Stumbling from the bedroom to the bathroom in the early hours of the morning, the girls entire body begins to spasm. First her feet, then fingertips, up through her body until vision begins to blur. She collapses to the floor.
Outbursts like this, accompanied by chronic pain and fatigue are a daily occurrence for many people.
Cannabis has proven time and time again to be a natural antidote. For some, it completely mitigates certain diseases, spasms and swelling. And for many others, while it might not be a miracle cure, it dramatically improves quality of life.
It’s hard to understand that possessing a plant once used as a natural remedy for malaria, diarrhea, typhus and childbirth pain, could land you a hefty prison sentence in Australia. It’s even harder to understand why those suffering from treatable diseases and illnesses have such a difficult time legally accessing the plant.
Is Cannabis legal in Australia?
Since writing this article, there has been some movement in the recreational cannabis space. Toward the end of 2019, Canberra passed decriminalisation laws allowing people over the age of 18 to possess up to 50 grams of marijuana.
Having said this, the specifics of the bill are controversial and it’s very unlikely the ACT is about to turn into the Amsterdam of Australia anytime soon.
Certainly a step toward more widespread legalisation.
Recreational use of Cannabis in all other Australian states is illegal.
If you’re considering getting high for fun or self-medicating for any reason without legal approval, it’s worth considering the repercussions.
Medicinal use of Cannabis in Australia is legal, but it can be an extremely tedious and difficult process to obtain and use. Update: Medical cannabis is becoming more accessible in Australia. Continue reading to find out more.
It’s important to note that different states carry different penalties when it comes to the recreational possession of Cannabis. Different states also have different processes and legislation around obtaining and possessing Cannabis medically.
Medicinal Cannabis use in Australia
Medicinal Cannabis was legalised in Australia in 2016.
In every state and territory, obtaining Cannabis requires the patient to ask their doctor or specialist about the possibility of using medicinal Cannabis. If eligible, the doctor or practitioner may make an application to the government for access to medical Cannabis.
We’ll discuss the application and approval process just below.
The good news is that medical cannabis is certainly becoming more accessible. Below, we caught up with Dr Ben from CDA health to discuss changing legislation and widening access.
How to obtain Cannabis medically in Australia
So you’re suffering from ongoing migraines. You decide to take yourself off to the local doctor. You explain your malady, your doctor writes you a prescription, you walk down to the local pharmacy and the pharmacist hands you your prescription of oxycodone tablets. No sweat.
Obtaining a prescription for medical Cannabis on the other hand isn’t so easy.
If you are considering trialling medical cannabis, we’d strongly recommend working with a trained medical professional.
We recently interviewed Dr Rickcord and Dr Teh, both are prominent cannabis clinicians in Australia. In the below video, they discuss what the patient journey looks like and the benefits of working with a medical professional.
So how do you obtain Cannabis medically and legally?
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is the governing body slash gatekeeper, responsible for regulating access to medical cannabis in Australia. Almost all Cannabis products in circulation are ‘unregistered’. This means you can’t just go to your quack, get your prescription and skip down to the pharmacist to pick up your order. As you could with Oxycodone surprisingly enough.
Because of this, applications to access medical Cannabis must go through an ‘unregistered’ regulatory path. The overall process looks something like this.
You visit your Doctor
Your Doctor decides if Medical Cannabis is a suitable treatment based on your symptoms
If yes, your Doctor must make an application to the TGA on your behalf.
If the application is successful your Doctor must obtain separate permission from the health department of your home State or Territory.
According to TGA guidelines listed on their website, decisions on whether Cannabis will be prescribed for particular patients are still made by reviewing the prescribing Doctor and patient on a case by case basis.
So while it is possible to obtain Cannabis medically and legally, it can be an extremely tedious and painful experience. Most practitioners don’t feel comfortable going through the entire process required to obtain Cannabis for their patients. In addition to this, most practitioners have had little exposure to medical Cannabis and the benefits during their medical schooling career.
As of February 2019, there were only 58 approved practitioners across the country.
The sad current reality is that while it is legally possible to obtain medicinal Cannabis, there are very few Doctors prescribing the medicine. And even if your Doctor is willing to go through the process and your application is successful, unregistered Cannabis products can be extremely expensive and are not eligible for Government subsidy.
