Medical Cannabis Australia: Simple 5-Step Guide for 2023

Medical Cannabis Australia
medical cannabis Australia
Read our simple 5-step guide on how to get medical cannabis in Australia for 2023.
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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Medical cannabis is legal throughout Australia and has been decriminalised in ACT, Australia since 2016.
  • If you’re looking to get medical cannabis, it is a relatively easy process, especially if you have the right prescriber.
  • THC can be detected in saliva, which is commonly known as an oral fluid test, for up to 72 hours after usage.

Table of Contents

Medical Cannabis Eligibility

You’re eligible to use medicinal cannabis If you’ve had a chronic condition for over three months and have tried different types of treatments (such as pharmacological or otherwise – typically a combination), or if the treatments you’ve taken have had unbearable side effects.

Medical Cannabis Cost Australia

When it comes to medical cannabis, costs can vary significantly based on factors like where you live and the specific product you’re using. Typically, there are two main costs to consider: the cost of the product itself and the cost of working with a doctor or clinic.

Initial consults with a clinic can range from being free (if bulk-billed) to around $400. Some clinics offer annual subscriptions that you pay upfront, which can cost around $500.

The average patient spends about $278 per month, or roughly $9.26 per day, on medical cannabis products. When it comes to flowers, which is the most popular product, you can expect to pay around $17.64 per gram, with a minimum cost of $12.90 per gram.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that medical cannabis isn’t only about costs. It can provide relief for a range of conditions, so it’s worth speaking with a doctor or clinic and exploring your options.

Medical Cannabis Cost Australia

Cannabis Prescription in Australia

In Australia, patients seeking cannabis prescriptions can consult with General Practitioners (GP), specialists, and most Nurse Practitioners. It is recommended to start with your GP. If your current GP doesn’t show interest or faith in the use of cannabis, you can look for a different GP or clinic. Cannabis prescriptions are permissible in specific situations, such as chronic pain management or severe epilepsy, but the prescription criteria vary across the different states in Australia. It’s important to stay informed about the specific regulations in your area.

Medical Cannabis Doctor’s Appointment

If you’re planning to discuss cannabis with your doctor, don’t worry – it will be business as usual. Whether you’re visiting your GP or a clinic, it’s important to be open about your past/current cannabis use, as this information will help your healthcare provider recommend the right product for you.

During your first appointment at a clinic, the healthcare provider will screen you to get your medical history and determine if you’re eligible for treatment. If everything looks good, you’ll have a follow-up appointment with a doctor that typically lasts 30 minutes. After the appointment, your application will be sent off to the TGA for processing.

As of late 2021, new rules regarding scripts and approvals have come into place. Under the new rules, prescribers are approved to prescribe a patient a category of products, rather than individual products. Although there is some debate about whether the prescriber or the patient/pharmacist should choose the product, most prescribers currently make the final decision. While the situation may change over time, it’s important to be prepared for the prescriber to choose the product.

Medical Cannabis Dispensary

If you’ve been approved for medicinal cannabis use, obtaining your script filled can feel overwhelming. Here are a few tips to streamline the process and make sure you are getting the best value for your medication:

Find a pharmacy: After approval, you can fill a script at a pharmacy. However, not all pharmacies specialize in dispensing cannabis, so it’s best to confirm before choosing.

Clinic preferences: Some clinics have preferred pharmacies to which they send their scripts. Confirm with your clinic to find out more.

Online portals: Product suppliers and clinics can provide online portals with an updated list of products and re-ordering tools. You can also review information about your preferred medications, including pricing.

Fees: It’s essential to check the pricing and dispensing fee (total cost) from the pharmacy before submitting your order.

Communication from the clinic: It’s not uncommon for a clinic to charge you to send your script to a pharmacy of your choosing. Always double-check before ordering.

By following these tips before ordering from a dispensary or supplier, you can ensure a seamless prescription delivery process.

Cannabis Medication

The dosages of medical cannabis will vary for each person. It is important to consult with your doctor to determine the appropriate starting point. Generally, doctors will start you off with a low dose and adjust it as needed. During the first two months, it is common to have follow-up appointments, but afterward, appointments will usually only be necessary for prescription renewals (unless the medication isn’t working for you). Remember to enjoy the process and the benefits that come with medical cannabis.

