Note: In this article we’ll use the terms marijuana and cannabis interchangeably. We explaining why in our article called cannabis vs marijuana. The actual word for both medical and recreational (adult use) cannabis is cannabis.
Important Update: People often believe that in order to be approved for medical cannabis, a patient must have tested all other treatments for a condition and prove that they haven’t worked. This is not correct. During the medical cannabis inquiry the head of the TGA said:
” I think, however, it’s incumbent on us to correct a few misunderstandings and facts that have been voiced during the day…I want to clarify: it’s not that all other options have been exhausted. This is the Special Access Scheme for unapproved medicines, there is the requirement in law that they have to explain what they’ve tried, and it (cannabis) would generally not be seen as first line. We have heard today incorrectly that this scheme is only for if every other single medicine has been exhausted…”
In part 2 of the guide to medical cannabis in Australia you learnt about conditions medical marijuana is being prescribed for, delivery methods and potential side effects.
Medical marijuana access is one of the biggest complaints that proponents of cannabis in Australia have. While it is legal, the government is seen to be making it very difficult for prescriptions and patient access. Once accessed, the laws are still catching up to the fact that medicinal cannabis is now legal. For example, cannabis is one of the only prescription medications that, when taking, you can’t legally drive. This is because you’re likely going to have THC in your system.
The state of medical cannabis in Australia is rapidly changing and the ways in which you can access this medicine are often thought to be very complex. However, in most cases, applications for medical cannabis are approved (or replied to) in 48hours. In this section of the guide you’ll learn how you can access medical cannabis in Australia and the differences that exist from state to state. By the end of this article, you should be able to know the steps to accessing medical cannabis in your home state. Let the learning begin. Heres’ a list of sections if you’d like to jump ahead:
- The 3 step ‘process’ to access medical cannabis
- How to qualify for medical cannabis
- The Special Access Scheme (SAS) & how your doctor applies
- A state by state breakdown on how to access cannabis
- Specialist help for all patients – cannabis clinics
- The cost of medical marijuana in Australia
How do I access medical marijuana in Australia?
Due to the current laws, you cannot just buy medical marijuana online or from a dispensary. You also can not legally buy CBD oil online in Australia. Importing any form of cannabis from overseas without a license to do so is also illegal.
Even in the past six months, access to medical cannabis has taken huge leaps and bounds. The most common misconception is that you need to go to a specialist doctor, an authorised prescriber, to get medical cannabis. This is not true. Any doctor can apply to the TGA for an individual patient to access medicinal cannabis.
So, how do I qualify for medical cannabis?
While qualifying to access medical cannabis in Australia may seem like a complex process, understanding the steps it takes can help you find the course of action for you. There are three main pathways to access medical cannabis in Australia
- As an authorised prescriber (AP)
- Via the Special Access Scheme (SAS)
- Clinical Trials
In order to go through a doctor, you want to find someone who understands both the medicine and the process. There are really three ‘tests’ you must pass in order to get a prescription for medical marijuana.
- You need to have a medical condition that is treatable by cannabis.
- You must have tried, and prove that you’ve considered, other remedies and treatments for the condition.
- You have to prove that you’re still having problems.
Then, a doctor must apply to the TGA, and in some cases your state or territory medical body, and get approval for them to prescribe you cannabis.
There isn’t a list of APs, however if you want to go through an AP and want to ask questions about APs, you can email: [email protected]
You can learn more about trials in our clinical trials article.
The Special Access Scheme (SAS) is the route the majority of applications and approvals go through so below we’ll outline the SAS.
The Special Access Scheme (SAS)
The Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) manages a list of prescribed medications which are approved so that doctors may prescribe any of those drugs to patients for a range of conditions. The only cannabis based medicine on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) is nabiximols (Sativex®). If your doctor is going to prescribe any other form of cannabis, they’ll need to go through the Special Access Scheme (SAS). The SAS is a program set up for doctors to prescribe medications that are not listed in the ARTG. Because this is for special circumstances, the TGA requires doctors to
“have considered all available treatment options included in the ARTG prior to making an application or notification under the SAS to access an unapproved therapeutic good.”
