Medicinal Cannabis in Australia — A Patients Perspectivecdaclinics
Before I begin my article it is important that you read and digest these first two paragraphs please. I am NOT a Doctor, I am NOT qualified to give ANY medical advice. The below is a story about my journey into Medicinal Cannabis and what obstacles I faced, the application processes, how it has worked for me etc. This Medium article is purely me sharing my own personal experiences, opinions and perspective as a Medicinal CannabisPatient.
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In February 2016, the Australian Parliament passed legislation to enable the cultivation of cannabis for medical and scientific use through a licensing scheme to be established under the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967.
And since then the Australian States have followed suite, but each State and Territory has it’s own quirks and variations of approval methods and pathways to access Medicinal Cannabis.
For example each State and Territory Health Department also requires you to have their own approval as well as that of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) which is Federal.
My background as a patient — This is my personal venture into Medicinal Cannabis but in telling this story I am maintaining the anonymity I desire, I will tell you that I am living on the Southern most East Coast of Australia and have approval for a THC/CBD combination. Prior to receiving Medicinal Cannabis I was not a regular user of Cannabis but like many people I had experimented with it when I was younger.
I will not go into each State or Territories approval methods as there is way too much information to list here and there is plenty of information online for those who wish to find it.
Also you should note, that in this article I am referring to Medicinal Cannabis as a THC/CBD combination, CBD alone is a different topic.
But getting back to approvals, below you can see the number of approvalsby the TGA for a SAS B application is growing each month. (This includes THC/CBD and CBD alone)
It would also be interesting to see if in the future the TGA could publish a State/Territory info-graphic to see where the majority of approvals are actually from.
MEDICINAL CANNABIS VS STREET OR ILLEGAL CANNABIS
Firstly, if you are a recreational user or someone who would ordinarily use Marijuana and are seeking the easy way out so you can use it recreationally with impunity, let me tell you now you are wasting your time.
There are many checks and balances that go into your application and you need to present with actual symptoms that require treatment and there needs to be, depending on where you live a Specialists endorsement saying he or she believes it may help you. (Again every State/Territory is different and this is where it is difficult for not only patients but Doctors as well.)
So getting back to the street vs Medicinal Cannabis, the street cannabis of today has varying levels of THC content, some as high as 90% which is unregulated and may have an adverse affect on you, there is also the risk of pesticides having been used on what you are smoking or inhaling.
Medicinal Cannabis on the other hand is grown and manufactured to specific requirements and is heavily regulated, which is a good thing. As someone who is prescribed Medicinal Cannabis, I can tell you that having experienced both, the advantages of Medicinal Cannabis is it actually feels like a medicine and has healing properties.
I won’t delve into how it has helped me as that would then lead to some being able to identify my condition and I don’t want that, this is more so my view on the whole process rather than an article which is specific to how Medicinal Cannabis works for me. But let me leave it at, it has helped me a lot.
AM I ELIGIBLE?
This is where there are some myths around Medicinal Cannabis and also confusion and doubt. Let me tell you now, anyone is eligible to apply for it, provided that your Doctor and or Specialist also endorse such an application and believe it may be of benefit to your health. This is why the application must come from a Medical Professional.
There is no right or wrong condition, yes there are some predetermined conditions but that list is not exhaustive.
The approving authorities may also need your applying Doctor to demonstrate how traditional medicine has not been able to help you, and again this is case by case, State by State specific, not a clear and defining rule as far as I am aware. By that I mean there is no “One size fits all”, each application is viewed upon it’s own merits and decisions are made by the regulating bodies.
Many websites of Cannabis providers in Australia you may have seen will have a “default” checklist to rate your personal criteria for applying, and while to some extent the majority of conditions listed are the conditions where there is a lot of or at least some clinical evidence for that condition that does not preclude you from applying for Medicinal Cannabis for your specific condition(s).
This is where many people become frustrated and see the lists and go, oh I am not eligible and therefore I cannot apply. The fact is any Medical Doctor can apply for Medicinal Cannabis for you, and each application is reviewed by the TGA and State/Territory Governments and assessed on it’s own merits.
