Medical Cannabis in Queensland – Legalisation, Conditions and Access

What is Medical Cannabis?

Meicinal cannabis (also known as Medical Marijuana) is cannabis prescribed to relieve the symptoms of a medical condition. It is important to make the distinction between medicinal cannabis and recreational cannabis. Recreational cannabis is high in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and used to get ‘high.’
Medical cannabis contains no THC and instead, contains Cannabidiol (CBD), which is non-psychoactive.

For some people suffering from chronic or terminal illnesses, conventional medicines do not work, or do not work as effectively as medicinal cannabis. Also, for some patients conventional medicines may work but cause debilitating side effects that cannabis can help to relieve

Legalisation of Medicinal Cannabis

In Queensland, the use of medicinal cannabis dispensed by an approved pharmacy without the correct prescription of any sort is a criminal offense.

The rules governing the usage of cannabis are very strict in Queensland and the use of cannabis is still very much illegal.

Queensland Parliament Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill

This is the Queensland law that allowed the prescription of medicinal cannabis by some certain professions to patients.

The cannabis products permitted under the Bill include the following:

  • Any product derived from any part of a living or dead cannabis plant.
  • Any product that is a part of a living or dead cannabis plant.
  • Any product that has been synthetically programmed to have very similar pharmacological effects of the pure cannabis products.

Cannabis in Medicinal Treatments

Medical Cannabis use in Queensland is very strict in the sense that you are only permitted to use it as treatment if you have tried other forms of treatment available for that condition for an adequate period of time and they all were ineffective, or if you react to the other available treatments.

To be prescribed with medicinal cannabis, your doctor/physician would have to prove via scientific evidences that the condition you have (or similar symptoms) can be treated with its use.

Medical cannabis prescribed by the doctors in Queensland are not home grown cannabis as home grown cannabis plants can have some unknown ingredients and elements that might be harmful to the health and in Queensland. One cannot legally produce one’s own cannabis for any use(there is no amnesty scheme in Queensland). Prescribed medicinal cannabis has to be free of contaminant, consistent and of of high pharmaceutical quality. This make the prescription safe for the doctors and patients.

Your doctor can lodge an application through the right channel to prescribe both plant-based products and synthetic products. When using medicinal cannabis for therapeutic purposes, there are a few forms the medical cannabis can be taken:

  • Pharmaceutical products like nabiximols.
  • Capsules; oral capsules.
  • Tinctures; plant material infused in alcohol or oil.
  • Vapour: the plant is heated in a vaporizer.

Accessing Medicinal Cannabis

In order to obtain medicinal cannabis in Queensland, patients need to talk to their doctor or physician who is currently treating you to find out if using it as an adjunct treatment would help improve your condition.

Adjunct treatments are treatments you use with your primary treatment.

If after proper assessment, your doctor is certain the use of the cannabis would be effective and not harmful in treating your condition, then the Queensland Health can be contacted to apply for your approval to prescribe.

While you’re applying to get approval, your doctor will also have to apply for the Therapeutic Goods Administration (also known as the TGA) for the approval to allow the supply of the cannabis.

Once the approvals are granted, your doctor then gets an approved pharmacy to dispense the drug to you. From then, anytime you need medical cannabis, you can just go to the pharmacist to receive it.

There are 3 basic ways to access medicinal cannabis:

  • Single-Patient Prescriber Pathway

With this way, your doctor or physician applies for approval to prescribe the medicinal cannabis to you specifically. It is basically the method explained above.

  • Patient-Class Prescriber Pathway

In this way, specialist doctors or physicians can prescribe specific dosages of the medicinal cannabis to treat groups of patients with similar conditions or symptoms.

  • Queensland Current Clinical Trials

Patients are prescribed with the medicinal cannabis if they meet the criteria of the Queensland Clinical Trial.

The Queensland Clinical Trial are often organised by pharmaceutical companies to discover how their products affect the patients.

