Medical cannabis became legal in Australia in 2016, and since then, more than 390,000 prescriptions have been filled. More than 50% of all medical cannabis prescriptions have been made for patients in the Gold Coast and other areas of Queensland.
Despite the Gold Coast’s thriving medical cannabis community, a lot of people are still confused about how medical cannabis prescriptions work, when and how it can be used to treat chronic conditions and even whether medical cannabis is legal in the Gold Coast. If you live in the Gold Coast and have questions about medical cannabis, this post should help you get informed.
What Conditions can Medical Cannabis Treat in the Gold Coast?
Medical cannabis in the Gold Coast can be prescribed to patients experiencing many different conditions. Some of these conditions include multiple sclerosis, anxiety, pain, epilepsy, ADHD, PTSD, fibromyalgia and autism. Medical cannabis is also sometimes prescribed to help manage the side effects from cancer treatment, which might include nausea and pain.
While all of these conditions may potentially benefit from medical cannabis, it’s still classified by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) as an “alternative” treatment. What this means is that you need to have tried some conventional treatments before medical cannabis, but found them to be ineffective or that they caused unmanageable side effects.
How do Medical Cannabis Prescriptions Work?
Medical cannabis prescriptions work a bit differently to what you might be used to. All prescription medicines are regulated by the TGA, an independent government body. The TGA assesses a medicine’s effectiveness and safety by analysing the scientific evidence, and then determines whether that medicine is approved or unapproved.
An example of an approved medicine might be antibiotics to treat bacterial infections, because these are proved to be effective and safe by a large body of research. After approving a medicine, the TGA registers it for a specific purpose.
When it comes to medical cannabis, only two products have been TGA-approved in the Gold Coast:
Sativex: an oral mouth spray that contains THC and CBD for managing muscle spasticity in multiple sclerosis.
Epidyolex: a CBD oil for treating seizures associated with the rare childhood epilepsy syndromes Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.
The Difference Between Approved and Unapproved Medicines
It’s a long and strict process to get a medicine approved, and many promising emerging medicines are still unapproved. Unapproved medicines can still be prescribed and may be effective, they just haven’t been officially proved to be a first-line treatment for a particular condition.
People have used cannabis medically for thousands of years, but high-quality research is only just beginning for THC, CBD and other cannabinoids. This delay in research is due to decades of demonisation and suppression as a result of global prohibition.
There are two schemes devised by the TGA under which unapproved medicines can be prescribed:
Special Access Scheme: doctors may prescribe an unapproved medicine under the Special Access Scheme (SAS) if they think it may help a patient’s condition.
Authorised Prescriber Scheme: specific unapproved medicines can be prescribed by doctors who have applied to the TGA to become authorised prescribers for a particular class of patients.
In the Gold Coast and Australia-wide, more than 90% of medical cannabis prescriptions are prescribed through the SAS. The TGA makes this prescribing data publicly available if you’re curious about medical cannabis prescription statistics.
How Long Does a Medical Cannabis Approval Take in the Gold Coast?
If you’d like to find out whether you’re eligible for a medical cannabis prescription in the Gold Coast, book a consultation with a GP or a dedicated cannabis clinic. Your doctor will assess you and your condition, and if they think medical cannabis might help your condition, they can apply for access through the SAS or APS.
If your doctor goes through the SAS, they will submit an application on your behalf that explains your condition, the proposed medical cannabis product and the dosing regimen. You can access your prescribed medical cannabis product through an approved supplier once the SAS application is approved.
Dedicated medical cannabis clinics tend to move through this process faster. If you’re going through a GP, how long the process takes will depend on how familiar they are with the SAS cannabis prescription pathway, but generally you can expect it to take around one or two days.
How can I Consume Medical Cannabis in the Gold Coast?
Of the many forms that medical cannabis can come in, such as ointments, lozenges and capsules, the most common are dried flowers or concentrated oils. Edible cannabis, which is popular overseas, isn’t a readily available prescription option in the Gold Coast or anywhere in Australia. Your doctor will explain the unique benefits and effects of each option during your appointment.
