Medicinal cannabis in Australia: what you need to know

What is medicinal cannabis?

In the simplest terms, medicinal cannabis is any product that is derived from the cannabis (sativa or indica) plant and is used as a medicine for a specific condition or associated symptoms.

Cannabis has a long history as a traditional medicine across the globe, with the earliest evidence of its use dating back to 2,800 BC. Prior to the middle of the 20th century, medicinal cannabis was prescribed and available as an over-the-counter remedy across the globe.

That changed with the 1925 Geneva Convention, which reclassified cannabis as a prohibited substance in the world’s first international drug intervention legislation. The remainder of the 20th century saw medicinal cannabis classed as an illicit drug and unavailable for prescribers and patients alike.

Over the last 20 years, the sentiment and regulation around medicinal cannabis have shifted dramatically. The liberalisation of medicinal cannabis laws in North America and Europe has allowed research and education regarding the positive therapeutic effects of medicinal cannabis to gather momentum. As such, across the globe we are seeing jurisdictions increasingly accept medicinal cannabis as an effective, affordable and natural medicine for a variety of illnesses and conditions – bringing tangible quality-of-life improvements to patients in need.

Cannabis in Australia

After federal legalisation for medicinal purposes in 2016, cannabis has been recognised as a therapeutic good across Australia.

The regulation of cannabis in Australia has a storied history. In response to the 1925 Geneva Convention and its late inclusion of cannabis as a prohibited substance, the Director General of Australia’s first Commonwealth Health Department advised the Prime Minister’s office that it was not a drug of serious concern (Footnote 1). However, in solidarity with our monarch in the UK, some state jurisdictions began restricting cannabis in line with the Geneva Convention.

After the US’s imposition of extreme tax levies on medicinal and industrial cannabis, Australian politicians came under pressure from the US consulate to legislate it. Not commonly known is that until they were banned in the ‘60s, cannabis medicines were widely prescribed or available over-the-counter across Australia (Footnote 2).

Australia is one of the many forward-thinking countries to have legalised medicinal cannabis for specific patient groups, albeit under strict medical supervision.

Cannabis has shown real potential to help Australian patients, but there’s also still much to discover about its therapeutic potential. As research sheds new light on its medicinal benefits, legal cannabis continues to evolve across the globe.

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