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What Types of Medicinal Cannabis Products Are Available in Australia?

The availability of medical cannabis products in Australia has expanded significantly in recent years, catering to a wide range of patient needs. Australian medical cannabis products come in various forms and strengths depending on the individual needs of patients. Only pharmaceutical, medicinal-grade products can be supplied lawfully in Australia. Medical cannabis can be created as a synthetic, man made product or as a natural extract from the cannabis plant.

The vast majority of prescriptions in Australia are for unregistered medical cannabis products through the Special Access Scheme. However, there are currently two products, Sativex (nabiximols) and Epidyolex (cannabidiol), that are registered on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.

Nabiximols is a standardised cannabis extract oromucosal (mouth) spray containing equal amounts of THC and CBD, approved for spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis.

Epidyolex is a purified oral solution containing cannabidiol (CBD) extracted from the cannabis sativa plant, indicated for use as adjunctive therapy of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) or Dravet syndrome (DS) for patients 2 years of age and older.

The following forms of medical cannabis products are currently available in Australia:

  • medical cannabis oil

  • medical cannabis wafers (dissolved under the tongue)

  • medical cannabis flower for vaporization (also referred to as bud or herb)

  • medical cannabis oral spray (absorbed through the cheek or under the tongue)

  • medical cannabis vape cartridges

  • medical cannabis capsules

  • medical cannabis topical preparations

Medicinal Cannabis Oil and Oral Solutions Products in Australia

Medicinal cannabis oil is one of the most commonly prescribed forms of medical cannabis in Australia. It is typically administered sublingually (under the tongue) for faster absorption into the bloodstream initially and then swallowed.

Cannabis oils are available in various formulations, including CBD-dominant oils, THC-dominant oils, and balanced THC:CBD ratios. These oils are often recommended for various conditions.

The TGA has approved medical cannabis prescriptions for the following conditions in recent years under the Special Access Scheme:

  • chronic pain

  • other pain-related conditions, such as migraines, arthritis, and endometriosis

  • anxiety disorders

  • depression

  • insomnia

  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • gastrointestinal (GI) disorders

  • epilepsy

  • multiple sclerosis (MS).

The TGA website lists the following oils and oral products as available in Australia (this list may not be updated).

Medical Cannabis Wafer Products in Australia

Cannabis wafers can provide a faster and more predictable form of cannabinoid absorption for some patients. Typically, wafers are consumed by placing them under the tongue and waiting for the wafer to completely disintegrate. This way, the active compounds inside the wafer are absorbed through the mucosal membrane directly into the bloodstream. This method of consumption bypasses the breakdown and absorption through the gastrointestinal tract, potentially providing a faster onset and higher bioavailability.

Medical Cannabis Flower (for Vaporization) Available in Australia

If dried medical cannabis flower is prescribed, it must be vaporized and not smoked. Vaporizing your medical cannabis flower is a much safer and more efficient way of medicating than smoking. A cannabis vaporizer is a heating device with a small chamber that holds the dried cannabis flower. Vaporizers can be small and portable for on-the-go medicating or large and stationary for at-home use. Vaporizers heat dried cannabis flower to release therapeutic compounds without combustion.

Smoking medical cannabis results in combustion, which destroys at least 50% of the medicinal compounds in the flower. Smoking also creates carcinogens, burnt plant material, and tars. Vaporizers avoid combustion and the harmful byproducts by heating the cannabis flower just above the boiling point of the medicinal compounds, releasing them as a vapor, without burning the plant material.

When inhaled, you will experience the onset effects of dried cannabis within minutes, and these effects will typically last for 1-4 hours. For some patients, this is preferrable as oils take much longer for onset to occur – usually 1-4 hours after ingestion.

The TGA website lists the following medical cannabis flower (or bud, herb etc.) products as available in Australia (this list may not be updated).

Medical Cannabis Oral or Sublingual Sprays Available in Australia

Sublingual sprays allow for quick and convenient administration of medical cannabis. The spray is delivered under the tongue or absorbed through the cheeks, where the cannabinoids are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and the onset is quick compared to other methods. This method is suitable for patients who may have difficulty swallowing capsules or tablets.

Medical Cannabis Vape Cartridges Available in Australia

Medical cannabis vape cartridges are pre-filled cartridges or disposable pens that contain a concentrated form of cannabis extract specifically designed for vaporization. In Australia, the only way to legally obtain these is with a valid prescription through a doctor.

The cartridges are filled with a concentrated cannabis oil or distillate, which is often derived from the flowers or other parts of the cannabis plant. The oil is processed to remove impurities and to increase the concentration of cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), as well as other beneficial compounds found in cannabis.

Using vape cartridges allows for inhalation of the active compounds without the harmful byproducts associated with smoking. The vapor is then inhaled through the mouthpiece of the cartridge or pen.

Medical cannabis vape cartridges offer several advantages over other methods of cannabis consumption. They provide a convenient and discreet way to consume cannabis, as they can be easily carried and used on the go. The cartridges also allow for precise dosing, as they are often labelled with the concentration of cannabinoids – particularly beneficial for medical patients who require consistent and accurate dosing for their condition.

It’s important to note that the availability and regulations surrounding medical cannabis vape cartridges can vary depending on the jurisdiction. It is always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or medical cannabis provider to understand the specific regulations and guidelines in your area before using these products.

Medical Cannabis Oral Capsules and Soft gels Available in Australia

For patients who prefer a standardized and convenient dosing method, oral capsules and soft gels are an option. These products provide precise dosing and are available in different cannabinoid ratios.

Although cannabis capsules and soft gels are prescribed for a variety of chronic conditions similar to medical cannabis oils, they are not particularly popular as they are difficult to titrate with given the set dosing in each capsule.

Since there is no set dosing for medical cannabis, patients are often advised to start low and go slow (i.e., start with 5mg and increase by 5mg every other dose until the desired effect is reached). This titration process is hard to manage with capsules and some patients find they may need to take 4-8 capsules at a time to reach the desired dose level.

Capsules are a popular option, however, for patients who don’t like the taste of the oil.

The TGA website lists the following capsule products as available in Australia (this list may not be updated).

Medical Cannabis Topical Preparations Available in Australia

Medical cannabis topical preparations are cannabis-infused products that are applied directly to the skin. These products are designed to provide localized relief for various conditions and are often used to target specific areas of the body.

Topical cannabis products typically come in the form of lotions, creams, balms, salves, oils, or transdermal patches. They are infused with cannabinoids, such as THC or CBD, which are extracted from the cannabis plant. These cannabinoids interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is involved in regulating pain, inflammation, and other physiological processes.

When applied to the skin, the cannabinoids in the topical products interact with cannabinoid receptors found in the skin and underlying tissues. There are ongoing studies exploring the potential to help alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, and provide localized relief for conditions such as arthritis, muscle soreness, dermatitis and psoriasis, via this delivery method.

It’s important to note that the effectiveness of medical cannabis topicals can vary depending on factors such as the concentration of cannabinoids, the formulation of the product, and the individual’s unique physiology.

As with any medical treatment, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate product and dosage for your specific condition.

In Australia medical cannabis cannot be prescribed as a first line treatment, so patients' needs to have trialed conventional treatment before being eligible for a medical cannabis prescription. If your doctor is unwilling to explore medical cannabis for your condition, they can refer you to our clinic. Our doctors conduct telehealth consultations nationwide.

Click here for a quick online eligibility test to see if you qualify.

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