The most well-known form of medical cannabis is the dried flower, which can be ground up and added to a medically-approved vaporiser. Using a medical cannabis vaporiser allows for easy dosage control and fast onset of effects. Note that smoking is not a TGA-approved way of consuming medical cannabis. Smoke inhalation can pose risks, and you can’t control your dosage easily when smoking medical cannabis like you can with a vaporiser.
Medical cannabis oils, another popular option, contain specific ratios of THC, CBD, terpenes, flavonoids and other minor cannabinoids to deliver a tailored cannabis medicine. There are several different types of cannabis oils, some of which contain no THC. If you’d prefer to avoid THC’s psychoactive effects, you might want to consider an isolate or broad-spectrum CBD oil, which may benefit you despite having very little or no THC. Oils also allow for precise dosing, and can be consumed by placing drops under the tongue (sublingual). You can also take CBD oil in capsule form, or apply it as a topical cream or ointment.
What’s the Difference Between CBD and THC?
Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the two most prominent cannabinoids in cannabis and the most researched. Before issuing your prescription, a doctor will assess your condition and decide on a product with the right balance of cannabidiol (CBD), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and other medicinal cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids.
CBD isn’t psychoactive, but it does act on the endocannabinoid system and may have some therapeutic benefits. Meanwhile, THC is the psychoactive component of cannabis that causes a “high.” THC’s psychoactive properties have medical significance – for instance, it can help stimulate a cancer patient’s appetite.
Cannabis flowers and oils can have varying THC and CBD content. Oils allow producers to specifically set CBD and THC levels, whereas flowers tend to be high in THC with limited CBD. Dried cannabis flowers’ THC content typically varies from around 19% to 32%.
Cannabis oils come in three different categories: isolate, broad-spectrum and full-spectrum. Isolate cannabis oils contain either THC or CBD only. Broad-spectrum cannabis oil has no THC but includes CBD, terpenes, flavonoids and other minor cannabinoids such as CBN. Full-spectrum cannabis oil is extracted from the entire cannabis plant and contains small amounts of THC along with all the other compounds found in cannabis.
Is CBD Oil Legal in the Gold Coast?
The TGA’s guidelines place medical cannabis products under 5 categories: pure CBD (>98% CBD), CBD dominant, balanced, THC dominant and pure THC (>98% THC).
The Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) requires a lengthy approval process for medicines to be sold at pharmacies. Despite being technically legal since 2021 to sell over the counter, no CBD oil companies have acquired full approval from the ARTG yet. This means it will be a while before you can purchase CBD oil without a prescription.
Getting a medicine registered by the ARTG is a long, expensive process involving clinical trials and formal approvals. The process can take up to 2 years, meaning it likely won’t be until late 2023 before we see the first CBD products in pharmacies. Until then, you can still get a prescription for CBD oil in the Gold Coast through a doctor.
How Much Does Medical Cannabis Cost in the Gold Coast?
Unfortunately, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) doesn’t cover medical cannabis, meaning you’ll have to pay for your medication at full price.
Medical cannabis costs on average around $250 to $300 per month, but will vary depending on the form and dosage you’ve been prescribed. This doesn’t include the cost of your appointment with a prescribing doctor, which can be between $80 and $150.
What's the Difference Between a Medical Cannabis Clinic and a GP?
Accessing medical cannabis in the Gold Coast can sometimes be difficult due to the stigma around it. It’s estimated that only 5% of Australian doctors currently prescribe medical cannabis, and it can be uncomfortable to have an open conversation about cannabis care with your GP.
Doctors at dedicated cannabis clinics understand the potential benefits and risks of medical cannabis. They will ask you about your condition and treatment history in a confidential consultation, and then assess whether medical cannabis could benefit you. They will suggest a form of medical cannabis and explain which cannabinoids might help you, factoring in your comfort level and level of experience with cannabis.
If you’ve been approved for a medical cannabis prescription, you can purchase your medicine and it will be delivered to your door. Medical cannabis products must pass exhaustive checks with the TGA before they are sent to patients, so rest assured that what you buy will be exactly what you get. If any issues occur during your treatment or it's not what you expected, you can book a follow-up appointment with your GP or a cannabis clinician to discuss your concerns.