Medical Cannabis Dosages

How To Get Medical Cannabis: 5-Steps

The 5-Steps to getting medical cannabis in Australia involves the following:

  1. Determining your eligibility
  2. Understanding the costs
  3. Finding a doctor to prescribe
  4. Getting Your Medical Cannabis Prescription
  5. Getting Your Prescription Approved

Step 1: Medical Cannabis Qualification

You can qualify for medical cannabis if you suffer from a chronic condition that has lasted for more than three months and traditional forms of treatment have not been effective, or their side effects have been unbearable. Note that physical therapy, counseling, and meditation may also count as forms of treatment. Additionally, you may decide to use medical cannabis if you want to avoid the side effects of other medications.

Step 2: Medical Cannabis Prices in Australia

Prescriber Costs:

The cost of seeing a doctor or clinic varies greatly; therefore, it’s best to consider the initial costs you will pay in the first year. Apart from your initial appointment, expect a follow-up appointment after approval and recurring follow-ups throughout the year. Some doctors and clinics may charge an application fee, while others may only require an appointment fee. If your prescriber or clinic charges an application fee, it may be worthwhile to consider other options. Application forms take between 5-10 minutes to complete,and most of the prescribers at the clinics are capable of filling out the forms. Note that you can always consult your GP for an estimate of the cost. On average, you may require about five appointments for medical cannabis each year.

Product Costs:

When considering the cost of medical cannabis, it’s important to ignore the price tag completely and, instead, focus on the price per milligram of cannabinoid, which usually varies across different products. The product prices themselves can be misleading. At Retail Recommended Prices, you can expect the prices to range between approximately $60 and $650.

However, when you consider the price per milligram, it’s a different story. The lowest available full-spectrum CBD in Australia is $0.05 per mg. You can expect the prices of products to range between $0.05 per mg and approximately $1 per mg.

The cost of the flower may be relatively high, but prices are coming down. Flower prices range from approximately $0.06 per mg to $0.30 per mg. The cheapest flower at the moment is about $12.90 per gram.

Finally, note that pharmacies may mark up the prices; check the approval section below for more information.

Step 3: Medical Cannabis Doctor

Any GP or specialist, and most nurse practitioners can prescribe medical cannabis. Start with your regular healthcare professional (HCP) if possible, as they know you and can be the main hub for all of your treatments.

If your HCP is not familiar with medical cannabis, a product supplier may be willing to help teach them for free, while some clinics specializing in medical cannabis can also help. These clinics may require referrals, but some only need your health history/summary.

It’s important to note that HCPs can prescribe any product available in Australia as long as they are aware of it. If your doctor is an Authorised Prescriber (AP), that means they have been authorized to prescribe specific categories of products for specific conditions, and can give you your prescription on the spot. If not, they can still apply to the TGA like any other doctor.

Clinics may have a certain range of products they prescribe, which can be found by researching social media reviews. Patients who use these clinics often share their clinics’ lists of prescribed products. Also note that if a clinic says they’re out of stock, it doesn’t necessarily mean the product is out of stock nationwide.

Step 4: Medical Cannabis Prescription

Whether you speak to your regular doctor or visit a clinic, the process will be similar. You should be prepared to explain why you are interested in using cannabis and demonstrate that you understand the potential benefits and side effects.

During your appointment, your healthcare practitioner will review your medical history and discuss which type of cannabis product would be appropriate for your health needs. If you are currently using cannabis, it is important to inform your practitioner, as this may impact the type of product that they recommend.

It’s worth noting that different states and jurisdictions have varying rules around cannabis prescriptions. For example, some states may limit the amount of cannabis that can be prescribed, or require that you try an oil before using flower. In Washington state, the rules around cannabis use are currently quite strict.

Step 5: Access Medical Cannabis

Once your prescription is approved, you’ll usually receive some sort of notification, such as an email, text, or phone call confirming you’ve been approved. Depending on the clinic, they will either send your prescription straight to the pharmacy or give you the option to choose where to send it.

