Yes it is, the Australian government passed legislation in 2016 legalising cannabis for medicinal use. The law states that medicinal cannabis can only be prescribed legally by a doctor that either prescribes a product listed on the ARTG or has been approved to prescribe through the Special Access Scheme or Approved Prescriber process. All other forms of cannabis including recreational are still illegal.
Cannabis-based products are generally regarded as having a low level of toxicity. However, higher amounts may increase the possibility of an adverse event, especially when used concurrently with other medications.
There are more than 104 different cannabinoids that have been isolated in the cannabis plant. The most well-known cannabinoids are THC and CBD. Other compounds of the cannabis plant include terpenoids, flavonoids, nitrogenous compounds, and more common plant molecules.
THC is the most abundant part of cannabis responsible for its psychoactive effects. In comparison to THC, CBD is the second most abundant, non-psychoactive part of the cannabis plant.
Although evidence is low and more research is needed, THC is emerging to be a therapeutic agents with a range of therapeutic properties. THC may be used as an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant and antioxidant properties. THC may also increase appetite and regulate nausea and vomiting in patient undergoing chemotherapy.
The term “entourage effect” was coined in 1998 by Israeli scientists Shimon Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam. There are over 100’s of different cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. These compounds work together, synergistically, supporting each other to produce the desired therapeutic effect that are greater than the sum of their parts. Each part of the plant on its own is not as effective as the whole working together. For example, the modulating effect of CBD on the psychoactive properties of THC is part of the entourage effect.
Combined cannabinoid formulations are generally more effective than CBD or THC alone. However, the majority of medicinal cannabis patients, in contrast to recreational users, often use CBD rich formulations with the smallest amount of THC to get the greatest improvement in symptom control, function, and quality of life, with minimal adverse events.
There are several approved importers and manufacturers of medicinal cannabis products in Australia. More information and a list of the licensed importers as well as growers can be found on the Office of Drug Control website: Australian Approved Medical Cannabis Importers and Manufacturers
There are two main pathways to access medicinal cannabis in Australia. The Special Access Scheme (SAS) or by becoming an Authorised Prescriber (AP). Recently, the commonwealth and state health departments streamlined the SAS application to a single form and introduced an online system that simplified the process of accessing medicinal cannabis products in Australia. Currently, this system is available for prescribing medical practitioners in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. Doctors from these states can register or login to the online application portal by going to the TGA website: SAS Online Portal
Currently the only medicinal cannabis product listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) that therefore does not require TGA approval is Nabiximols, however you may still require state approval for this. If the practitioner wishes to prescribe a medicinal cannabis product other than Nabiximols they will need to apply for authority to prescribe from the TGA as well as their state health department.
Medicinal cannabis comes in many forms from ingestible tablets, oral sprays, inhalers, dried flowers, suppositories and oils. In Australia the most common form of cannabis medication is extracted cannabinoid oils. These are usually produced by a process of CO2 extraction where the cannabinoids are harvested from the flowers of the cannabis plant. These extracts are standardised into various cannabinoid ratios and concentrates that are then easily administered using a dropper bottle.
They are all technically the same plant genus; however, the difference is in the purpose and cannabinoid profiles of each. Recreational and medicinal crops are predominately female as these produce flowers where the majority of the cannabinoids exist inside fine hairs called trichomes. Recreational cannabis varieties are generally bred to produce large yields with high THC content and generally little to no CBD or other cannabinoids. This is done in order to produce the desired recreational and psychoactive effects e.g. euphoria.
Whereas medicinal grade cannabis is bred to maximize the therapeutic properties of the plant and deliver this to the patient. With medicinal cannabis we generally see higher CBD content varieties as well as balanced cannabinoid profile and treatment specific breeds being grown. Medicinal cannabis producers are also subject to higher quality control and manufacturing standards.
Hemp is yet another variety that has been bred to produce very low cannabinoid content and instead focus on the size and strength of the plant fibres for commercial use. Hemp varieties are also generally male and do not produce flowers, they do however produce seeds which contain generous amounts of omega fatty acids and proteins.