Accessing medicinal cannabis
Talk to your treating doctor about whether medicinal cannabis may be suitable as an adjunct therapy (that is another treatment used alongside primary treatment) for your conditions or symptoms. You will need to give informed consent and sign that you understand that you cannot drive or operate heavy machinery if the medicinal cannabis contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
If your doctor believes that it would be effective, they can contact the Commonwealth Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for approval to allow supply of the product.
Your doctor will also need to arrange for a pharmacy to dispense the medication to you.
The decision to provide treatment using medicinal cannabis, remains a clinical decision of the healthcare provider.
You can discuss your concerns directly with your treating doctor.
If you are not happy with the care you have received, then you may wish to seek care from another healthcare provider.
You can find resources that may assist in making a complaint to health service providers on the Office of the Health Ombudsman website.
Rural and remote patients
If you live in a rural or remote area, access to medicinal cannabis will be through your GP or a specialist. You may be able to access specialist consultations through a telehealth service.
Generally, your GP will prescribe medicinal cannabis in consultation with a specialist (if a specialist is involved in your care). You or your doctor will need to arrange a local pharmacy to dispense to you, or in the case where no pharmacy is available the doctor may take on this role.
Cost of medicinal cannabis
With the exception of Epidyolex®, a cannabidiol product used in the treatment of Dravets Syndrome (an epilepsy syndrome that begins in infancy or early childhood), medicinal cannabis is not on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) so patients need to pay the costs of purchasing the product.
The cost depends on the particular product, source, shipping expenses, and customs fees and the dispensing fees charged by the dispensing pharmacy.
There is currently no government subsidy for the cost of medicinal cannabis for individual treatment, and the government does not regulate the prices for supply of approved products.
Clinical research trials generally provide product free of charge to trial participants—these are generally time limited.
Medicinal cannabis products
You cannot legally produce your own cannabis for medicinal use. Queensland does not have an amnesty scheme.
Home-grown medicinal cannabis products have unknown concentrations of active ingredients and may contain potentially harmful contaminants. These home-grown products are easily diverted into the illicit drug market and cannot lawfully be used if you are admitted to hospital.
Medicinal cannabis products need to be consistent, contaminant free and high quality so doctors can make safe prescribing and dosage decisions.
Things to consider when taking medicinal cannabis
You cannot drive
Research has shown that cannabis use has an effect on a person’s ability to drive. Unlike alcohol, there is no specific concentration of cannabis that can be identified as an indicator of impairment.
It is illegal for any patient being treated with medicinal cannabis containing THC to drive while undergoing treatment. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main psychoactive component of cannabis.
If a patient is at school, they can have the prescribed product administered at school in the same way as other medicines.
It should be noted that medicinal cannabis is often given as a twice daily dose, and it is unlikely that a supply of the medication will need to go to school with the child.
Medicinal cannabis is not a “rescue” medication, and it would not be given in an emergency situation.
Travelling with medicinal cannabis
Each state or territory legislation is slightly different, and each has their own requirements. If you are travelling to Queensland from another State or Territory, your medicinal cannabis must have been prescribed by a doctor who holds the relevant Commonwealth approval. All medicinal cannabis products need to be dispensed and labelled by a pharmacist/pharmacy or doctor.
Interstate visitors who have been lawfully prescribed medicinal cannabis in another State/Territory can travel in Queensland.
Travellers entering Australia should refer to Commonwealth Department of Health, Therapeutic Goods Administration website for advice on the legal requirements for medicinal cannabis importation and the travellers exemption.