Talking to your doctor
In NSW, your current doctor can legally prescribe a cannabis medicine for a health condition if they believe it is an appropriate treatment option and they have obtained the relevant authorities.
We encourage you to discuss your interest in cannabis medicines with your treating doctor in NSW, who is in the best position to advise you regarding the prescribing of a cannabis medicine. They are familiar with your medical condition and family history, and have knowledge of existing medications or other therapies you are currently prescribed or undergoing. Your doctor does not need to refer you to a 'cannabis clinic'.
Who can prescribe a cannabis medicine?
Your current treating doctor can prescribe a cannabis medicine.
Where a doctor is not your usual treating doctor, it is expected that they have a good working relationship with your usual doctor. This is to ensure your safety because there are significant risks involved in administering an unregistered, experimental cannabis medicine. Unknown factors include whether the cannabis medicine will react in a harmful way with any existing medicine being taken by you, and the nature and severity of possible side effects.
Your doctor will apply to the Australian Government’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and/or NSW Health for an authority to prescribe. There is no charge from the TGA or NSW Health for your doctor to apply.
Why are some doctors reluctant to prescribe a cannabis medicine?
A doctor’s first duty of care is to ensure their patient’s safety. To feel confident prescribing any new medicine, a doctor requires evidence – high quality clinical research, where carefully designed studies are conducted in humans – showing that the medicine is safe and effective.
Despite widespread anecdotal claims that cannabis is a natural, benign product, a cannabis medicine, like any experimental medicine, offers potential risks in the way it interacts with other medicines as well as uncertainty in what side effects it may cause. For doctors, anecdotes do not equal evidence.
Controls on cannabis medicine prescribing in NSW are also in line with the restrictions for many other substances including some severe acne medications, medicines for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, as well as medicines for persons with an established drug dependency. It is important to disclose if you are already being prescribed a cannabis medicine or if you have an ongoing drug dependency being managed by another doctor. This ensures better coordination of care for you under your treating doctors.
There are a number of practical considerations to think about before being prescribed a cannabis medicine. Your current treating doctor should discuss these with you. These considerations may include:
- The product may not have been approved in Australia by a medicines regulator
- The possible benefits of treatment and any known risks and adverse effects
- The possibility of unknown risks and late adverse effects
- Any available alternative treatments using registered products
- The ongoing cost being variable depending on the condition and dose required. In addition, given the lack of evidence, cannabis medicines are not normally funded by hospitals or Local Health Districts
- Your privacy and consenting to share information with any cannabis company-sponsored websites
- THC use is incompatible with driving and some workplaces. Using cannabis as a medicine is not a defence for traffic offences.
Who can my doctor speak to if they want more information about prescribing a cannabis medicine?
Your current treating doctor in NSW can contact the NSW Cannabis Medicines Advisory Service for more information about cannabis medicines. The NSW Government established the Service to provide expert clinical guidance and support to NSW doctors considering prescribing a cannabis medicine for their patient. The Service is free of charge for health professionals.