These trials are sometimes funded by the government. There is always an entry criteria set for these trials and they use very strict clinical protocols. The thoroughness of these clinical trials ensure the usefulness and accuracy of the results.

Applying for Clinical Trials

There are a couple of ways one can be recruited for clinical trials. Recruitment is majorly sought through the suffering of certain conditions. i.e. a condition or symptoms that can be aided by medicinal cannabis is used, and the participants of that trial will be the people that have the condition picked or similar symptoms.

To apply for these trials, you can talk to your doctor or physician to know if there are any available trials for your condition.

Conditions that might require the use of Medicinal Cannabis

In order to apply for medicinal cannabis, your doctor or physician will need to supply adequate scientific evidence to show that your condition or symptom can be treated and helped with its use.

In Queensland there are no laws to limit the conditions or symptoms that are eligible for the application of the drug by your doctor. There is no right or wrong condition for the use of medicinal cannabis, but a doctor requires solid evidence that it can be used to aid.

There are a number symptoms that can be aided by the use of medicinal cannabis, but one can’t fully know all the symptoms or conditions as more researches are being conducted every day by scientists.

Here a few symptoms that can be aided:

  • Palliative care which entails vomiting pains, appetite loss and nausea.
  • Nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy.
  • Severe muscular spasms.
  • Multiple sclerosis and other symptoms.
  • Severe seizures that are induced by some form of epilepsy.
  • Treatment of chronic pain that is not associated with cancer.

Two things you should not do when considering using medicinal cannabis as treatment are:

  • Consider the treatment as an alternative treatment for cancer.
  • Delay ongoing standard cancer treatments and using medicinal cannabis as its alternative.

Usage of Medicinal Cannabis

Patients are approved to take the cannabis with the use of a vaporizer pen, hence the patience are allowed to vape. Commonly, patients are not granted the approval to smoke the cannabis like a regular joint or blunt as this exposes them to a lot of health risks as smoking regular cigarettes.

Vaping is one of the healthiest ways one can inhale medicinal cannabis.

Costs of Medicinal Cannabis

Medical cannabis is not on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) in Queensland, so if patients need to purchase it, they would need to personally pay the costs up front.

The price is dependent on the following factors;

  • The product itself
  • Customs fees
  • Shipping expenses
  • Dispensing fees, charged by the dispensing pharmacy.

The Queensland government is not in charge of regulating prices for the goods that are being supplied and there is no allocated government subsidy for the cost of the medicinal cannabis used for individual treatments.

Delivery of the Medicinal Cannabis

For patients in rural areas, accessing the medicinal cannabis will be through your doctor or specialist. Using a telehealth service, you may be able to access specialist consultations. But generally, your doctor will prescribe medicinal cannabis in consultation with the specialist. Your doctor arranges for a pharmacy to be your dispensary unit but if there isn’t one available in your area, your doctor assumes this row.

Factors to consider when taking Medicinal Cannabis

  • Do not operate any heavy machinery when taking medicinal cannabis.
  • Do not drive. It is illegal for any patient treated with medicinal cannabis to drive while undergoing treatment.
  • If a patient is school-aged, they can have the prescribed dosage of the medical cannabis administered at school like any other medicine, but the child should be monitored.
  • When travelling, a patient should have a state approval for cannabidiol in Queensland. The product is to be dispensed by a pharmacy and labelled with an approval for dispensing. In Queensland, the Director-General of Queensland Health has to approve your doctor’s request to prescribe the drug to you.

Doctor’s Legal Obligations

The two major conditions in Queensland for the approval of medicinal cannabis for doctors are:

  • Doctors should report any negative events or reactions, serious adverse reactions and unexpected reactions to Queensland health and the TGA.
  • Doctors must provide a written report to Queensland health which encompasses the doctors’ opinions of their various patients’ responses, the frequency of their usage and the reason for the discontinuation of drug usage if it happens.
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