Is CBD Oil Legal in Australia?

Is CBD Oil Legal in Australia?

Is CBD oil legal in Australia? With potentially seismic recent changes in legislation introduced by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), a new pathway to over-the-counter high-quality CBD products has opened up. But is it as simple as that? Who is eligible? And what or how much is legal? This article is here to help you find out.

Points to remember about whether CBD oil is legal in Australia are the TGA’s down-scheduling of CBD oil to Schedule 3 (Pharmacist Only Medicine), what CBD products you can actually buy over-the-counter, safety concerns when driving, and when you might expect to see CBD oil products in a pharmacy near you.

New horizons

By changing the classification from a schedule 4 to a schedule 3 drug on 15 December 2020—implemented on 1 February 2021—the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has given the green light for CBD. 

Australian pharmacies are now able to provide “registered” low-dose CBD oils over-the-counter, without the need for going through a special access scheme and entirely prescription-free.

This certainly ushers in a new era for the availability of CBD-based oil from pharmacies, but before we can begin to celebrate what this might mean for health-minded, remedy-seeking Aussie consumers in 2021, it would be best to establish some ground rules first.

What Is CBD oil?

CBD is the chemical compound extracted from the cannabis or hemp plant; this is usually done using a supercritical C02 process. It’s widely considered to be the safest and most effective way of removing and refining CBD oil. 

Once obtained in this way, this naturally occurring compound is dissolved into a “carrier oil”, such as olive oil or coconut oil, to improve what is called its bioavailability. This simply means that the CBD can be better and more efficiently absorbed by the human body. 

Other than CBD or Cannabidiol, a compound called THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol is also present in low-dose cannabis oil, albeit in very small quantities. THC is the cannabinoid psychoactive element associated with a marijuana-like “high.” THC quantities must be below 1 percent to remain within the bounds of legality.

How Is CBD Oil Administered?

A number of “delivery systems” are available. Legally, CBD can only be administered orally, sublingually (absorbed under the tongue), or as an oromucosal (absorbed in the mouth by spray, paste or gel.) In terms of dosage, as a general rule, it would be true to say that it’s best to start with low quantities of CBD oil and gradually work your way up to find optimal effectiveness. 

It’s worth bearing in mind that the maximum daily dose approved by the TGA is 150 milligrams. Because CDB is fat and not water-soluble, combining your dose with a mouthful of something “fatty”, like a piece of cheese or a spoon or two of yoghurt, will help you get the best from the CBD oil.

However, vapes and topical creams are still a no-no, so you will need a prescription from your doctor.

How Can I Benefit From Using CBD Oil?

Studies suggest that the medical and therapeutic benefits of CBD oil are many and varied, ranging from chronic pain relief, the treatment of addictions such as smoking and the management of inflammatory diseases like arthritis, right the way through to improving the symptoms of epilepsy. 

Anxiety, insomnia and even depression are other areas of ill-health in which CBD oil has been shown to be beneficial.

Will CBD Oil Get Me High?

The short answer is no. As previously stated, CBD oil contains both cannabidiol and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol properties. The latter, aka THC, is the cannabinoid psychoactive element responsible for the “high” associated with using marijuana. By law, the THC content of CBD oil must remain under 1 percent. So, strictly speaking, CBD is non-psychotropic. In other words, it’s not designed to make you feel “high.”

Is It Safe To Drive Under the Influence of CBD Oil?

In theory, yes. Under Australian law, it’s legal to drive if you have ingested CBD oil. However, it’s important to remember cannabidiol substances can cause drowsiness, fatigue and sometimes even lower blood pressure. If you feel impaired, or if you feel rather too comfortable or relaxed, then driving might not be the best idea and something you should avoid or at least delay. 

This kind of scenario perhaps best stresses the importance of obtaining CBD oil through legal pathways in Australia. That way, you know exactly what you’re taking and in which quantities. The same cannot always be said for CBD oil procured from non-legal channels. 

When contemplating driving, it’s vitally important to know what cannabinoids are present in your CBD oil and, most importantly, what levels of THC. THC found in your system whilst driving is illegal, regardless of how you happened to get hold of your CBD oil, so modify your behaviour accordingly.

Remember, if you take a medication or treatment containing THC and test positive for THC in a mouth swab test, you could lose your license.

If I have Taken CBD Oil, How Long Do I Have To Wait Before I Can Safely Jump Into the Driver’s Seat?

Body mass, your metabolism and even diet play a part in how long it takes CBD oil to go to work and stay in your system. Gender is another factor to bear in mind. Typically “onset” can take place anywhere between 30 to 90 minutes, and if THC is present in the CBD product, then the resulting impairment can last significantly longer.

Waiting up to 8 hours before you get behind the wheel would not be an unreasonable amount of time.

Again, plan for such eventualities, just as you would if you were going out for a drink.

Who Can Buy CBD Products Over-the-Counter?

Adults only. And remember only in oral, oromucosal and sublingual forms. Vape juices and topical creams are definitely out.

Great. So Under the New S3 Classification, Will I Be Able To Buy a CBD Oil Based Product Over-the-Counter?

