How to Buy Medicinal Cannabis in Australia

A picture of a cannabis plant to illustrate what medical cannabis is abailable in Australia

Cannabis has undergone something of a major glow-up in the past few years. Far from being the past-time of high-school dropouts and Snoop Dogg fans, cannabis in Australia is now far more likely to be used by middle-aged women with chronic health conditions, according to the latest data from the Australian Insitute of Health and Wellness.

That’s because, in 2016, the Federal Government legalised the sale and use of medicinal cannabis, jump-starting the domestic industry and sending regulatory bodies scrambling to deal with this new legal reality.

After a slow start, access soon picked up and, during the pandemic, the use of cannabis absolutely exploded. In 2019, Australia was conservatively estimated at having some 600,000 users, some 2.7% of the population, which is now expected to be much higher. The vast majority of them use the drug to help treat things like chronic pain and mental health issues.

The legal offerings are now so good and so cheap that they are cutting into the black market. The latest ‘Cannabis as Medicine’ survey from The University of Sydney’s Lambert Institute found a 1380% increase in the number of people medicating with cannabis who got their drugs legally. While women in their 50s held the dominant market position for many years, the data also suggest that younger people are getting on board the bud bus in greater and greater numbers.

The reported health benefits of CBD, the calming opposite of the psychoactive THC chemical in cannabis, have played no small part in driving this change with the wellness industry embracing the hip cannabinoid. Highly specific and tailored forms of cannabis medication covering the full spectrum of the plant are now available to target any and all illnesses.

Since the start of the medicinal cannabis boom, cannabis clinics, authorised specialist GPs, and dispensaries have popped up all over the place. Getting access to legal weed has never been easier or more affordable. If you want in on the green, here’s what you need to know.

Buy Medical Cannabis Australia

When the government authorised the cultivation and sale of medicinal cannabis, they did so in a slightly roundabout way. All prescription medicines in Australia have to be regulated and green-lit by the Therapeutic Good Administration (TGA). Not so with cannabis.

An image showing medicinal cannabis in Australia to illustrate what medicinal cannabis is avilable in the country.
Image: Reddit

At the time, given the evidence for the benefits of medicinal cannabis to treat certain conditions was, and still is, lacking, the government opted to allow prescriptions for cannabis medication to be processed through something called the SAS B pathway.

This ‘special access scheme B‘ route allows doctors to prescribe unregistered medications that have not been proven to work for a particular condition. It’s more of a ‘let’s see what happens’ approach than actual evidence-based targeting of a condition.

As such, medicinal cannabis can be prescribed for any condition that a doctor can reasonably justify to the TGA. That means anyone with a history of mental illness like depression, anxiety, chronic pain, endometriosis, or just poor quality sleep, has a good chance of getting medicinal cannabis.

All GPs can prescribe cannabis, although most are sceptical about the drugs and will often refer you to someone who knows more about the subject. This is where specialist clinics come in.

Australia has dozens of clinics, both online and physical locations, as well as nearly 2,000 authorised prescribers. These people are working autonomously or in conjunction with their regular GP duties, and the TGA have empowered them to prescribe cannabis straight off the bat. Finding and speaking to one of these people is your best bet for securing medicinal cannabis.

Some, fair warning, are more legitimate than others. There are reports of online clinics that will ask for no medical history and will require only a brief phone call with a nurse and then a doctor. This journalist can personally confirm these reports. Some even use chatbots to diagnose patients and dish out cannabis, although the TGA has been clamping down on these practices.

This is why it is often recommended to find an authorised prescriber who you can visit face to face and discuss your broader health concerns. It can be a little bit harder and more expensive to track these people down, but the benefits are worth it.

Different kinds of medical marijuana available in Australia
Image: Reddit

Because cannabis treatment is not well integrated with broader GP and patient care, there is a risk that using these clinical services, many of whom are financially incentivised to prescribe cannabis (and only cannabis), other health issues can be missed, and treatment for them can be delayed. This is why it’s always important to continue checking in with your regular doctor while undergoing cannabis treatment.

Once you’ve acquired a prescription from your doctor, you’ll either be able to take it to a nearby pharmacy to fill the script or will be directed to where you can order it online.

What Medical Cannabis Is Available in Australia?

Currently, there are only two registered cannabis medicines that are approved by the TGA in Australia: Epidyolex and Sativex, used for the treatment of certain seizures and multiple sclerosis respectively.

In terms of unregistered medicinal cannabis products, there are literally hundreds of options available.

Some clinics will give their patients access to private websites containing their entire range of products, while authorised prescribers will typically just give you one product to try and then adjust based on its effects.

Available products include flowers, the dried buds of the cannabis plant, oil, capsules, creams, crystals, lozenges, sprays, and tinctures.

Each of these will come with a different cannabinoid profile, with varying balances of THC, CBD, and the various terpenes and flavinoids that the cannabis plant produces, and your doctor should be able to target a specific concoction of these to address your health issue.

Prescription cannabis oil available in Australia
Image: Reddit

Products can also be isolates, chemical extractions of pure CBD or THC, broad-spectrum, containing a wide range of cannabis molecules but without THC, or full spectrum, containing THC and a wide range of cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes.

Cannabis oil is the most popular form of medicinal cannabis in the country, used by 72% of patients. Although low-dose CBD oil was made an over-the-counter product in 2020, no products have yet to make it past TGA approvals and, as such, are not yet on the shelves in pharmacies.

Medical Cannabis Cost Australia

Cost has long been a prohibitive factor in accessing medicinal cannabis for a lot of people. The small domestic market and high-production costs meant that it was easier for suppliers to import international products than provide homegrown ones.

But that has all been changing as the domestic market grows and competition ramps up. However, the cost of medicinal cannabis treatment can vary significantly based on a range of factors.

Patients will often have to pay for a consultation with a doctor, the processing fees for the SAS B application. They also need to do follow-ups required by the TGA. Depending on who you go with, this can all impact the overall cost.

When it comes to the product itself, the amount you’ll pay depends on how much you need. Some people may be able to cure their insomnia with just a small dose of cheap cannabis oil. Others will need expensive, high-quality cannabis flower to treat their pain and, unfortunately, that is going to cost you.

The Victorian Department of Health estimates the cost of medicinal cannabis treatment to be between $50 and $1000 per week. FreshLeaf Analytics, a market analysis firm, stated in their 2021 report that the average monthly spend per patient was $278. The Lambert Insitute estimate that the average prescribed user spends $79.20 per week.

It’s important to understand the costs before you commit to anything. Your doctor should be able to give you the total cost before prescribing you a medication, so you should ask them if price is going to be an issue for you.

Related: Australian First Psychedelic Therapy and Cannabis Dispensary Opens in Melbourne

Related: Here’s All the Nice Things We Could Afford If We Legalised and Regulated Cannabis

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