In February, the ABC revealed that more than 3,000 medicinal Cannabis Scripts had been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). According to experts though, it has been estimated that as many as 100,000 Australians are using Cannabis to self medicate with illegally acquired Cannabis.
Safety or stupidity?
Thanks to the painful application process, the prehistoric legal framework and the cost of non-registered products in Australia, many are risking obtaining Cannabis illegally. This comes with a variety of potential issues for needing patients.
Let’s address some of these.
For a start, obtaining any drug illegally is dangerous. Aside from the inherent risks one might face when actually making an illegal transaction of this nature, Cannabis is an extremely complex plant that produces a number of different strands, species and compounds. If you purchase a product like CBD oil illegally, there is very little visibility over what you are actually receiving in terms of compound and dosage.
Contrary to popular belief, CBD alone does not produce any psychoactive response. It’s possible for potential users to obtain a great deal of medical benefit and relief without any of the known negative side effects related to ‘getting high’.
Scientific research, though in very early stages, is further proving that a number of potential health benefits are accessible only with a combination of both THC and CBD together. Finding the right balance and product is incredibly important. Results and tolerance also vary significantly from person to person. Finding the right balance and product would undoubtedly be more efficiently facilitated under the supervision of a trained and educated medical professional, using easily accessible and highly regulated and tested products.
Let’s circle back to the Oxycodone example.
Oxycodone is extremely addictive. Taking too high a dose can lead to overdose and death. Ongoing use and withdrawal can lead to a loss of appetite, vomiting, nausea, increased blood pressure and muscle spasms. While clinical studies are limited, scientific research is proving controlled and calculated use of Cannabis does not have any of the dangerous side effects shared by so many of the readily and easily supplied pharmaceutical drugs currently in circulation.
Placing these two substances and their potential effects side by side clearly demonstrates that it’s time to shift our attitude toward Cannabis in Australia.
Why was Cannabis made illegal in the first place?
This question is controversial to say the least.
It can be argued that the initial Cannabis prohibition came as the result of an early Twentieth Century push to stop the spread of the non-medical use of dangerous drugs like cocaine and opiates. Thanks to a lack of education, international pressure and early prohibition in other countries and country states, Australia adopted the same prohibitions toward Cannabis. These prohibitions have remained largely unchanged since the 1920s.
The ongoing prohibition of Cannabis has had very little to do with potentially adverse health and societal risks, however. It’s difficult to fathom why these legalities have lasted almost a century with little change.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of Cannabis and Cannabis prohibition, please check our ‘What is Cannabis?’ article.
When will Cannabis be legal in Australia?
There is a push to legalise recreational use of Cannabis in Australia, and there is a push to widen medical access to Cannabis in Australia.
When this will happen, however, remains a mystery.
An Australian National University study revealed that a majority of Australians are now in favour of legalising the recreational use of Cannabis. Political Senators are pushing for reform, political parties are advocating for decriminalisation. Over the ditch, our NZ neighbours have secured a Cannabis Referendum in 2020, where the country must come to a decision about legal status.
There’s also growing economic pressure. Reports from the US and Canada, in particular, are showing just how lucrative the Cannabis industry can be. It makes sense to remove the ludicrous amounts of money we spend each year on enforcing Cannabis prohibition and replace it with the billions we could be earning through legalisation, local production and taxation.
According to some experts, a labour election would have seen more progress toward the legalisation of Cannabis in Australia. Part of The Greens 2019 campaign was a push for legalisation, but for any hope of this materialising, the Greens would have required the support of the Labor party.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale had the following to say in the lead up to the election.
“The Labor Party hopefully will follow the example of their cousins in New Zealand, who have announced they’re going to have a referendum. But we would prefer them just to announce it as part of their policy platform,” he says.
“It’s a question for the Labor Party. One of the things we’re going to make very, very clear is that the legalisation of Cannabis needs to be front and centre in their agenda. And if we’re in a position in the next Parliament to be able to influence them, this will be one of the things we’re talking to them about.”
“It’s only a matter of time, and this has been dragging its heels for far too long.”
The recent election result means we might be dragging our heels a little longer.