It may be the case where the TGA or your State/Territory Health Department requires you to provide further evidence on why this treatment could be suitable for you, and if so, it is then a matter of finding the material to provide them if there is any.
If there is no evidence or clinical trials, then it is likely that they may reject your application, but still you do not know until you try do you?
DOCTORS AND THEIR DILEMMAS
I will say this from the outset, if your GP does not support your desire to try Medicinal Cannabis as a treatment then you are not going to have much luck, but there are alternatives which I will explain later in this article.
But first let us look at things from your Doctors perspective.
GP’s in my opinion are the finest professionals in Australia.
Yes they earn a good living and yes they have studied hard to be where they are today, but the amount of varying conditions they have to treat, the varying patients from those who have mental conditions to those who have the common cold, or a sick child or a terminal disease, they are always there for you with empathy and advice.
I don’t think we as a Nation give our GP’s the kudos they deserve. For me personally, I am lucky that my Doctor is an amazing and caring person and has taken my quality of life from about a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10 to a 5/6. I should point out too that it is not entirely because of the Medicinal Cannabis, overall he has managed to improve my health in general and I cannot be thankful enough.
With that said, there are many reasons why your GP may be reluctant to look into the process of seeking approval to prescribe you Medicinal Cannabis. I will list a few of them.
- No training or experience with Medicinal Cannabis.
- The potential stigma of being labelled “Doctor Pot” or words to that effect.
- The amount of time it takes for the GP to research and follow the application process. (Remember they probably have 3 to 5 people waiting for them while talking to you)
- The potential of any legal ramifications and lack of indemnity by their insurers.
- The complications in the application process and variance of processes from different States and Territories.
There are more but I think you get the picture with what I have listed above.
SO IF MY GP WON’T MAKE AN APPLICATION, WHAT CAN I DO?
This is a new Industry (For Australia) and believe it or not there are many Doctors out there who support and have researched and are involved in Medicinal Cannabis.
And I now personally know why this is, it is BECAUSE IT WORKS!
There is now an entire industry spawning in Australia and that industry is only going to get bigger and bigger. It is estimated, depending on where you read it that the industry in Australia alone could be worth around the three to five Billion Dollar mark yearly from 2020 on-wards.
From that you can rest assured, while Australia may never reach the relaxed levels that some places like California have my personal view is that in two to three years, the approval process will likely be less complex, and also GP’s will likely look at it more closely after some time has passed.
And more importantly Australian based results/feedback provide more information to our Government which will in turn allow GP’s to make more informed on-the-spot decisions. Further to this bodies like the RACGP will be able to assist and guide GP’s further into this field.
Although there are many popping up around Australia and in different States or Territories, there are too many to list here but I will list one that my doctor referenced for a lot of information, although I am not a patient of theirs if you visit Cannabis Doctors Australia they have a wealth of information on their website and even if you are not in their State they still may be able to point you in the right direction.
As I mentioned earlier, it is finding the clinical evidence that supports your application that takes the most amount of time. My Doctor was able to utilize CDA Clinics research Database and this in turn helped with my application, so if your Doctor is supportive of applying, this is a good place to start.
MEDICINAL CANNABIS AND THE LAW
Remember that because this is so new, the State/Territory Legislation has not yet caught up with the Federal Legislation and there are many Acts and Regulations that need repealing and or amending to bring them into line with Commonwealth legislation.
A perfect example of this is Interstate travel.
It could be the case that if you take your lawfully prescribed medicine from say Victoria to New South Wales while on vacation or visiting a family member, you may actually be committing an offence and could be arrested for unlawful possession of a Scheduled 8 Drug.
Or a drug of addiction or (Insert Offence) against any number of Acts or Regulations that relate to Cannabis from Criminal Codes to Poisons Acts etc, again this is very State/Territory specific.
Many of you are probably thinking, but hang on, if I have TGA approval, doesn’t Federal Law overrule or trump any State or Territory Law?
