Key messages

  • Answers to a range of frequently asked questions about medicinal cannabis in Victoria.

Patients

  • What is medicinal cannabis?

    In Australia, medicinal cannabis refers to a range of quality assured, pharmaceutical cannabis preparations intended for therapeutic use.

    Medicinal cannabis products must be prescribed by a doctor to treat the symptoms of a medical condition or, the side effects of a medical treatment (e.g. chemotherapy). Medicinal cannabis preparations include tablets, oils, tinctures and other extracts.

  • Is it now legal for me to grow or smoke my own cannabis for medicinal purposes?

    No. Medicinal cannabis can only be legally accessed through your doctor. Growing your own cannabis, or smoking illicit cannabis for medicinal purposes remains illegal in Victoria.

    Cannabis that is not prescribed by a doctor is less reliable than a medicinal product, as it has not undergone safety and quality testing and the active ingredients contained within it (cannabinoids such as THC) are inconsistent.

    Using cannabis that has not been prescribed by a doctor - in any form - remains illegal in Victoria.

  • Who can access medicinal cannabis products?

    Any patient, with any medical condition can be prescribed medicinal cannabis by their doctor, if they believe it is clinically appropriate.

  • How do I apply to access medicinal cannabis products?

    For patients, the first step is to discuss medicinal cannabis with your doctor.

    Legal medicinal cannabis products can only be accessed via prescription from your treating doctor or specialist, where they believe it may be beneficial for your condition.

    Your doctor will need to apply for the relevant Commonwealth and/or State approvals to prescribe medicinal cannabis.

    For more information about accessing medicinal cannabis, please visit the Better Health Channel.

  • Is there a list of doctors who prescribe medical cannabis?

    No. In Victoria, any medical practitioner can prescribe a medicinal cannabis product for their patient, if they believe it is clinically appropriate and have the necessary Commonwealth and/or state approvals.

    Medical practitioners do not need to gain accreditation, nor be specialists in a particular field.

  • What are the benefits of medicinal cannabis?

    Although the evidence base for medicinal use of cannabis is developing quickly, scientific knowledge about how it affects the body is still limited.

    The Commonwealth TGA, together with Victoria and other States, has developed guidance documents for doctors and patients that summarise the available evidence to help them determine whether medicinal cannabis may be beneficial for certain conditions, including:

    There are many other potential uses for cannabis-derived treatments, with new applications being investigated in current clinical studies.

  • My doctor doesn't think medicinal cannabis is the right treatment for me. Should I get a second opinion?

    Medicinal cannabis is a relatively new treatment and some health professionals may not yet feel sufficiently informed to prescribe it.

    Seeking a second opinion for important healthcare decisions from another healthcare professional can give you reassurance about a decision or give you the opportunity to opt for a different choice about a diagnosis or treatment.

    The Better Health Channel has some useful information and tools which may assist you in making decisions related to your healthcare:

  • What is the Victorian Compassionate Access to Medicinal Cannabis Scheme?

    The Victorian Compassionate Access Scheme, administered by the Office of Medicinal Cannabis, within the Victorian Department of Health & Human Services, provides access to an imported highly purified medicinal cannabis product for Victorian children suffering from severe intractable epilepsy.

    The number of places available for the scheme remains limited, with strict eligibility criteria in place to ensure this product reaches the most unwell children. Places are allocated by the Victorian hospitals participating in the scheme.

    These children are the focus of the Compassionate Access Scheme because of their severe illness and the inability of existing medicines to adequately control their seizures. For some, medicinal cannabis has been able to improve their lives, and the lives of their families by reducing the number of life-threatening seizures they experience.

  • What is the cost of medicinal cannabis?

    The costs of medicinal cannabis products can vary substantially from $50 to $1000 per patient per week, depending on the nature of the condition being treated, the particular product required, and the prescribed dose.

    No medicinal cannabis products are currently subsidised by the Commonwealth Government through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) meaning that the full cost must be paid by the patient.

    Medicinal cannabis may also be accessed through a clinical trial. All clinical trials, including trials of medicinal cannabis, are registered on the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ANZCTR). You can search for relevant clinical trials on the ANZCTR website.

