Accessing CBD medicines in Australia

Australia is on the path to securing medical marijuana for those in real need of it around the
country. Legislation was passed earlier this year to legalise cannabis based medical products, but
it could take up to a year before they become readily available for people with serious illnesses
across the nation. This leaves them in the same position as they have been for some time, in dire
need of a drug to ease their pain and discomfort, but without easy access to it. So are there any
ways for those in need to currently make or access the drug within the confines of the law?

The debate surrounding CBD laws in Australia has flared up several times in the past few years
and each flare up relates to one man, Tony Bower. Mr Bower is a supplier of tinctures, a liquid
medical marijuana product that is made from extracts of cannabis. His company, Mullaway’s
Medical Cannabis, supplies the drug to over 150 patients, many of whom are children, and all of
them seriously ill. He works out of his home in Kempsey, where he grows medical cannabis plants
before making them into his tincture medicine. He has at all times stated that he is not in it for profit
and none of his cannabis is grown for recreational use.

Bower has now been on the receiving end of several criminal charges and has been released from
custody on a ‘Good Behaviour Order’ twice, the second time after an appeal against a 12 month
prison sentence. Throughout his appeal he was supported by several top doctors, politicians and
scientists. After his most recent arrest, in 2014, when cops found 76 plants at his property, he
vowed to continue getting his product to his customers while staying within the law.

The current problem for Australia is that while growing cannabis and selling medical cannabis
products remains categorically illegal, people like Bower who are looking to do good, will be scared
off. This leaves those looking to access medicines such as cannabis tinctures, which can be used
to ease pain and other symptoms in cancer, epilepsy and neurological disease sufferers, with a
hard task finding the treatment they need.

There are, however, several official channels that patients can go through to get the unapproved
medicines they want. The Special Access System (SAS) allows patients to access the drug in two
ways. The first is for those with extreme and terminal illnesses. Through the SAS the patient’s
doctors can approve a currently illegal product by applying to the Therapeutic Goods Authority
(TGA) and recommending a manufacturer. In instances such as this, there is no need for a formal
assessment of the patient by the TGA.

The second way of accessing these forbidden medicines is set up for other patients who do not
have illnesses that are as severe as the likes of cancer, motor neurone disease and cerebral palsy,
but would still benefit enormously from the use of CBD medicines. This method requires a TGA
assessment of each individual patient, along with strong support from the patient’s doctor and an
entire disclosure of how the drug will be taken, in what doses it will be taken, the ingredients of the
drug and how the patient’s progress will be monitored.

When using either of these methods patients must first be aware that the costs of any SAS
medicine rests entirely on their shoulders. This can present an issue for many as the price of
importing drugs from major pharmaceutical companies around the world can often be very steep.
This, combined with the fact that the second method of access is often long and drawn out, makes
it difficult for many people with epilepsy and other conditions that are not always considered fatal to
access CBD.

Another way that sick Australians can get use out of illicit medicines is through clinical trials. This
approach is best suited to groups of patients with the same condition and it requires approval from
the Human Research Ethics committee. This approval would involve a full assessment and
approval of the drug being used, evidence that knowledge of the drug’s benefits and side effects
would be gained from the trial, and often evidence supporting access on compassionate grounds

While the above methods are available to the entire population, providing they meet the criteria,
they are complex and do take a fair amount of time to process. This year’s legislation to legalise ​
medical marijuana will hopefully be ironed out before too long and then we will see pharmaceutical
companies grow and sell their medicines on Australian soil. It could also see the likes of Bower
being allowed to make and distribute his product without breaking any laws.

The current system can be made to work for those that can afford it and have the time and know
how to make it through such a process, but for the rest of the country’s sick it is not a framework
that is providing them with the medical prescriptions they require.

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