In plain terms, this means that cannabis is still seen to be a very complex medication and a doctor needs to get special permission to prescribe it to a patient. The SAS is the forum to get that permission.
To explain this process to you, a consumer or patient, we’ll focus on what you need to know to help you and potentially your doctor. With that in mind, there are three pathways in which doctors can apply to the SAS, however, we’ll focus on the most common cannabis pathway: SAS B – Application Pathway.
What your doctor must do to apply for medical cannabis
To apply, your doctor will need to have a full history of your medical condition, symptoms and information about what medications and treatments have been used to treat your condition in the past.
- Your doctor must understand the SAS B application pathway and medical cannabis uses, benefits and side effects. Your doctor will then need to fill out an application which requires:
- Patient diagnosis and indication for which the product is sought
- Thorough clinical justification for the use of the product. This includes the seriousness of the condition, details of previous treatment, and reasons why a therapeutic good currently included in the ARTG cannot be used for treatment.
- Sufficient safety and efficacy data to support the proposed use of the product. This data may include references to clinical trial results, published peer-reviewed data, or evidence that the product has been approved for an equivalent indication by a national regulatory body with comparable regulatory requirements.
- Details of intended monitoring for adverse events and patient response to treatment.
- Applications are submitted via the TGA online SAS portal.
- From the time of application, if the doctor’s application meets all of the requirements, it can take anywhere from a day to a week to approve. However, most states are now saying approvals happen in 48 hours.
- Once approved, the prescribing doctor is required to help you find a pharmacy near you that can dispense your medicine. The regulations around pharmacies that can dispense cannabis may be different state by state.
If your doctor is unsure about medical cannabis and wants more information, you can always direct your doctor to an ARTG certified online cannabis course like the one provided by MediHunana.
While you can go to your doctor, you may want to get help from a doctor or clinic who specialises in cannabinoid therapy. You can find more information about getting help in our who can help me get access to medical marijuana in Australia section below.
How do I get medical cannabis in my state?
While the amendment to the Narcotic Drug Act of 1967 made medicinal marijuana legal throughout Australia, the amendment also stated that State and Federal governments would work together. This means that governing laws for each state may differ and therefore, your ability and pathway to access medical cannabis in each state may vary. It may be easier for you to get help from a specialist. You can find out more about specialist help below. Here are some answers and resources state by state:
How to get access to medical marijuana in Victoria?
Medicinal cannabis can be accessed through the SAS or AP. The image below explains how you get access via your healthcare professional and an application to the TGA using the SAS option.
To learn more go to the Victorian Government website
How to get access to medical marijuana in NSW?
Medical cannabis is accessed through the SAS or AP. Here is a document from the NSW Government explaining the legal cannabis pathways.
How to get access to medical marijuana in Queensland?
Medical cannabis is accessed through the SAS or AP. Here is an article from the QLD Government explaining the legal cannabis pathways.
How to get access to medical marijuana in South Australia?
Medical cannabis is accessed through the SAS or AP. The SA government has a flowchart that explains the pathways.
How to get access to medical marijuana in Western Australia?
Medical cannabis is accessed through the SAS or AP. Here’s WA’s website explaining the legal cannabis pathways. NOTE: as of the 13th of Nov 2019 patients no longer need a specialist to approve medical cannabis. Any GP can now apply to the TGA to prescribe medical cannabis (except for children under 16 and those with a history of dependence).
How to get access to medical marijuana in Tasmania?
Medical cannabis is accessed through the Controlled Access Scheme (CAS), which has a similar process to the SAS. You need a specialist to prescribe you medical cannabis in Tasmania. Here’s the government’s site explaining the legal cannabis pathways for patients.
How to get access to medical marijuana in ACT?
Medical cannabis is accessed through the SAS. Here’s ACT’s website explaining the legal cannabis pathways.
