Despite the recent TGA down-scheduling of certain CBD products from Schedule 4 (Prescription Medicine) to Schedule 3 (Pharmacist Only Medicine), buying CBD oil in Australia is still a somewhat difficult undertaking.
The Australian medicinal cannabis industry may well be going through some seismic changes behind the scenes. However, to date, there are still no registered over-the-counter CBD products available in pharmacies.
This leaves just three options open to the consumer who wishes to benefit from the medicinal properties of low-dose CBD oil—the legal and highly regulated medical pathway, or the still illegal domestic (green) and international (black) market alternatives.
Before we can take a closer look at the positive and negative aspects of each of these options in a little more detail and answer the question of where to buy CBD oil in Australia, we need to establish some basic facts.
What Is CBD Oil?
CBD is the chemical compound extracted from the hemp or cannabis plant. The plant contains over 500 separate chemical compounds, including over 114 different cannabinoids.
The CBD is usually obtained from the plant using a supercritical C02 process. This is widely considered to be the safest and most effective way of removing and refining CBD oil.
Once acquired in this way, this naturally occurring compound is broken down into a “carrier oil”, such as coconut oil, olive oil, or medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) 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, making it more effective.
Other than CBD or Cannabidiol, a compound called THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol is also present in low-dose cannabis oil, but 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 legal limits of Australian law.
Plant cannabinoids mimic naturally occurring cannabinoids found within the human body. By acting on your endocannabinoid system (ECS), CBD is thought to actively unlock cell receptors, improve cognition and boost the immune system, among other things.
Studies suggest that the medical and therapeutic benefits of CBD oil are many and varied, ranging from the treatment of addictions such as smoking right the way through to seizure management in epilepsy.
Anxiety, migraines, insomnia and even depression are other areas of ill-health where CBD-based products and CBD oil have been shown to be effective.
In fact, over 130 different conditions are considered eligible for medicinal cannabis treatment in Australia.
On 15 December 2020, the regulatory body, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), reclassified CBD oil from a schedule 4 to a schedule 3 drug. This down-scheduling was implemented on 1 February 2021, giving the green light for some CBD-based products to be sold over-the-counter in Australian pharmacies.
The TGA has certainly ushered in a new era for the availability of CBD-based oils from pharmacies. By changing the regulation, it has opened a fastlane to a potential slew of high-quality CBD products being available OTC. But there are still some obstacles that need to be negotiated before a health-minded, remedy-seeking Australian consumer can turn up at his or her local chemist and actually benefit from this initiative.
First, the registration process for CBD sales is stringent and requires the manufacturer to demonstrate safety, efficacy, and quality. The problem is that the data to prove such effectiveness is pretty thin on the ground, particularly when involving such low doses.
In fact, clinical trials that demonstrate the effectiveness of CBD oil at 150mg (the daily dose approved by the TGA) are pretty much non-existent.
This goes some way to explaining why there are still no CBD oil products approved for purchase over-the-counter in Australian pharmacies.
So what’s to be done in the meantime, you might ask?
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ITg-lP8BGU (end at 1:28)
The Three Pathways To Buying CBD Oil in Australia
Now we’ve got the preliminaries safely out of the way. Let’s return to those three options to buy CBD in Australia, mentioned at the beginning of this guide.
Option 1. The Medical Pathway
While things might be getting a little easier to access CBD oil medically, it’s still far from straightforward.
Medicinal cannabis is still in its infancy in Australia. Most doctors have not been formally trained in prescribing CBD-based medicines and, as a result, may not be overly familiar with the pathways to access such treatment. Which, at the best of times, can be quite complex.
With that in mind, it is still possible to obtain a script for medical cannabis from a health care professional.
The process for being prescribed and obtaining medical cannabis oil usually consists of the following four steps:
Step 1. Patient Consults Doctor, Cannabis Clinician, or Cannabis Clinic
To begin, your GP will need to establish if you’re eligible for a CBD oil Australia based treatment. To do this, they will take into account your symptoms, circumstances and medical history.
It’s essential that the treatment of your medical condition with cannabis oil is supported by evidence, usually in the form of peer-reviewed clinical studies or research.
The clinical benefits must outweigh the potential risks of the proposed treatment.
Remember, there are many conditions considered eligible for treatment with CBD, ranging from chronic pain to multiple sclerosis and movement disorders. You will need to demonstrate that conventional medicines have not worked or have been responsible for adverse side effects.
Your doctor will also take into account what impact a CBD oil treatment might have on your life in general, including the work that you do, how often you drive, etc., and even the cost implications of such a treatment (cannabis oils aren’t currently covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.)
- An outline of your symptoms and a diagnosis.
- Details of relevant past treatments and why approved therapeutic goods are not appropriate.
