Complete Guide to CBD Oil in Australia
If you are looking for information on CBD oil, chances are you’ve already heard of its many alleged therapeutic properties.
Sadly, whilst CBD products are legal over the counter in many countries readily, it is still a scheduled substance in Australia. This means patients wanting to access CBD oil for medical treatment purposes must go through a GP or specialist clinic to get approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
This guide has been tailored for Aussies and should answer most of your questions on obtaining CBD oil for medical use in Australia.
We will run you through everything you need to know about CBD and its main health benefits, broken down in the following topics:
What is CBD
CBD, or also known as Cannabidiol, is one of the many chemical compounds (cannabinoids) produced by the cannabis plant. Although more than 100 types of cannabinoids have been identified, CBD is usually the second highest in abundance - sitting only behind its most famous counterpart “THC” (Tetrahydrocannabinol).
While both THC and CBD have their medicinal benefits and uses, CBD stands out due to its non-intoxicating nature.
Cannabinoids - CBD vs THC
When consumers experience the “high” from cannabis use, it is usually attributed to the psychoactive effects of THC. CBD, on the other hand, is non-psychoactive and is even known to reduce some negative psychological effects such as anxiety.
The other factor to consider is the CBD:THC ratio in cannabis. Different strains of cannabis can contain varying ratios of cannabinoids, with some CBD potent strains producing up to 15-25% CBD content. Medical cannabis and CBD oil will usually contain a high percentage of CBD and minimal levels of THC.
Even though CBD is the standout cannabinoid in terms of medicinal usage, THC also has its own medical applications, particularly when used in conjunction with CBD.
How CBD affects the human body
Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD affect the human body and brain by imitating compounds called “endocannabinoids”. These tiny compounds are naturally produced by mammals and are a critical part of the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS acts as a regulator to maintain balance (homeostasis) with various internal functions in our body. Endocannabinoids activate tiny receptors within the ECS which sends signals to monitor various organs and tissues. Put simply, endocannabinoids help with the communication in our bodies to keep us in balance.
Cannabinoids like CBD have the ability to imitate these endocannabinoids, thus affecting our internal functions controlled by ECS in different ways.
CB1 and CB2 receptors
There are two main types of receptors within the endocannabinoid system - CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are more commonly found in the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cords. CB2 receptors exist mostly within the peripheral nervous system, such as our immune cells and gastrointestinal system.
When THC is consumed by humans, it mimics our endocannabinoids and activates the CB1 receptors. As such, THC is largely responsible for the euphoric high due to its ability to interact with receptors regulating our mood, pain perception, motor function, memory processing and sleep.
On the other hand, CBD does not activate CB1 or CB2 receptors. Instead, it reduces the ability of other cannabinoids like THC from binding to these receptors. Thus, it is also known to reduce the sometimes undesired psychoactive effects of THC. In addition, CBD also stimulates the ECS to produce more endocannabinoids and slows their breakdown so it stays in our bodies for longer.
How CBD oil is made
Before we dive into how CBD oil is made, we first need to outline the three different types of CBD oil - "Isolate", "Broad-spectrum" and "Full-spectrum".
CBD Isolate is exactly what it sounds like. The CBD is isolated from the cannabis plant and exacted into its purest form. All other cannabinoids and terpenes (which attribute to its smell and flavour) are removed as a part of the extraction process. This leaves behind a crystalline powder which contains 99% pure CBD.
When the term "isolate" is advertised on CBD oil products, it indicates the CBD percentage is above 99% and should not contain any traces of THC.
On the other end of the spectrum, excuse the pun, is the "full spectrum" extract. This means the full range of cannabinoids, terpenes and essential oils originally found on the plant are extracted in the process. Some studies believe the combination of CBD, THC, terpenes and other minor cannabinoids enhances the therapeutic effects of the final product. This is often referred to as the “entourage effect“.
"Some studies believe the combination of CBD, THC, terpenes and other minor cannabinoids enhances the therapeutic effects of the final product."
