Cannabis has been used medicinally for over 5000 years by many civilisations, and interest in its use to treat various diseases has grown in recent years. Although most people think of smoking when they think of using cannabis, in Australia prescription cannabis is most commonly taken orally, although inhalation by vaping is another option used in certain situations.
Until recently patients in Wollongong trying to access medicinal cannabis faced a trip to a pain specialist in Sydney, or ended up accessing it illegally. It is to try and make this process easier and safer that Woonona Medical Practice is now offering this service.
Commonly asked questions:
Is it legal?
Yes, cannabis can be legally prescribed as long as certain conditions are met. Cannabis products can contain 2 active ingredients – CBD and THC – and while currently it is illegal to drive with THC in your system (whether it has been taken recreationally or on prescription) it is legal to drive with CBD in your system. People who drive, or those who have drug tests for employment purposes, will usually be prescribed CBD only products.
What illnesses can it help with?
There have been many conditions which advocates of cannabis say can be helped by the drug but research evidence is often lacking. The best evidence for benefit is for chronic pain especially neuropathic (nerve) pain, anxiety/depression, and insomnia. The response to cannabis is unpredictable, and often it is impossible to know how effective it will be until you try it.
It is important to note that cannabis is not a first choice treatment for any condition, and other treatments should always have been tried first before considering cannabis.
Will it make me “high”?
THC is the chemical in cannabis responsible for the “high” in recreational cannabis. In medicinal use it is combined with CBD which blocks this effect, so no, it won’t make you “high”. Sometimes when starting off, particularly if you have never used cannabis before, people can be a little sedated so usually we start at a low dose and gradually build up the dose until benefit is obtained - “start low and go slow”
How much does it cost?
Medicinal cannabis is not covered by the PBS, and usually not by private health funds either, so cost can be an issue. Cost varies depending on the dose required but is usually in the order of $5-10 per day. Medicinal cannabis appointments at WMP are not bulk billed so you will be approximately $60 out of pocket, less if you are on a pension or health care card.
Is it safe?
Yes, there has never been a recorded death from a cannabis which is more than can be said for many widely available drugs like opioid pain killers, sleeping tablets, and alcohol. There are some situations where cannabis would not be appropriate, such as pregnancy, breast feeding, history of major mental illness, history of drug dependency, and in children.
I’ve never used cannabis before, can I still take it?
Yes, we just “start low and go slow”. The vast majority of people take it orally as a liquid. Medicinal cannabis is never smoked like recreational cannabis.
How do I arrange a prescription?
At WMP we ask that patients make a 30 minute appointment to discuss their reasons for wanting to try cannabis. For patients who do not routinely attend WMP we prefer that they come with a letter from their usual doctor outlining their medical history. We prefer that patients continue to see their usual doctor for their medical care, and WMP is only responsible for supervising their cannabis prescriptions. For regular patients of WMP this referral letter is not required, but Dr Stewart will similarly only be responsible for your cannabis prescriptions, and you are encouraged to continue with your usual GP at WMP for the rest of your care.
If after the first appointment a trial of cannabis seems appropriate, approval has to be sought from the NSW Department of Health before a prescription can be written. As this usually takes a few days, you will be asked to return a week later and the prescription will be done at that appointment. This prescription can be taken to your usual chemist who will then order the cannabis.
Usually you will be reviewed after 1-2 weeks to adjust the dose. Once an effective dose is reached, review visits are 1-2 monthly