Most cannabis products in Australia are currently classified as unapproved products and are not available as registered prescription medicines which means doctors need to take some additional steps to prescribe the medication.
There are several ways that patients with a diagnosed medical condition can access medicinal cannabis even though it is an unapproved product in Australia.
Before you consider this treatment option, you should be aware that the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) advises medical cannabis is not a first line treatment. This means cannabinoid therapy can only be used after registered prescription medicines have been unsuccessful or caused unacceptable adverse effects, except in the case of patients in palliative care.
Step by Step Guide
Accessing medicinal cannabis is regulated through the Special Access Scheme by the TGA. This pathway allows doctors to prescribe the product based on their clinical judgement on a patient to patient basis. Special Access Scheme (SAS) Category B is the most common and quickest pathway a medical practitioner can take to prescribe a medicinal cannabis product to a single patient. All of the prescriptions are subject to approval by the TGA and relevant state health authorities (if applicable), however this will all be handled by your doctor during your consultation.
Your consultation with a doctor may take one of three routes.
If your existing doctor is a current medicinal cannabis prescriber, or open to prescribing, you can have a consultation with them and ask if medicinal cannabis would be a suitable treatment option. It is recommended that patients see their usual treating doctor, GP or specialist before seeking out other options.
If your doctor is open to prescribing but is not sure where to start, then Little Green Pharma has a medical team who can walk them through the process and we offer education. For more information on this step please see here.
If your current prescribing doctor is not willing to prescribe medical cannabis, Little Green Pharma can either help you find a doctor who prescribes medicinal cannabis near you, or if this is not an option then telehealth appointments are available.
At your consultation your doctor will discuss your conditions and symptoms, your current medication and finally the benefits and risks associated with using medicinal cannabis. While it is possible that you do your own research on medicinal cannabis before your appointment, your doctor will have a clinical view on whether this treatment route is appropriate for you. If you would like guidance around having a balanced and informed conversation with your doctor please see here.
If your doctor feels like medicinal cannabis is a viable option for you, they will then discuss the different products that are available to you.
Product and dosage all come down to the individual patient and their needs. There are many medical cannabis products, variants and applications in the market. They are, but not limited to, oils, dried flowers, tablets, tinctures, topical creams and edibles.
Little Green Pharma product range is currently focused to oils and dried flowers. Each comes with their own unique benefits and challenges. Therefore, it is important that you and your doctor discuss the product that is right for you, your condition and your everyday life, as there is not a one fits all solution when it comes to medicinal cannabis.
Product choice is the responsibility of the doctor and they’ll research and compare products to find which best fits your condition, budget and circumstances. However, as there are many products on the Australian market, most doctors are not across them all and you are able to request your doctor consider certain medicines if you have a preference e.g. to purchase Australian made products.
Application to the TGA and State Health
With a patient’s consent, practitioners can apply for federal and state approval via the SAS B pathway mentioned earlier or become an Authorised Prescriber (meaning they already have approval to prescribe certain product categories).
In order to apply via the SAS B pathway a medical practitioner will need to meet the TGA’s requirements and:
- have confirmed your medical condition and relevant medical history,
- submit documentation outlining which medications for your condition have been prescribed and are not working or have adverse effects,
- submit a treatment plan and monitoring plan.
This application is a streamlined process through the TGA, and depending on your state of residence you may or may not also have to submit the application to your state health authority for approval.
The TGA approval timeline for SAS B applications is approximately 1-2 days, but allow up to 5 days. Timelines may vary by the complexity of the condition being applied for. While TGA approvals are not guaranteed if your condition has sufficient efficacy and your doctor is an experienced prescriber the chances of rejection are minimal. The doctor will handle this process and you will be given a copy of the approval if and when it is available.
As advised previously, Authorised Prescribers already have approval to prescribe medicinal cannabis so can write scripts immediately for their patients.
Separate State / Territory Approval
Each Australian State and Territory has different requirements for patients accessing medical cannabis depending on which schedule listing the medical cannabis products are classified under. Your doctor will advise you on this approval process during your consultation, and will let you know if there are any additional waiting times or paperwork needed to be completed.
Patient access and ordering medicines
Once approval is received, your doctor can write a prescription for you and will need to give you this, as well as a copy of your approval letter/s. Please ask your doctor for the recommended retail price (RRP) of the medicine prescribed before going to a pharmacy as some will charge extra fees.
To receive your cannabis medications you can order via our online platform LGP Orders. which delivers direct to your door or at your choice of pharmacy. Please note:
- you will need to present your script and approvals
- most pharmacies will not have medicinal cannabis products in stock or on hand and will need to order your product, and will usually request payment first to do so.
If you have been prescribed a Little Green Pharma product and chosen to order via your local pharmacist then they can contact us to find out how to make an account with one of our wholesalers by calling 1300 118 840. Once a wholesaler has released the prescribed product to the pharmacy this can then be dispensed to you. Hospital pharmacies may supply for in-patients on a copy of a medication chart order.
Once the product has been delivered to your pharmacist you will be notified and can pick it up for use.
Want to know more?
This process can be daunting to first time patients and prescribers. Below are resources that can help you through the process and guide you through the access pathways.