Broad spectrum sits somewhere in the middle of CBD isolate and full spectrum. The process is similar to full spectrum where all plant compounds are preserved, minus the THC. This option delivers the medicinal benefits of the other cannabinoids without the psychoactive effects of THC.
Now that you understand the different types of CBD oil, we can better explain the process for extracting CBD.
First of all, the strain of cannabis plants used for extraction will need to be considered. Marijuana has evolved throughout the ages - surviving on the cold mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush to the hot, dry climates of central Asia. Due to conditioning on diverse habitats and selective breeding, different subspecies and strains have evolved to differ physically and chemically.
Different strains can contain varying amounts of CBD, THC, terpenes and other chemical compounds.
CBD isolates will typically require high CBD potency and low THC cannabis strains, otherwise known as "Hemp". This allows a higher percentage of CBD in the final product and minimal amounts of other cannabinoids such as THC.
For full and broad spectrum products, cannabis strains with higher THC and other cannabinoids are generally used.
Once the cannabis strain is cultivated and harvested, the extraction process follows.
The most common process for extraction involves using a solvent to separate the active compounds from the raw plant. After the CBD and other compounds are isolated, they can then be further processed into the final product.
Below are a few different methods for CBD extraction:
CBD oil uses and benefits
Medicinal cannabis has only become mainstream in recent years, so research is still somewhat limited.
While there are numerous studies into the use of medicinal CBD oil, some are met with scepticism. The uncertainty for these findings is generally due to the variations in the method, product and doses from study to study.
We agree CBD is not a miracle cure-all compound, and encourage our readers to be sceptical about some of the exaggerated claims - But there is also strong evidence to support the effectiveness of CBD oil for specific conditions which we will outline below.
CBD for seizures / epilepsy
The most famous poster child for the medicinal benefits of CBD is Charlotte Figi
, who was diagnosed with a severe form of epilepsy from a young age. By age 5, she was wheelchair-bound, had trouble talking and required a feeding tube. She was given various forms of pharmaceutical treatment to no effect, and still suffered from hundreds of seizures per week.
After Charlotte’s family discovered and started her on CBD oil treatment, her symptoms improved significantly. Her seizures had reduced down to 2 or 3 per month, from about 300 per week. As her treatment continued, she soon was able to talk, walk, play and feed herself.
An Australian survey targeting epilepsy patients
 was recently conducted by Epilepsy Action Australia. Out of the 976 survey respondents, around 14% of adults and parents of children with epilepsy had used cannabis products such as CBD oil to treat epilepsy. Of those who have used cannabis products, 89.5% of adults and 71% of parents had reported success with reducing the frequency of seizures.
CBD for pain
Cannabis has been used as a treatment for pain throughout history, dating back thousands of years. However, it has only recently become the subject of reviews and studies again in the medical community.
One such study
 investigated the use of cannabis products (1:1 THC to CBD ratio) for the treatment of neuropathic and multiple sclerosis related pain. The report concluded the THC and CBD derived product was effective for reducing pain based on a small number of trials and patients.
This finding was also backed up by several other animal studies, including one conducted at the University of Sydney
, suggesting that low dose of THC:CBD combination treatment has potential in the treatment of neuropathic pain. Another study also attributed cannabinoids for reducing inflammation-related symptoms.
Plenty of other research has been carried out into the use of CBD and THC to support other types of pain not mentioned above. However, the results are still yet to be widely accepted in the medical community. We recommend our readers to exercise caution and consult a doctor when seeking pain relief with CBD oil.
CBD for anxiety / depression
According to the National Health Survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics', it is estimated that 1 in 8 Australians (13%) had an anxiety-related condition and one in ten (10.4%) are dealing with depression in a given year.
"It is estimated that 1 in 8 Australians had an anxiety-related condition"
On a global scale, roughly one in ten people
 have lived with some form of mental health illness. It’s no surprise there have been many studies undertaken into finding natural remedies such as CBD oil as an alternative to the commonly prescribed antidepressant medication.
One double blind study
 investigated the effects of CBD versus placebo for patients with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). The specific focus of the clinical trial was to examine the anxiety associated with public speaking. The report indicated patients pretreated with CBD before a simulated public speaking test had significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment, and discomfort in their speech performance.
