief for or treat the condition you have.
Discovering a Doctor or Clinic with Expertise in Prescribing Medical Cannabis:
When seeking a doctor with experience prescribing medical cannabis, you might begin by talking to your primary care physician. They may refer you to a specialist or a clinic that offers this service.
Another option is searching online for a clinic focusing on medical cannabis consultations. Remember that not every doctor is confident or experienced in prescribing medical cannabis, so you might need to consult several practitioners before finding the right one.
Expenses Involved in Acquiring a Medical Cannabis Card and Prescription:
Various costs are associated with obtaining a medical cannabis card and prescription. Consultation fees for medical cannabis clinics typically range from $200 to $300. The price of cannabis products depends on the type, quantity, and specific product prescribed.
Medical cannabis is not subsidised by Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), so patients are responsible for covering their medication’s full cost. Before proceeding with your application, you should discuss potential expenses with your doctor or clinic.
Application Procedure and Waiting Time:
After finding a doctor willing to prescribe medical cannabis, they must apply for approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) via the Special Access Scheme (SAS) or the Authorised Prescriber Scheme (APS).
Your doctor will need to complete the relevant forms and submit documentation supporting the necessity of medical cannabis for your condition. This may involve providing details about your medical history, prior treatments, and why conventional medications have been ineffective or caused adverse side effects.
TGA approval waiting times can vary, but most applications are processed within a few weeks. Occasionally, the approval process may take longer, particularly if more information is needed.
What to Do After Gaining Approval:
Once your doctor obtains TGA approval, they will issue a prescription for your medical cannabis product. Depending on your location and the specific product prescribed, you may be able to fill your prescription at a local pharmacy or a specialised medical cannabis dispensary. Sometimes, the medical cannabis product might need to be ordered, resulting in a brief waiting period before starting your treatment.
It’s essential to follow your doctor’s directions regarding the correct use and dosage of your medical cannabis product. Always carry your prescription as proof of your legal right to possess and use medical cannabis. Additionally, remember to notify your doctor of any changes in your symptoms or if you experience side effects while using medical cannabis, as they may need to modify your treatment plan.
Why should I get a medical cannabis card in Australia?
Unfortunately, Australian medicinal cannabis cards do not work as they do in the USA. In America, a medicinal cannabis card is a legal government document that gives you the right to carry a medicinal cannabis product.
In Australia, you cannot carry medicinal cannabis products without a medical cannabis prescription. So, a medical cannabis card mainly serves as an additional way for you to prove that you are entitled to use and carry medicinal cannabis products.
What information can you find on a Medical Cannabis Card?
If you obtain your medicinal cannabis card, your card will contain the following:
- Your patient ID
- Your date of birth
- The date the card was issued
- A message of approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration stating that you can use medicinal cannabis for your health condition.
- Prescribers contact details
Who Can Prescribe Medicinal Cannabis in Australia?
Any registered medical practitioner in Australia can prescribe medicinal cannabis products. Unfortunately, prescribing medicinal cannabis products isn’t as simple as prescribing other medications. This is because most medicinal cannabis products fall under the category of unapproved medicines
Medical practitioners who want to prescribe medicinal cannabis to their patients have three options available to them.
Special Access Scheme (SAS)
If a medical practitioner wants to prescribe medical cannabis for a single patient, they can use the Special Access Scheme (SAS). The TGA will need to be notified if a medical practitioner is interested in prescribing medicinal cannabis to a patient with the condition that cannabis has not been used to treat in the past.
Authorised Prescriber Scheme (APS)
Medical practitioners can also apply to the TGA to become Authorised Prescribers. This allows the prescribing doctor to prescribe medical cannabis products to a specific class of patients.
An example would be a paediatric neurologist applying with the TGA to become an Authorised Prescriber so that they can provide medicinal cannabis products to epileptic children.
In some cases, patients with certain conditions may be eligible to enter clinical trials. If a doctor wants to conduct a clinical trial, they must go through the Clinical Trial Notification (CTN) scheme or the Clinical Trial Approval (CTA) scheme.
Doctors can also refer patients for ongoing clinical trials if they don’t want to apply themselves.
What Types of Medical Cannabis Products Are Prescribed By Doctors?
Once you receive your medicinal cannabis prescription and your medicinal cannabis card, you may be prescribed the following cannabis products:
- Creams and lotions
- Oral sprays
- Dissolving oral strips
- Cannabis flower
Cannabis oil is currently the most prescribed medicinal cannabis product, while cannabis flower is the second most popular.
The compounds contained in medical marijuana differ and also offer different effects. Medicinal cannabis products can contain the following compounds:
- CBD Isolate – Only contains CBD; all other compounds are removed.
- Full-Spectrum CBD – Made up of all of the compounds in the cannabis plant and also includes low levels of THC.
- Broad-Spectrum CBD – Contains all of the compounds found in Full-Spectrum CBD, but the THC is filtered out.
- Balanced – Contains equal amounts of THC and CBD.
- THC dominant – Mainly contains THC with very little or no CBD.