Medicinal cannabis in Australia

As of 1 February 2021, you can buy up to 150mg of cannabidiol (CBD) per day in pharmacies across Australia without a prescription. For any other type of medicinal cannabis, you'll need to see a doctor first.

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Medical marijuana is legal in Australia, although the official term is 'medicinal cannabis'. However, only CBD oil is available over the counter. Any other type of medicinal cannabis is only available by prescription, and there are important distinctions between CBD oil and other forms of medicinal cannabis.

3 types of medicinal cannabis in Australia

CBD oil

CBD oil

Since February 2021, pharmacies have been allowed to sell CBD oil, also known as cannabidiol, over the counter in Australia. It's a schedule 3 drug, which means you'll need to speak to the pharmacist themselves in order to purchase it. The most common brand of CBD oil is Epidyolex, and it's typically used as a secondary treatment for seizures. There are some other touted benefits to CBD oil, but this is the main one you'll hear about. Cannabidiol is one of only two types of medicinal cannabis registered by the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG).

Important: CBD oil won't get you high, as it has no THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).

Sativex spray

Sativex oral spray

Sativex is a brand of oral spray, also known as nabiximols. It's the only ARTG registered type of medicinal cannabis product besides CBD oil. Sativex is generally used to treat spasticity for people with multiple sclerosis or similar conditions. It's generally only used after an initial trial of the drug, and after other alternatives have been tried first. Sativex is only available with a doctor's prescription, and is a controlled, schedule 8 drug.

Important: Sativex does contain a low amount of THC, unlike CBD oil. This is why it's a controlled drug.

Medicinal cannabis

Unregistered products

While many unregistered medicinal cannabis products are legal, they still require a prescription from a doctor and approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Only a doctor can apply to the TGA to get medicinal cannabis; you can't do it yourself. The doctor needs to provide medical evidence that you need it, obtain permits and comply with relevant state laws.

No, the use of cannabis for non-medicinal purposes is illegal in Australia, with the exception of the ACT. Since 31 January 2020, the ACT allows for adults to cultivate up to 50 grams per person and a maximum of four plants per household. Additionally, the NSW medicinal cannabis compassionate use scheme gives police officers the right to use their discretion to not charge adults with a terminal illness for possession of cannabis that hasn't been prescribed by a doctor.

In January 2018, the Australian Government announced its intention to develop amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 which will regulate the cultivation of cannabis for scientific and medicinal purposes. However, cannabis is still a highly regulated drug in Australia and use, possession or cultivation for non-medical purposes can lead to criminal or civil penalties.

Medical marijuana laws for each state

Queensland icon

Medical marijuana laws Queensland

You can get medicinal cannabis if there is clinical evidence that it's effective for your condition and the usual treatments haven't worked. If the medicinal cannabis contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), you need to provide written consent you won't drive or operate heavy machinery. Your doctor will need to get approval from the TGA. Contact Queensland Health for more details.

New South Wales icon

Medicinal marijuana NSW

Any doctor in New South Wales can prescribe medicinal cannabis if they believe it's appropriate and they get approval from the TGA. Check with the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research and Innovation for further details.

Australian Capital Territory icon

Medical marijuana laws ACT

Doctors in the ACT can apply to the ACT Chief Health Officer for approval to prescribe cannabis products so long as there is a valid medical reason. Approved conditions for timely treatment include spasticity in multiple sclerosis, nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, pain and anxiety in patients with a life-limiting disease, and refractory paediatric epilepsy. Visit the ACT Health website for more info.

Victoria icon

Medical marijuana laws Victoria

Any doctor in Victoria can prescribe medicinal cannabis for a patient if they believe it's appropriate and they get approval from the state authorities. Check health.vic for more details.

Tasmania icon

Medical marijuana laws Tasmania

Under the Tasmanian Government's medical cannabis controlled access scheme (CAS) launched in September 2017, specialists can prescribe medicinal cannabis where conventional treatment has been unsuccessful. Contact the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services for full details.

South Australia icon

Medical marijuana laws SA

There's no restricted list of medical conditions for which medicinal cannabis may be prescribed in South Australia. It's decided on a case-by-case basis by your doctor. More information is available from SA Health.

Western Australia icon

Medical marijuana laws WA

Any doctor or medical practitioner can prescribe medicinal cannabis if they believe it is appropriate and they have the necessary approvals from the TGA. Visit the WA Government's Department of Health for more information.

Northern Territory icon

Medical marijuana laws NT

Patients in the Northern Territory can access medicinal cannabis through doctors who are authorised under the Special Access or Authorised Prescriber Schemes administered by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Visit the Department of Health website for full details.

Is medicinal cannabis covered by private health insurance?

In some cases, medicinal cannabis can be covered by private health insurance. Extras insurance typically covers non-PBS items – that means pharmaceuticals which aren't subsidised by Medicare. Medical cannabis is considered a non-PBS item.

However, to be covered by your extras policy, the non-PBS item must be registered with the TGA. At the moment, medicinal cannabis is only approved for certain health conditions, including cancer pain, neuropathic pain and palliative care. If you meet these conditions, you may be able to claim the cost of medicinal cannabis drugs on your extras policy, including:

  • Sativex
  • Nabiximols
  • Dronabinol
  • Cannabidiol
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol.

Does health insurance cover CBD oil?

Over-the-counter CBD oil generally won't be covered by your extras insurance, as funds typically only reimburse costs for prescription medicine.

However, if you have a prescription and you have an extras policy that includes cover for non-PBS pharmaceuticals, it may be worth checking with your fund directly.

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Frequently asked questions

Sources

What medicinal cannabis products are available? - University of Sydney
Cannabis medicines: Prescriptions and dispensing - NSW Health
Scheduling basics - Therapeutics Goods Australia (TGA)
Medicinal cannabis: Role of the TGA - Therapeutics Goods Australia (TGA)

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