CBD for cancer-related symptoms
Estimated to affect 1 in 2 Australians by the age of 85, cancer is one of the highest causes of death in Australia. With our own Australian singer-songwriter Olivia Newton-John advocating the benefits of using CBD for managing pain as part of her high profile battle with breast cancer - the tide is slowly turning for Aussies wanting easier access to CBD to support cancer related symptoms.
Cancer related pain may be experienced by patients due to a variety of causes. The most common reasons are from tumours pressing on organs, nerves or bones, and inflammation. The other possible cause of cancer related pain might be a side effect of radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
A study was published in 2009
 to demonstrate the use of CBD to support pain in advanced cancer patients. The majority of symptoms felt by the patients were pathophysiology, bone and neuropathic pain. The results of the trial indicated patients treated with CBD had a reduction in pain severity when compared with placebo.
Apart from assisting with pain, there is also evidence CBD oil can alleviate the effects of chemotherapy. Nausea, loss of appetite and vomiting are all common side effects of chemotherapy and can be assisted by CBD treatment, according to the TGA.
Potential side-effects of CBD oil
CBD is reported to be non-habit-forming & generally well tolerated by patients based on a report released by the World Health Organisation.
This report along with numerous other studies lead the way for many countries to reconsider restrictions against medical cannabidiol products.
However, as with any form of prescription medicine, CBD derived products can cause some unwanted side effects.
Below is a list of some potential side effects of CBD oil:
Drowsiness / fatigue
Loss of appetite
Low blood pressure
Due to the possible side-effects of medicinal cannabis treatment, TGA recommends patients start with a low dose. Patients can then monitor for adverse effects and slowly increase dosage over time
Types of CBD products
CBD comes in many different shapes and forms, and methods of consumption. Smoking, vaporising, tinctures, topicals? These terms may all sound a little bit intimidating, but each option can suit users with specific requirements.
We will run through different types of CBD products below, so you can familiarise with the advantages and drawbacks of each option. Keeping in mind some of these products may not be widely available in Australia yet, even with a doctor’s prescription.
One of the most common forms of CBD oils are Tinctures, which come in small bottles with a liquid dropper. Tinctures are typically consumed by applying a few drops under the tongue (sublingually). The amount of time it takes for the CBD to take effect (also known as onset) is faster than edibles as it’s absorbed by the blood vessels in our mouth.
Accessible to most people - no extra equipment required, and discrete enough to use in public.
Takes roughly from 20 to 90 minutes for the CBD effects to start working (also known as onset).
CBD effect lasting 4 to 6 hours
Liquid droppers allow control and accuracy of dosage
Long shelf life
Capsules & edibles
CBD can also be presented in a capsule or edible form for ingestion purposes. CBD consumed this way is absorbed by our gastrointestinal system and passed through to the liver. Edible CBD can come in many forms such as gummies, lollies, butter, cooking oil and more.
The onset for edibles and capsules are the slowest of all but can be the longest lasting.
Capsules are pre-measured allowing ease of dosage
Edibles may be trickier to dose due to inconsistency of ingredients, and slow onset.
Can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 4 hours for effects to kick in.
Longest lasting effects out of all CBD product types, lasting 6-12 hours
Vape oils & Pens
Vaporising is the process where the CBD oil is heated and inhaled using a small instrument called a "vaporizer" or "vape pen". The oil is heated at a high temperature to create a vapour containing all the cannabinoids and terpenes, without inducing combustion. This means the heating method does not require fire or burning of the oil, thus creating a vapour as opposed to smoke. The vapour is then inhaled and absorbed through the lungs and into the bloodstream.
Fast relieve - can start to take effects within a few minutes
Effects can last a few hours
Easier to adjust the required amount of CBD as effects can be felt almost instantaneously.
Requires purchasing of equipment (e.g. vape pen)
More research is needed on long-term negative health effects
Topicals - lotions & ointments
Topical CBD products are applied directly onto the skin. They can come in various forms such as creams, gels, ointments, lotions, balms plus more. This method is typically used for conditions relating to skin, muscle or joints and allows for localised relief.
