Step 1: Do Your Research
Like any new medication, you want to educate yourself about the effect of medical cannabis on your body before considering treatment.
Episodes 1-5 of our podcast Ask The Expert: Cannabis Podcast Australia answer the FAQs asked by patients when entering the space for the first time, covering the basics of the plant, the endocannabinoid system, conditions, benefits, risks, and access pathways.
We also have a Medical Cannabis Information Kit to help new patients understand the basics of Medical Cannabis.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has a number of useful guidance documents which are useful for new patients as well.
Step 2: Talk to Your Usual Doctor
The next step is to talk to your usual doctor about medical cannabis as a potential treatment option for you. It’s important to have an open and honest conversation about your symptoms, medical history, and any other treatments you have tried in the past.
If your doctor is not familiar with medical cannabis or not willing to prescribe it, don’t be discouraged. Medical cannabis is still relatively new in Australia, and whilst any doctor in Australia is allowed to prescribe medical cannabis, less than 5% have gone through the process before. If your usual clinician doesn’t have experience in medical cannabis prescription and you think it might be for you, proceed to step 3.
Step 3: Assess Your Eligibility
The TGA has strict eligibility criteria for medical cannabis prescriptions in Australia. It is not permitted as a first line treatment option. To be eligible for a prescription, you must have a chronic medical condition that is not responding to conventional treatments, or has side effects that are intolerable.
It’s important to note that being ‘eligible’ doesn’t mean that you will be prescribed medical cannabis. It means that the medical cannabis prescriber may prescribe medical cannabis to treat the symptoms of your condition. This is why it is important to be honest and transparent as you advance through the process, to help the practitioner help you.
Step 4: Schedule an Appointment with a Medical Cannabis Practitioner
It can be difficult to find a local practitioner who is knowledgeable in prescribing medical cannabis. Because of this, many patients find it suitable to schedule a telehealth appointment with an expert medical cannabis prescriber to discuss your eligibility and treatment options.
It’s important to be prepared for this appointment by gathering your medical records and any other relevant documentation that supports your eligibility for medical cannabis. This may include medical test results, treatment history, and documentation of other treatments that have failed. Whilst these documents aren’t always mandatory, the practitioner is an AHPRA registered professional, so it is important to provide them with as much supporting documentation as you can to help them make their assessment.
Step 5: Discuss Treatment Options with the Medical Cannabis Practitioner
During your appointment, the medical cannabis practitioner will assess your eligibility and discuss the different medical cannabis products available in Australia. They will explain the benefits and risks of different dosage forms, and work with you to create a treatment plan which is suitable for your condition. The most common dosage forms in Australia are flower (consumed via inhalation) and oil (consumed via drops under the tongue).
Medical cannabis got me through almost a decade of chronic pain, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all treatment for everyone. Each patient’s condition and symptoms are unique, and the treatment plan must be tailored to the individual. The medical cannabis practitioner will work with you to create a personalised treatment plan that takes into account your medical history, symptoms, and lifestyle.
Step 6: Obtain a Prescription
If you are successful, the medical cannabis practitioner will provide you with a prescription. Like any pharmaceutical prescription, it will outline the type of medical cannabis product, the dosage, and the duration of treatment.
Step 7: Purchase Medical Cannabis
Once you have a prescription for medical cannabis, it can be purchased from a licensed pharmacy. Unfortunately, there aren’t many pharmacies in Australia which stock medical cannabis medication. Because of this, most clinics utilise express delivery through a partner pharmacy, which mitigates the need for patients to run around town to find a pharmacy which stocks the specific medication.
Step 8: Monitor Your Progress
After starting medical cannabis treatment, it’s important to monitor progress. A common approach is to use a dosing book, to record daily dosing and effects.
The advice for medical cannabis always is ‘start low and go slow’. Because of this, it is important to keep a record of your daily doses as you increase consumption to find your suitable daily dosage. Some treatment plans for medical cannabis can take several weeks or months to have an effect. Remember to be patient and persistent in your treatment. Be sure to report any adverse effects to the prescriber, and work with them to adjust your treatment plan as necessary.
Step 9: Follow Up with Your Medical Practitioner
The TGA requires a mandatory one-month check-in when patients are prescribed a medical cannabis prescription with THC for the first time. It is also a useful opportunity to check-in with the practitioner to monitor your progress and ensure that your treatment plan is working as intended. After the one-month check-in, the frequency of consultations is up to the discretion of the practitioner, which is typically every 3-6 months. It is important to maintain open communication with the medical practitioner and to report any concerns or changes in your symptoms.
Want to learn more?
Obtaining a medical cannabis prescription in Australia isn’t rocket science. By educating yourself, talking to your doctor, and following the steps discussed today, you are set-up for success. If you have any questions or concerns about your eligibility for medical cannabis, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re here to help.