Note: While personal use is now legal in ACT and each person can grow up to two plants (or four per household) we’d recommend speaking with your healthcare professional about accessing medical cannabis through the proper channels. Remember, medical cannabis is highly regulated so you’ll know the quality and strength are correct for you.
How to get access to medical marijuana in Northern Territory?
Medical cannabis is accessed through the SAS or AP. Here’s NT’s website explaining the legal cannabis pathways.
Who can help me get access to medical marijuana in Australia?
While any doctor can apply to prescribe medicinal cannabis for a patient, you will have seen above, there are still some extra steps depending on your state. There is also an art to filling in the application and making sure that it meets all TGA requirements.
Looking for the clinic that’s best for you? Check out honahlee’s list and reviews of Cannabis Clinics In Australia.
Because of this, many special access cannabis clinics have popped up around Australia. While this process is a bit more expensive than going directly through your doctor, these clinics know the ins and outs of the TGA process and are skilled at writing the applications.
Medical Cannabis Costs
Telling you how much medicinal cannabis will cost is a difficult task because there are multiple factors to take into account. Your initial set-up costs as a patient and your ongoing costs for medication are unique to each individual.
Prices for cannabis itself varies based on factors like the type of product (i.e. flower or oil), the concentration of cannabinoids in the product, the amount required, the source, shipping, other possible fees and pharmacy charges.
Cannabis prices have dropped considerably since legalisation. There are still stories of people paying thousands of dollars a month. Those stories, however, are the outliers.
About half of all medical cannabis patients spend less than $10 a day and around two-thirds of patients are spending less than $15 a day.
If you’d like to learn about the cost of medical cannabis in detail, along with information on the cheapest products in Australia, please read our “Cost of medical cannabis in Australia” article.
To give you a structure to begin planning for the total outlay of your medication, we’ll list out the two most often used pathways.
Going through your own GP
GPs all charge a different amount so we’ll list out the costs which should allow you to do rough calculations or to ask your GP about these specifics.
- Initial consult cost
- SAS application fee/admin fee
- Follow up consultation(s)
- Monthly medication fee
Remember that in some states you’ll need a specialist, so you’ll need your GP to refer you to someone else
Going through a specialist clinic
To find out detailed information about cannabis clinic pricing you can read our cannabis clinic article. Our research shows that most clinics have a similar process. The average cost of a cannabis clinic consultation, pre-approval, and TGA application is $253. There are post-approval checkups.
honahlee has no affiliation with any clinic and have put this information together to help you make the best decision for you when approaching a clinic or doctor.
Remember, regardless of which state you’re in, a specialist will likely be able to take you through the process of getting a medical cannabis prescription more smoothly.
While accessing medical cannabis in Australia is not as easy as you might think, once you understand the process, you’ll easily be able to find the resources and help you need. Because medical cannabis is becoming more popular, things are moving quickly and ease of access will continue to improve.
Accessing medicinal cannabis through your GP or a specialist can cost you anywhere from $95 to $380 for your initial consult and application fees. Per day, medical cannabis can cost anywhere from $5 to $50 a day for your medication.
While we do not recommend medical cannabis (we’ll leave that to your doctor), we do recommend speaking to a specialist if you’re going to go this route. Specialists will make the whole process streamlined and easier for you.
This brings you to the end of our Australian’s guide to medical cannabis. In part 1 you heard what medical cannabis is and the legalities around it. In part 2 read about the conditions cannabis is prescribed for, delivery methods and possible side effects. Finally, in part 3, you saw the different pathways to accessing medical cannabis in Australia.
By now you probably know as much about accessing medical cannabis as many Australian doctors. It’s important to remember that for most therapeutic purposes more research needs to be conducted on cannabis – it’s not a cure-all.
As Uncle Ben once said, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Your knowledge of cannabis should be shared with your healthcare professional and others who may want to access medical cannabis. If your doctor needs more information they can go to any of the government websites listed in the ‘how do I get medical marijuana in my state?’ section of this article or by going to an educational platform like MediHuanna.