No extra equipment required
Mildest effects out of all CBD product types, suited for less severe conditions.
Non psychoactive, even with full-spectrum products.
Depending on the topical type (water / oil based), may start to take effect from 20 minutes up to more than an hour.
Is CBD oil legal in Australia?
Now that you know about the benefits of CBD oil, you might be wondering if CBD oil is legal in Australia. The short answer is yes, but only with a valid prescription.
In 2016, Australia passed the "Narcotic Drug Amendments Act". This meant the cultivation and use of medical cannabis are now legal Australia, but still closely regulated by the government.
There is another (legal) option for Australians wanting to get their hands on CBD products without going through a doctor. That's if you are lucky enough to reside in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
In September 2019, ACT became the first jurisdiction to legalise recreational use of cannabis. This allowed the cultivation and personal use of cannabis within private homes, effective Jan 2020. Residents can grow up to 4 plants per household and be in possession of no more than 50 grams of dried cannabis per person.
However, the commercial sale and production of cannabis products such as CBD oil are still prohibited in ACT without a permit. So for those interested in the benefits of CBD oil, they will need to resort to growing their own high CBD cannabis strains. But if smoking or vaping is out of the picture, creating CBD products from cannabis plants at home may be somewhat of a challenge.
Another thing to keep in mind is that many CBD products may contain THC as an active ingredient, which is illegal for you to have in your system whilst driving.
How to access CBD oil in Australia
If you aren't lucky enough to be living in a state which allows you to grow your own cannabis, unfortunately you will need to do it the old fashion way - through a medical practitioner.
Process for doctors
Patients wanting access to CBD oil will first need approval by the TGA. This usually involves a consultation with a doctor to assess your eligibility. Based on your medical history and condition, if deemed appropriate, the doctor will then apply for approval to the TGA on the patient's behalf.
"Patients wanting access to CBD oil will first need approval by the TGA"
The TGA currently offers two pathways for medical practitioners to prescribe cannabis products.
The first is the Special Access Scheme. Under this scheme, doctors need to assess patients on a case by case basis. If eligible, doctors will then apply for approval through the TGA along with the state and territory health department if required.
The second option is through the Authorised Prescriber Scheme. Medical practitioners may apply to become an "Authorised Prescriber" through the TGA. This allows them to prescribe cannabis products to a specified class of patients under their care without further approval from the TGA.
Process for patients
From the patient's point of view though, both TGA scheme options will be a similar process.
A list of conditions which have been by the TGA to date includes (but not limited to):
Nausea and Vomiting as a result of Chemotherapy
Cancer related pain
Spasticity from neurological conditions
Loss of appetite associated with chronic illness (such as cancer).
If you think CBD oil can benefit your health condition, you will have to go through your GP or a specialist clinic.
Once your doctor has assessed your medical history and consent medical cannabis to be suitable, they will apply for approval with the TGA on your behalf. According to the TGA, the approval time is usually under 5 working days, after all the necessary information has been provided.
Once approved, the doctor will provide you with a valid prescription and instructions on how to collect the medication. This is usually through a pharmacy as with any other medication, but it may vary from state to state.
Preparing for your consultation
The other hurdle for obtaining CBD oil in Australia is the lack of information for doctors. Many medical practitioners are still unsure about the medicinal benefits and the safe use of cannabis products.
It's worth doing some preparation before seeing your doctor so you can justify your need for CBD treatment.
Preparing for a consultation with a medical practitioner:
Make a list of your presenting symptoms and medical history
Outline the medications and treatment you've already tried, along with the outcomes and side effects
Present reasoning on why medicinal cannabis might be a good treatment option. Usually in the form of research or recommendations from other patients.
List the particular symptoms which you think may be supported by CBD oil.
If you are still unable to access medical cannabis after speaking with your doctor, there are specialist clinics that may provide more options or guidance.
Charlotte Figi. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved May 20, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_Figi
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