The first two commercial shipments of medicinal cannabis products to be legally imported to Australia have arrived in Melbourne and Perth.
It means that if you already have approval to use medicinal cannabis, you no longer have to wait for the product you need to be imported. Until now, medicinal cannabis was imported into Australia on a case-by-case basis. Each bottle of the drug was destined for a specific patient. Now pharmacists are able to stockpile the drug for anyone with a prescription.
But actually getting that prescription can be a slow process, and sometimes take months, depending on the state where you apply.
The arrival of the shipment will make doctors more likely to prescribe the drug, and could ultimately lead to a streamlining of the approvals process, according to Paul Mavor, Director of Health House International, one of the two businesses that received a shipment from Canada on Tuesday.
“It’s sensational to be able to get the products that are there to help people, some of whom have no other treatment options,” Paul told Hack.
Federal legislation came into effect in October last year which the Government said would “give patients and doctors access to a safe, reliable and legal source of cannabis.” The Government began accepting applications to grow cannabis, but cultivation has been slow to scale up and the case-by-case process of importing cannabis was convoluted.
Patients demanded urgent access to the drug. In February, advocates wrote letters to the Federal Government urging it to come up with a way of making imports easier.
“I wrote the Government a letter explaining these medicines are for patients who need them urgently and there was no continuity of supply,” Paul said.
“They made the changes pretty much straightaway.”
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt set up an interim scheme to fast track importation of cannabis. He promised the the imports would be available in eight weeks.
Just under ten weeks later, the first shipment has arrived. The 60ml bottles of medicinal grade oil come from Canada in three different strengths to suit different illnesses.
“We couldn’t have got the medical cannabis product any earlier,” Paul said. “The Canadian Government had quite a few barriers in place to exporting medicinal cannabis.”
The drug arrived in Australia on Monday, according to the Department of Health. The other shipment went to Melbourne’s Pharmaceutical Packaging Professionals.
Thirty permits have been granted to import cannabis products from Canada, Switzerland and the Netherlands. More shipments are expected to arrive through May.
“The first shipment was the hardest but here on it will get a whole lot easier,” Paul said.
Who can apply?
The Therapeutic Goods Act (TGA) doesn’t specify which illnesses might be eligible for special access to medicinal cannabis.
Doctors need to be able to show the drug would be of benefit for a patient. States and territories can make access available to specific types of patients.
Paul Mavor said there was solid medical evidence this week’s shipment of cannabis oil could be used for treating three main conditions:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Chronic neuropathic pain
- Nausea from cancer-related chemotherapy
He said there was also evidence for treating epilepsy with cannabis, and other conditions may soon qualify as authorities become satisfied the drug is safe and effective. Medicinal cannabis has been made available to children with severe epilepsy in Victoria.
A Department of Health statement said “children suffering from epilepsy and patients dealing with side effects caused by cancer treatment” are most likely to benefit from the medicinal cannabis products that arrived this week.
Last year, Hack spoke to Lindsay Carter who had imported medicinal cannabis products from Canada to treat his seizures and nausea caused by brain tumours.
How do you go about getting it?
There’s two ways.
Doctors can apply to become “authorised prescribers” of medicinal cannabis to patients with particular medical conditions. From this week, patients can go to pharmacies supplied by wholesalers such as Health House International to fill the prescription.
In March, South Australian MPs called access to medicinal cannabis a “mirage” because, even though it was technically legal, the state did not yet have a single doctor authorised to prescribe.
Hack reported in March there were only 23 authorised prescribers in Australia.
The other way of getting access is for doctors to apply for medicinal marijuana on behalf of their patients through the “Special Access Scheme”.
But these methods only cover federal approval to access the drug. In some states you need to get separate state approval.
“At the moment access is difficult and quite convoluted,” Paul said.
“It’s a real patchwork quilt of laws. Some of the state approvals are really a duplication of the federal approvals.
“In the case of Western Australia they’ve got really unfair hurdles that requires patients two months to navigate.”
He hopes the approvals process will become more streamlined as more doctors become authorised prescribers and patients report the benefits of the drug.
Source: 420Intel – Medical Cannabis