- An appraisal of the expected clinical benefits against the potential risks of the proposed treatments.
Potential Obstacles To Appraisal
It’s worth remembering, however, that most doctors have not received formal training in prescribing medicinal cannabis and are still largely ignorant of the therapeutic benefits of CBD oil. As a result, they might be reluctant to prescribe it as a form of treatment. He or she might also be unfamiliar with the different TGA pathways to accessing medical cannabis.
This can be a major obstacle and signals the need for a change in direction. If it’s the case, then it’s probably time to ask for a referral so you can speak to a trained cannabis practitioner or visit a cannabis clinic.
The expert cannabis practitioner or clinician will be more knowledgeable on the subject and be better placed to advise you about the suitability of medical cannabis in relation to your particular condition. In other words, you will be more accurately assessed.
For example, they might decide that a product containing both CBD and THC might be more beneficial in treating your condition. They will also be much more familiar with the TGA application process itself, eliminating any possibility of hitches and snags along the way.
Step 2. Doctor Applies for Approval Access Treatment
Assuming you meet all the criteria and are eligible, your doctor or clinician will make an application by submitting a “clinical justification” for the treatment.
They will do this through either the Special Access Scheme (SAS), Authorised Prescriber Scheme, or the recently opened Extemporaneous Compounding, for a special prescription to obtain medical cannabis, aka medical marijuana.
This can be done online via the TGA portal. The TGA has approved over 99,000 applications for unapproved medicinal cannabis products.
The Application Should Contain:
- An outline of your symptoms and a diagnosis.
- Details of relevant past treatments and why approved therapeutic goods aren’t appropriate.
- An appraisal of the expected clinical benefits against the potential risks of the proposed treatments.
Step 3. Prescription or Script for Medical CBD Oil Is Issued
The hard work has been done. You have your prescription for approved medical CBD oil, which is subject to much stricter regulation in terms of efficacy and safety. It’s time to move on to the ordering stage.
Step 4. Ordering
A pharmacy can only order your medicinal CBD once they receive the prescription (script) accompanied by all the relevant approval documentation provided by your doctor or clinician. Be sure to take all this paperwork with you when placing your order at the pharmacy.
- Medical CBD oil-based products are highly regulated, tested and safe.
- The consultation and assessment process means you’re more likely to be prescribed a CBD oil that’s suited to your particular medical needs and does not react adversely.
- The process can be long-winded and over-complicated.
- In the absence of clear data pointing to benefits, doctors can be reluctant to prescribe CBD.
- Medical-grade CBD oil is about 25 percent more expensive than the green market or black market pathway options.
Option 2. Green Market Pathways
Although considered to be the safest and most reliable, medical pathways are not for everyone. As we have seen, the process can be time-consuming and difficult to satisfy, with a number of bureaucratic hoops that need to be jumped through before you arrive at your stated goal—to enjoy the benefits of the CBD oil itself.
Fortunately, there are other avenues open to you in your quest to get hold of high-quality CBD oil in Australia.
While it’s still not legal, it is possible to access safe, high-quality CBD products through what is known as the domestic ‘green market.’
There are plenty of good retailers out there who know what they’re doing and offer expert advice. They also stock a range of CBD products to match this knowledge. So whatever your complaint, they should be able to help in the consultation process and administration. Read more about whether CBD is legal in Australia here.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. There are also some disreputable retailers that need to be avoided.
Care Should Be Taken
As with anything online, you should carefully research the subject properly and learn something about the product before the buying stage.
Knowing the difference between CBD and THC, Sativa and Indica strains, carrier oils, and what extraction methods to look out for will always be to your advantage. The last thing you want is to end up with cannabis oil with little to no CBD content.
Even unscrupulous sellers are less likely to deceive somebody who is well informed and knows their stuff.
Social media is also your ally here. Join online medical cannabis groups. Ask for peer recommendations and read reviews. If scammers do exist, then these are the places where they tend to get exposed first.
Wellness centres and health stores in your area are other fountains of knowledge. Ask for their advice. Put out as many “feelers” as possible. If it means you’re able to buy high-quality CBD oil without a prescription at the right price that’s effective for your condition, it will be worth the effort.
- The process is much faster and far less complicated than the medical pathway alternative.
- It’s possible to receive sage advice and purchase high-quality CBD oil from a reputable retailer.
- Generally less expensive than medically prescribed CBD oil
- The green market isn’t as tightly regulated as the medical variety.
- There are some disreputable sellers, scams and low-quality products to look out for.
- The range of CBD-based products is somewhat limited when compared to the international black market.
- Possibly more expensive than black market alternatives.
Option 3: Black Market Pathways
The third and perhaps least reliable option to obtain CBD oil is to use black-market retailers from overseas.