At the moment, not exactly. Here’s why.

Before this recent down-scheduling of CBD by the TGA, the legal growth and supply of medical cannabis and CBD was strictly controlled and closely supervised. You could only get CBD oil if you had convincing medical reasons for doing so. And, of course, the CBD based treatment would have to be prescribed to you by an authorised doctor.

So it’s true the TGA has given the green light to a potential host of high-quality CBD products being available over-the-counter, but there are still some obstacles that need to be negotiated before you can turn up at your local chemist and actually do that. 

The registration process for CBD sales is stringent and requires the manufacturer to demonstrate safety, efficacy, and quality. However, the rub is that the data to prove such effectiveness is not always so easy to produce, particularly when involving such low doses. 

Which is to say, clinical trials that demonstrate the effectiveness of CBD oil at 150mg (the daily dose approved by the TGA) are pretty much non-existent. 

This explains why to date, there are still no CBD oil products approved for purchase over the counter in Australian pharmacies.

When Might CBD Products Become Available at My Local Pharmacy?

The consensus seems to be six-months at the earliest.

Clearly, with the down-scheduling of CBD, the incentive for further clinical research becomes that much more urgent, both from a business perspective and a societal one. The medical benefits are, for the most part, accepted. And illicit, unscrupulous and ultimately unsafe practices are in no one’s best interests.

Up until now, the unfortunate truth has been that in the absence of over-the-counter services, the quickest and easiest method for buying CBC oil or CBD based products is online using either illegal green or black market pathways from local or international retailers. 

This approach is fraught with difficulties and lacks any real oversight or control. Scams and substandard merchandise are commonplace. The customer is at the mercy of the seller, sometimes buying blind.

We’re stressing once again the importance of what this new TGA ruling might mean for those without prescriptions who wish to benefit from the genuine medicinal and therapeutic properties of CBD oil.

The truth is that a closer collaboration might be required between Australian medical and green pathways in order to speed up the process and satisfy the very obvious demand for CBD derived products.

So What’s in It for the Australian Medicinal Cannabis Industry?

The bottom line is money. Potentially upwards of 200 million Australian dollars per year or an estimated 10 billion USD by 2025. The industry needs to be ideally placed to really capitalise on this market opportunity, perhaps even working hand in hand with natural health and lifestyle brands. 

The first businesses to prove their credentials and define regulatory pathways by gaining registration for their CBD products will not only be ahead of the game, but if these figures bear out, they will also stand to be rewarded rather handsomely for the trouble.

This reason alone should ensure that there’s more than adequate investment in the testing and the provision of data required by law, resulting in the first OTC CBD oils becoming available over-the-counter in Australian pharmacies before very long.

Rest assured, businesses are working flat-out to get their products approved for sale.

And What About Our Neighbours in New Zealand?

Since 2017, CBD has been legal in New Zealand, but strictly for medicinal purposes and only if prescribed by a doctor. However, just like here in Australia, Kiwis also face a number of obstacles in the way of getting hold of CBD products. 

Sceptical general practitioners, distrustful of the data, refusing to prescribe CBD therapeutics in the belief it doesn’t work is perhaps one reason. Pharmacies not being able to get their hands on the specific CBD medicine prescribed is another.

That said, to combat the issue of specific availability, New Zealand does have well-stocked medicinal cannabis dispensaries, bridging the divide.


Frequently Asked Questions

  • What Is CBD Oil?

    CBD is the chemical compound extracted from the cannabis plant. It contains cannabinoids and very low levels of THC—less than 1 percent is required by law. This compound or extract is then dissolved in a ‘carrier oil’, such as olive oil or hemp seed oil, to improve its bioavailability, which is to say, its ability to be better absorbed by the body. 

    Put differently, CBD is fat-soluble and is more effective when digested alongside fat. What’s more, it simply would not dissolve in water.

  • Hemp Oil vs. CBD Oil: What Is the Difference?

    Hemp oil has little to no CBD content and is usually cold-pressed. Although extracted from the same plant species, CBD oil contains cannabinoids and THC—less than 0.3 percent of the latter, to be exact. Obviously, both come with their own health and therapeutic benefits.

  • What Is the Difference Between Cannabis Oil and CBD Oil?

    Once again, even though they’re derived from the same species of plant, they’re quite distinct in composition and effect and hence subject to greatly different laws. 

    Cannabis oil, aka marijuana oil or THC oil, is an oil infused with cannabis extract and therefore contains much higher THC levels than CBD oil. Because of this fact, Cannabis oil is used for both medicinal and recreational purposes, unlike CBD oil which is chiefly concerned with the latter.


With the recent down-scheduling and the obvious incentives for manufacturers in a new and fast-growing sector of the global economy, things appear to be much brighter for the Australian CBD consumer in 2021. 

The medical, therapeutic, and health benefits of CBD oil are no longer the exclusive preserve of holders of special medical dispensations or referrals—soon, everyone will be able to profit.

The prospect of buying high-quality, highly-regulated and safe CBD oil products from a pharmacy near you is close at hand. 

Watch this space.

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