It’s important to note that some pharmacies aren’t set up to dispense cannabis, so if you prefer to go local, check with your pharmacy first. Specifically, ask if they have the necessary licenses to dispense cannabis. If not, you may need to find a dispensary instead.

You should also be aware that different pharmacies charge varying markups on product prices. To prevent any surprises, ask your doctor for the product price at the time of your prescription. This way, you’ll know exactly how much the pharmacy markup and delivery fee will be. Some pharmacies tend to overcharge for these fees, but a reasonable price for dispensing and shipping is about $20-$35.

Medical Cannabis FAQs

Is Cannabis Legal In Australia?

Yes, medical cannabis is legal throughout Australia and has been decriminalised in ACT, Australia. In 2016, Australia made medical cannabis legal, and its popularity has grown since. Any general practitioner (GP), specialist, and most nurse practitioners can prescribe medical cannabis in Australia. Telehealth GPs and clinics can also prescribe across borders, making access easier for remote patients.

Note that state rules apply to prescribers, and the prescriber’s location determines the rules, not the patient’s location. For example, if you’re located in VIC but use a prescriber in WA, WA rules will apply. Overall, medical cannabis is legal and widely available in Australia.

How To Qualify For Medical Cannabis?

Individuals who have a chronic condition, lasting over three months without response to other treatments, or causing unacceptable side effects or concern about them, can be prescribed medical cannabis.

The most common condition for which medical cannabis is prescribed is chronic pain, followed by mental health conditions. However, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) does not provide a list of approved conditions. This means that health professionals can apply to prescribe cannabis for any condition, provided they can collect clinical evidence for its effectiveness and meet other eligibility criteria.

Can Any Doctor Prescribe Medical Cannabis?

Health professionals who prescribe cannabis regularly already know the process, making it easier for them to get their patients approved. In fact, it’s important to note that the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has never formally ‘rejected’ a patient. They usually ask for more information or for more/different evidence before approving an application. Given these circumstances, most prescribers would work very hard to get their patients approved. In most cases, prescribers can get the application through in just two tries.

But, what about the strains? In some cases, the TGA won’t approve flower right away, instead wanting the prescriber to test oils with patients before approving flower. However, as the patient, there are other things to consider.

If your health care practitioner (HCP) is new to the process, most product suppliers offer free assistance to help them through the process. You can provide a few products that you’re interested in to your HCP for discussion but, if they need help with the process itself, they can easily reach out to the supplier for extra assistance.

In summary, if you’re looking to get medical cannabis, it is a relatively easy process, especially if you have the right prescriber. Take into consideration that the TGA may require more information and testing before approval for some strains, but ultimately, the approval’s a straightforward process – and that’s all there’s to it!

Is Medical Cannabis Covered By Insurance?

Medical cannabis is a treatment option that is yet to be subsidised under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). However there are several private health insurance companies who offer coverage for medical cannabis. It may require a certain amount of effort to identify which plans provide coverage. Insurers are still in the process of adopting this new form of medicine, so it’s advisable to inquire about non-PBS or private script medicines.

Victoria has set up a compassionate access scheme to finance medical cannabis products for a certain number of children battling with severe epilepsy. New South Wales’ scheme offers access to adults with terminal illnesses.

For veterans, The Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) offers subsidies for certain veterans, but the application process can be complicated. Veterans must pay for the treatment until the DVA approves it. The application and approval process is either very quick for certain conditions or more challenging for mental health conditions such as PTSD.

Thankfully, there are an increasing number of clinics that offer compassionate access schemes and other subsidies, however securing these discounts may require various hurdles to be overcome.

Australian Medical Cannabis

Medical cannabis in Australia is regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), and all medical products must meet high-quality standards to be prescribed and sold. However, while products imported from overseas are required to meet TGA’s guidelines, there is no local auditing of their processes, making it difficult to ensure consistency and quality when compared to locally grown and manufactured products.

For individuals with serious medical conditions who need the same product each and every time, it is crucial to have confidence in the quality and consistency of medical cannabis. While products from overseas may not necessarily be bad, it is harder to ensure they meet the high regulatory framework imposed on local producers and suppliers under the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) standards.