    If you are interested in participating in a clinical trial, speak to your doctor.

  • I have found medicinal cannabis products available online. Are these products legal?

    Medicinal cannabis is a controlled medicine in Australia, and can only be legally obtained when prescribed by a doctor with appropriate approvals.

    Products being sold on websites claiming to be 'Medicinal Cannabis' products, cannot be assured of safety and consistency and may contain illegal or toxic substances.

    However, it is possible for your doctor to prescribe a medicinal cannabis product not already in Australia, but appropriate import permits from the Office of Drug Control (ODC) will also be required.

    The ODC publishes a list of approved importers and manufacturers of medicinal cannabis products on its website, which may assist in identifying suitable quality-assured products available in Australia.

    The Better Health Channel has some useful information regarding the risks of self-medication and buying medicines online.

  • Can I drive while being treated with medicinal cannabis?

    There are various medicinal cannabis products available containing different combinations of active ingredients, suitable for different conditions. Many contain Delta - 9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the cannabinoid known to have psychoactive properties.

    The use of medicinal cannabis products containing THC may decrease a patient's ability to perform some tasks due to its impairing effects on mental alertness and physical coordination.

    As there is little evidence or guidance available about the recommended period of time between consuming THC and driving, it is recommended that patients do not drive or perform hazardous tasks, such as operating heavy machinery when taking THC containing medicinal cannabis products.

    In addition, it is a criminal offence in Victoria to drive with THC present in your saliva, blood or urine. Patients should discuss the implications for safe and legal driving with their doctor.

Health professionals

  • Can any doctor prescribe medicinal cannabis?

    Yes. In Victoria, any medical practitioner can prescribe a medicinal cannabis product for their patient, if they believe it is clinically appropriate to do so and they have the necessary Commonwealth and/or state approvals.

    Medical practitioners do not need to gain accreditation, nor be specialists in a particular field.

  • Is access in Victoria restricted to particular medical conditions or patient groups?

    No. Any patient with any condition may be prescribed medicinal cannabis if their treating doctor believes it is clinically appropriate and has any required approvals.

  • What approvals are needed to access medicinal cannabis products?

    Depending on the medicinal cannabis product, approvals may be required from the Commonwealth TGA and/or Victorian Office of Medicinal Cannabis.

    Commonwealth approval is required for any product not listed on the TGA's Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG). This can be obtained via the Special Access Scheme (SAS) or Authorised Prescriber authorisation. Only one cannabis product is currently listed on the ARTG.

    A Victorian treatment permit is required if a doctor intends to prescribe a Schedule 8 medicinal cannabis product, however various exemptions apply. This is a requirement which applies to treatment with any Schedule 8 drug, such as opioids - it is not a specific to medicinal cannabis.

    Required approvals are arranged by the prescribing doctor and can be provided in two business days. More information can be found in the Information for health professionals section on this website.

  • Have any medicinal cannabis products been registered on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG)?

    Therapeutic goods registered on the ARTG have undergone an evaluation for quality, safety and efficacy. There is currently only one medicinal cannabis product, Nabiximols (Sativex®), listed on the ARTG as a schedule 8 controlled drug.

    The approved indication for Nabiximols (Sativex®) is 'treatment for symptom improvement in patients with moderate to severe spasticity due to multiple sclerosis (MS) who have not responded adequately to other anti-spasticity medication.'

    As Nabiximols contain more than 2 per cent THC, a Victorian Schedule 8 Treatment permit is required in order to prescribe Nabiximols (Sativex®), unless an exemption applies. However, no Commonwealth approvals are required.

  • What medicinal cannabis products are available in Australia?

    The Office of Drug Control (ODC) publishes a list of importers and manufacturers of medicinal cannabis products on its website, which may assist in identifying products available in Australia. There is also one additional product available in Australia that is registered on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.

    It is possible to prescribe a medicinal cannabis product not already in Australia, but appropriate import permits from ODC will also be required.

    Before prescribing a product, it is recommended that the prescribing doctor contact the supplier to confirm its availability.

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