What is medicinal cannabis?
Medicinal cannabis is a legal, high quality medicine that can be prescribed for people by their doctor. It is derived from cannabis plants and can be used to treat the symptoms of certain medical conditions, and the side effects of some treatments.
There are different medicinal cannabis products available to treat different conditions.
The active ingredients in medicinal cannabis are called 'cannabinoids'. There are between 80 and 100 cannabinoids in medicinal cannabis, and researchers are still investigating how they all work.
At the moment, most medicinal cannabis products contain the cannabinoids cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
What medicinal cannabis products are available?
Medicinal cannabis products vary, depending on the symptoms or condition they are designed to treat. The way that you take them can vary too. Your doctor will need to assess your needs, and make a decision about whether there is an appropriate medicinal cannabis product for you.
There are currently no locally produced legal medicinal cannabis products in Australia. A variety of products are available through import. The Office of Drug publishes an updated list of importers and manufacturers of medicinal cannabis products to help identify products currently available in Australia.
What can medicinal cannabis be used for?
While cannabis, or marijuana, has been around for a long time, there is still not much formal evidence for doctors to rely on if they are thinking about prescribing medicinal cannabis to a patient.
There is some evidence that certain types of medicinal cannabis may be useful in treating the following conditions:
It may also be useful in the palliative care context.
The Commonwealth Government has released documents which summarise the formal evidence so far that medicinal cannabis may be useful in treating some conditions.
A doctor or specialist can apply to prescribe medicinal cannabis for any type of medical condition, however the approvals processes will require the doctor to provide evidence that shows that medicinal cannabis may be effective for the particular condition being treated.
How can I access medicinal cannabis in Victoria?
You can only access legal medicinal cannabis products via your treating doctor or specialist, and only if they believe medicinal cannabis will help treat your condition.
The first step is to discuss medicinal cannabis with your doctor. If they agree medicinal cannabis is appropriate, they will need to decide which medicinal cannabis product to prescribe to you, and get the necessary government approvals.
Once they have all of the required approvals to prescribe the medicinal cannabis product to you, you will be able to access the product (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: How to access medicinal cannabis in Victoria
How much does medicinal cannabis cost?
In Australia, most medicines prescribed by your doctor are subsidised by the Commonwealth Government under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). There are currently no medicinal cannabis products subsidised under the PBS. The cost of medicinal cannabis varies depending on the type of product and the dose recommended by your doctor. As these products are not subsidised by the PBS, you must fund the cost yourself.
The Victorian Government has a ‘compassionate access scheme’ that funds medicinal cannabis products for a limited number of children with severe intractable epilepsy. If you are a parent or carer of a child who may be eligible for this scheme, speak to the child’s paediatric neurologist to find out more.
Where to get help
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Department of Health and Human Services
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