Strict testing of medical cannabis medicines in Australia

Australia has some of the strictest quality requirements for therapeutic goods globally thanks to the Australian Government’s commitment to patient safety. All medical cannabis therapies produced within Australia must satisfy the strict labeling and quality requirements of Therapeutic Goods Order No. 93 (Standard for Medicinal Cannabis) (TGO 93). TGO 93 is a standard that specifies minimum quality requirements for medicinal cannabis products and ensures all products are free from pesticides, moulds, bacteria, heavy metals and other contaminants.

Person in a lab coat and blue latex gloves pours a test tube of cannabis oil through a funnel into a bottle.
Two brown medicinal cannabis bottles stand apart from a row of bottles.

How is Australian medical cannabis different from street (illicit) cannabis?

Two main differences between street cannabis* and medical cannabis are:

  1. the level of quality control and
  2. the visibility and consistency of cannabinoid content, such as THC and CBD

As street cannabis is illegal, it is not subject to quality or testing requirements. In contrast, medical cannabis in Australia is highly regulated to ensure patient safety and consistency of product formulation. Please note: medical cannabis products, including CBD-only products, that can be purchased online are considered illegal as they do not comply with Australian regulation.

A number of safety concerns result from the lack of quality control of street cannabis. Without complete chemical analysis in a certified laboratory, the composition of street cannabis is essentially unknown. It follows that concentrations of the psychoactive element, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), may be significantly higher than expected, increasing the risk of adverse events. Products containing unknown THC levels are also a concern of patients seeking THC-free products as they may inadvertently fail drug tests for driving or work purposes.

In addition, street cannabis may also contain microbes, pesticides or other contaminants that may adversely affect patients.

With access to medical cannabis becoming easier and more products available in the market, street cannabis is not necessarily a cheaper alternative to medical cannabis and patients can discuss pricing with their pharmacist or doctor.

*’street cannabis’ refers to any product which is not tested in a laboratory and regulated by a regulatory medical agency.

How do you access medicinal cannabis in Australia?

If you would like to learn about how to access medicinal cannabis, supporting evidence for prescribing medicinal cannabis and how to discuss this with your doctor, you can download the Simple Steps to Accessing Medicinal Cannabis guide here.

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