Thus, it is advisable to purchase medical cannabis from local sources to ensure compliance with GMP standards and guarantee consistency and quality. Medical cannabis is an important therapeutic option and should be available to all Australians who need it, and buying locally grown and manufactured products can help make this a reality.

Can I Travel With Medical Cannabis?

Unfortunately, it is illegal to travel with medical cannabis in Australia. While some Australian states have legalized the use of medical cannabis under certain circumstances, the laws surrounding the transportation of cannabis vary from state to state. Generally, it is not permitted to transport cannabis across state lines or internationally.

If you are a medical cannabis patient, it is recommended to consult with your healthcare provider and the relevant authorities to determine the laws and regulations regarding the use and transportation of medical cannabis in your specific state. Additionally, keep in mind that possession of cannabis without a valid prescription or authorization is illegal in Australia and can lead to severe legal consequences.

How Long Does Cannabis Stay In Your System Lick Test?

THC can be detected in saliva, which is commonly known as an oral fluid test, for up to 72 hours after usage, although it can be traceable for a shorter period for those who smoke less often.

The lick test is a new roadside drug test designed to catch out drug drivers. The test involves a police officer holding a test pad through the car window, which the driver then licks to detect the presence of THC (cannabis), methylamphetamine (speed), and MDMA (ecstasy). If the preliminary test is positive, the driver will be asked to perform a second lick test, using a different screening device. If the second test is also positive, a sample will be sent to the police lab for final confirmation. If the lab confirms the presence of drugs, the driver will be issued with a Court Attendance Notice and may face penalties such as a fine of $1,100 for first offenders and loss of their license for six months.

Unlike drink driving, there is zero tolerance for drug driving. The mere presence of a drug in the driver’s system can result in a penalty, even if their driving seems unaffected. The offense of DUI, on the other hand, requires noticeable impairment of driving ability or involvement in a fatal crash.

It is important to note that drugs can stay in the system for longer than alcohol, particularly cannabis. Even if a driver smoked cannabis a week before the roadside test, they can still be detected and convicted of drug driving, which carries a criminal record.

The introduction of random drug driving tests in New South Wales, Australia, has sparked debate over its effectiveness and fairness. Critics argue that the tests, which detect minuscule amounts of drugs, may produce false positives and unjustly prosecute drivers who are not actually impaired. The charge of driving with illicit drugs present in blood does not measure the level of impairment, unlike the charge of driving under the influence of a drug. The tests do not measure the amount of drugs in a driver’s system, making the offense a strict liability. Moreover, no two people metabolize drugs in the same way, which could lead to thousands of people losing their license and paying significant fines for up to 12 months when there is no evidence they were a danger to other road users. The drug driving tests do not test for cocaine and morphine, leaving cannabis users punished while cocaine users remain unscathed.

References

  1. “Access to Medicinal Cannabis Products in Australia” – Therapeutic Goods Administration. (2021). Retrieved from https://www.tga.gov.au/access-medicinal-cannabis-products-australia 
  2. “The Australian Medicinal Cannabis Landscape” – Health Direct. (2022). Retrieved from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/medicinal-cannabis-landscape 
  3. “Access to Medicinal Cannabis” – Australian Government Department of Health. (2022). Retrieved from https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/medicinal-cannabis/access-to-medicinal-cannabis 
  4. “Medicinal cannabis in Australia: The patient experience” – University of Sydney. (2018). Retrieved from https://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2018/06/14/medicinal-cannabis-in-australia–the-patient-experience.html 
  5. “Medicinal cannabis in Australia” – NPS MedicineWise. (2021). Retrieved from https://www.nps.org.au/medical-info/clinical-topics/medicinal-cannabis 
  6. “Access to medicinal cannabis products” – Australian Government Department of Health. (2021). Retrieved from https://www.odc.gov.au/sites/default/files/access_to_medicinal_cannabis_products.pdf 
  7. “Medicinal cannabis in Australia: Patient characteristics, experiences and clinical outcomes” – Medical Journal of Australia. (2021). Retrieved from https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2021/214/11/medicinal-cannabis-australia-patient-characteristics-experiences-and-clinical
  8. “Cannabis: Laws and Regulations in Australia” – Health Direct. (2022). Retrieved from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/cannabis-laws-and-regulations-australia
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