The short answer is no it doesn’t but in my opinion it should, just like you can drive your vehicle Interstate on using your valid drivers license the same should apply for your medicine. (Driving is probably a bad analogy for this lol)
This also again highlights where State and Territory Legislation needs to fall in-line with Commonwealth Legislation. But until that happens, I would caution anyone against trying to test this out, I am NOT a lawyer and this is NOT legal advice, but the common sense approach to me is, why take the risk?
Another thing about the law and Medicinal Cannabis is driving or operating a vehicle as I alluded to earlier.
That is one of the downfalls of being treated with Medicinal Cannabis, you basically lose the right to drive lawfully.
If you are caught driving and test positive, the fact that you have a lawful excuse to possess and use Medicinal Cannabis does not mean you are allowed to operate a vehicle and approval is not an excuse that is authorized, justified or excused by law, unless your lawyer can convince the Magistrate otherwise.
Remember as it stands the Police do not test for “Impairment”, they only test for “use” so you may not have had any of your medicine for 3 days and want to drive to the go and do some shopping, but it is likely you still have THC in your system and therefore would be committing an offence.
Unlike Alcohol, THC attaches itself to the bodies fats, and it takes a longer time to be diluted whereas Alcohol can be diluted with water over a shorter amount of time and is passed through your sweat and urine much faster.
I plan to write a separate article on this topic in the near future.
Another thing to keep in mind with regards to breaking the law, if you are prescribed Medicinal Cannabis and then go on to use it in the presence of others and you vape it, you could likely be charged with supply a dangerous drug if the other person breathed in the secondary smoke you blew out of your mouth.
Or as is bound to happen one day some fool will decide to decide to flaunt their Medicinal Cannabis approval and vape it in public just to show off or prove a point. If anyone were to do that, then they deserve the consequences of any Police attention they attract in my opinion.
All they would be doing is harming themselves and the entire medical profession by doing so.
You are the one whom is responsible for it and you would likely not only be charged by the Police but also have your approval withdrawn.
The TGA has very strict guidelines on their approval documents as do the States and Territories, and they can rightfully withdraw anyone’s approval at any time.
I hope I have been able to convey to you some information that has helped you in this article.
The reason it is so long is there is just so many variables and as I stated earlier, hopefully as time passes the pathways for you to receive Medicinal Cannabis as a treatment are clearer and the legislation is in-line across Australia.
Final note on Medicinal Cannabis, it has really helped me a lot, and I cannot recommend it enough, but that is my personal case and everyone has different circumstances, ailments, external factors and a myriad of other things which need to be taken into account.
I nearly forgot to add, you are probably wondering if there is any side affects or negative experiences?
For me personally, there are two, one is not being able to drive anymore and the other is what is known as “The Munchies”.
Yes Cannabis or more so THC does make you hungry and at first I found myself over-eating. I soon removed this side effect by studying what it is that causes this. And to keep it short, it is the THC and its interaction with cannabinoid receptors in the brain. That plus Dopamine combined makes people hungry, which is good if you want to gain weight, but not so good if you don’t want to gain weight.
So I look at this way, when I have my food planned for the day/evening, I know what I want to eat and how much of it and I know when I am full, so any “Hunger Signals” I get from my brain outside of those chosen food parameters I just ignore them.
Just look at it as your brain sending you false signals, which is basically what it really is and after a few days your brain will still try and send you the signals but it is no big deal because you know that they are false and I am yet to wake up hungry or starving, I still enjoy my food, I just do not have extra food because I am aware that my medicine tries to trick my brain into wanting more food.
Be smarter than your brain. 🙂
For you the reader of this, please do keep in mind that for you Medicinal Cannabis may not be helpful or even warranted as a treatment, you need to speak to your Doctor about potential side affects, contraindications, and your overall health and let the Medical Professionals decide what is best for you.
But if you think it might help you, again, speak to your Doctor about it. And if your Doctor is not willing or able to help you to apply, don’t lose hope or be offended and take it personally, just keep trying and eventually if your condition warrants the treatment, you will get there in the end.
Good luck and thank you for taking the time to read this and I wish you all the best with your health.