This approach is potentially fraught with difficulties and lacks any real oversight or control. Scams, substandard merchandise, and backyard brands are commonplace. The customer is very often at the mercy of the seller, even sometimes buying blind.
Though arguably the cheapest and easiest method for getting hold of CBD oil, black market pathways should be approached with considerable caution.
The black market is awash with unscrupulous retailers whose CBD-based products fall well below any standard of quality. When dealing with such a seller, the danger is that you will end up with something which is at best ineffective (containing little or no CBD) or at worst harmful (full of chemicals and other toxins.)
Do Your Research
Just as you would with the Australian green market, it’s advisable that you research the subject well. Get to know the product you intend to purchase. Learn the differences between CBD and THC, Sativa and Indica strains, carrier oils, and what extraction methods to look out for.
Again, use social media to your advantage. Join online medical CBD groups. Ask for peer recommendations. If scammers do exist, then these are the places they will be outed first.
That said, if you’re well informed enough to know what you’re doing and are certain of a product brand, dosage and quality, not to mention willing to risk your CBD oil being seized at the border, then the black market option might be worth a try. Particularly if you don’t have a prescription for medical cannabis and you can’t find the CBD oil you’re looking for through a green market supplier.
Like any other online purchase, research is key. Look at the testimonials and reviews, the reputation of the supplier, and if the process has worked for others, then it might be the pathway for you.
- Easier to access than medical pathways. No prescription or script required.
- Less expensive than other options and offers a potentially much wider range of international CBD-based products.
- Unregulated and illegal.
- Offers no protection to the consumer.
- A minefield of disreputable sellers and scams.
- Lacks any real transparency.
- No guarantee you will receive the CBD-based product you ordered.
- CBD orders may be seized at the Australian border by customs.
So Which Option Is Best?
After looking closely at the three options, it’s difficult to see a clear winner emerge. In terms of legality and perceived safety, it would have to be the medical pathway. That’s obvious. But if low cost and easy access are the criteria, then the green and black markets might seem like better options to the consumer in urgent need of CBD-based products.
The truth is that, in the end, a closer collaboration might be required between Australian medical and green pathways in order to speed up the process and satisfy the very obvious and significantly growing demand for high-grade CBD-derived products.
When Might CBD Products Become Available at My Local Pharmacy?
The consensus seems to be six months at the earliest. Though more likely 2022.
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 unscrupulous, illicit and ultimately unsafe practices are in no one’s best interests.
For businesses, the profits could be staggering. Potentially upwards of 200 million Australian dollars per year. Or put differently, an estimated 10 billion USD by 2025.
At the end of 2020, there were an estimated 30,000 active patients. Due to new regulations and OTC availability, these numbers are set to soar.
The first companies to gain 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 effort.
This reason alone should guarantee investment in the testing and the provision of data required by law, resulting in the first registered OTC CBD oils becoming available over-the-counter in Australian pharmacies before very long.
Businesses are definitely working flat-out to get their products approved for sale as soon as possible.
How Much Does CBD Oil Cost?
Expect to pay anywhere between 60 AUD for cheap online oil and 500 AUD for something that claims to be more high-end. The good news is that entry-level prices are down by close to 50 percent over the last 12 months. The availability of legal products is up threefold, which will also drive prices down.
There are many different types of CBD oil. How the plant is grown, how the CBD is extracted, and THC content all contribute to the end product and its actual value. In general, CBD is much cheaper than THC.
Costs can also vary in relation to the condition being treated. The idea is that something like epilepsy will cost significantly more than the treatment of chronic pain, as the dosages are much higher.
One piece of advice: when considering cost, don’t focus on bottle sizes. Look instead for the milligrams of CBD the oil contains. Prices for a milligram of CBD range from 10 cents to nearly 1 Australian dollar. Across both the legal, medical and green markets, the average hovers around the 30 cents mark.
In general, medical pathway prices tend to be around 25 percent higher than green or black market equivalents, though the gap is expected to shrink. The assumption is that you’re getting a better and safer product if you’re accessing CBD oil through medical channels. But this isn’t always the case.
But there’s also the pharmacy markup (as much as 140 percent) which creates a huge variance in cost.
Remember, medical cannabis is not covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), so the patient will have to foot the bill.
If you’re well informed and know what to look for (or to avoid), then there’s every chance of successfully finding a good CBD oil at the right price.
With the new regulatory changes, the day will soon come when CBD oil’s health benefits will be available to all over the counter of an Australian pharmacy. Sadly that day has not yet arrived.
This guide to where to buy CBD oil in Australia is designed to help you negotiate the three pathways currently open to you.
By following it, you should have already crossed the line in your pursuit of medicinal CBD oil while the industry is still in the process of gearing up.