Medical cannabis has been a legal treatment option for eligible patients in Queensland, Australia since 2016. But being a prescription medication, patients need to secure a prescription from a qualified GP or specialist before they can use it.
However, finding a doctor that is both able to and understands medical cannabis can be challenging. In this post, we’ll discuss what it means to be an authorised prescriber in Queensland, how medical marijuana is regulated and what you might need to consider before exploring a prescription.
Types of Authorised Prescribers in Queensland
First things first: let’s clear up some confusion. When it comes to medical cannabis, people think they need to find a list of authorised prescribers in Queensland, but in reality all doctors are authorised to prescribe medical cannabis. Authorised prescriber is merely a technical term for a specific type of prescriber under the guidelines of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
The TGA recognises two classes of medications: registered and unregistered. Registered medicines are those with a long and established history of use and research for specific illnesses i.e. using penicillin to treat an ear infection. There are currently only two registered cannabis medications: THC/CBD oil for multiple sclerosis and a pure CBD oil for a rare form of childhood epilepsy.
Unregistered medicines are those that are recognised to be safe to use, but have still yet to fully prove their efficacy. In this case, the TGA lets doctors prescribe the medicines under two schemes:
Authorised Prescriber Scheme: under the APS, doctors apply for the authority to prescribe unregistered medicines to a certain class of patients. There are currently around 1,800 doctors registered as authorised prescribers in Australia.
Special Access Scheme: the SAS allows any doctor to prescribe any unregistered medicine for any condition, but they have to make an individual application to the TGA for each case.
Over 90% of the more than 370,000 medical cannabis prescriptions issued since 2016 have been done through the SAS. The issue isn’t finding an authorised prescriber – it’s finding a doctor that understands the potential benefits and risks of medical cannabis and is able to decide whether it’s a suitable treatment option for your chronic condition.
Regulations and Guidance for Medical Marijuana in Queensland
The use of medical cannabis is regulated by both federal and state laws in Queensland. The TGA is responsible for regulating medical cannabis prescriptions, while the Office of Drug Control (ODC) regulates the cultivation and manufacture of medical cannabis products. The Queensland Government has also developed guidelines for the use of medical cannabis in the state, including information on patient eligibility, dosing, and monitoring.
To be eligible for a medical cannabis prescription in Queensland, patients must have a chronic medical condition (i.e. the condition has been an issue for longer than 3 months) that has not responded to conventional treatments. This doesn’t mean that patients must have exhausted every alternative treatment option, but that they must have tried other therapy options (pharmaceutical or non-pharmaceutical) and found that they either didn’t resolve their symptoms or caused unpleasant side effects.
What Should I Consider Before Getting A Medical Cannabis Prescription?
First you should consider whether medical cannabis is right for you. While promising, research into the efficacy of medical cannabis is still in its early stages and there’s no guarantee that it will be an effective treatment for your chronic condition. Medical cannabis can also have psychoactive effects – a result of the THC – that may not be suitable for everyone, especially if you have a family history of psychosis. (Pure CBD oil doesn’t have the same issues)
You should also think about what sort of formulation you would be most comfortable with. Medical cannabis in Queensland is mainly prescribed in two forms: dried flower and oil. Dried flower is what you might traditionally recognise as marijuana i.e. dried buds of the cannabis plant. However, sourced from a single cultivar with specific therapeutic properties and subject to rigorous quality checks, it’s very different to black market weed. Dried flower should always be vaporised using a vaporiser like the Mighty Medic or the Volcano Medic.
Oils are distilled essences of the cannabis plant that can have a strong CBD or THC focus. Oils are primarily available as either isolates – only containing THC or CBD – or full spectrum, meaning they contain a particular ratio of THC and CBD, along with the dozens of terpenes and other cannabinoids that are also found in the cannabis plant. Your doctor will go through your medical history and any previous when deciding what treatment option might work best for you.
You should also think about the effects that a medical cannabis prescription might have on your work or home life. While things are changing, cannabis prescriptions still aren’t fully accepted or understood and you might face pushback from your employer if you use your medication at work – despite legally being allowed to use it as required, just like all other prescription medications.
It is also currently illegal to drive or operate heavy machinery with THC in your system in every state except Tasmania. (Victoria has announced plans to change the laws, but these have yet to come into effect.)
How Do I Apply for Medical Cannabis in Queensland?
Patients who are interested in obtaining a cannabis prescription in Queensland must first speak to their healthcare provider about their eligibility. (Medical cannabis is sometimes referred to as medical marijuana or medical cannabinoids in Queensland.) If their healthcare provider believes that medical cannabis may be a suitable treatment option, they can apply for access through the SAS or APS.
To apply for access through the SAS, patients must have their healthcare provider submit an application on their behalf. The application must include information about the patient's medical condition, the proposed medical cannabis product and the dosing regimen. Once the application is approved, patients can access the prescribed medical cannabis product through an approved pharmacy.