Medical marijuana now available over the counter

From today, medical marijuana will be legally available over the counter. But there’s a catch – low-dose cannabidiol (CBD) will not be in your local pharmacy for at least six months because the product has yet to be approved for sale.

Doctors now prescribe CBD for patients of all ages suffering a range of symptoms including anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

Founder and clinical director of Cannabis Doctors Australia Dr Ben Jansen, whose clinic specialises in CBD treatment, told The Sydney Morning Herald that the oil is life-changing in about a quarter of his patients.

“We know it works, but we want to find out how well it works,” Dr Jansen said.

He says the vast number of CBD users are middle-aged women who take the medicine for pain relief, such as for inflammatory arthritis.

In December, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved a maximum daily dose of 150mg to buy at pharmacies without a prescription, and manufacturers are racing to deliver over-the-counter products to market. They will include oils and pills, while vaping and topical cream products will be available via a doctor’s prescription only.

Cannabidiol is an active ingredient in cannabis that doesn’t make a user high, and a review by the World Health Organization found it did not lead to drug abuse or dependence, though the Australian Medical Association is opposed to the over-the-counter approval of CBD use.

With the TGA’s approval, Dr Jansen says it will take “at least $2 million and the appropriate data before (a product) can be registered for use for distribution by a pharmacist”.

FreshLeaf Analytics, specialists in the Australian medicinal cannabis industry, said the first company to get its product on chemists’ shelves would have a significant advantage in a market estimated to be worth more than $200 million a year.

Managing director Cassandra Hunt told The Sydney Morning Herald that many products now prescribed by doctors will meet the criteria for sale over the counter, but to register one, a company must demonstrate that it is high quality, safe and efficacious – a time-consuming process that could take up to a year.

“History suggests that the first movers among product companies will be the winners, with the first movers in the medicinal cannabis industry in Australia still dominating the industry today,” she said.

Dr Jansen says side-effects of CBD can include nausea, dry mouth and diarrhoea and, on rare occasions, drowsiness, but they often resolve once the body gets used to the medication. According to the NSW government, those taking cannabidiol-only medicines can lawfully drive, as long as they are not impaired. 

Will the availability of medical marijuana over the counter make a difference to your pain management? Have you tried the substance for pain relief?

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Written by Rebecca Tolan

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