The beginning of February finally saw some good news for cannabis – a new regulation meaning that low-dose CBD products would be available over the counter, without a prescription & the lengthy process that usually leads to that stage. But don’t hurry off to your local pharmacy to stock up just yet. There’s a bit of confusion out there about what this actually means for you as the consumer, so let’s take a look…
What Does the Recent Law Actually Mean?
Put simply, on February 1, 2021 a new law passed meaning that low-dose CBD products were down scheduled from a Schedule 4 (prescription only) to a Schedule 3 (pharmacist-only) drug. This means you'll be able to buy low-dose products with the maximum daily limit of 150mg over the counter at your pharmacy and without a script from your doctor. But not so fast! As this law was only just passed, manufacturers are only now able to start the process of product development and approval. All products must now go through a rigorous approval process from the TGA and inclusion on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) which could take up to 24 months in most cases!
The Waiting Game
Because these CBD products will now be treated as an ‘over the counter’ medicine, companies are facing a lengthy process of TGA approval, product research & discovery and even clinical trials specifically for the efficacy in treating nominated indications at the 150mg daily dose limit before they’ll be stocked in your local pharmacy. Most companies will need around 24 months to go through the process of getting their products ready to ‘fit the bill’ (quite literally) and an average of 330 days of those 24 months are the assessment time at TGA alone. So while the change is effective as of now, it won’t make a difference to you as a consumer until companies have time to get something on the shelves.
Why the heck should it take so long? You know what they say… Rome wasn’t built in a day, good things come to those who wait. Basically, we have to wait in the name of top quality and effective products. If you think back to the legalisation of alcohol, that too took a long time but now we definitely prefer our alcohol sold from a liquor store (not from a guy on the corner) and brewed or distilled locally because that way, we know what’s in it and what our national laws around things like ‘organic’ and ‘clean’ are when it comes to what goes into the product. The same goes for CBD products!
Think of it like this: The Government just pulled the trigger to start a marathon, but consumers are only allowed to stand at the finish line, so they won’t see the participants (the CBD products) until right at the end… and it’s a 2 year marathon, ouch! This is just a lovely little metaphor for ‘us cannabis businesses’ who are working our butts off already to bring you the best possible, LEGAL products available, but it takes longer than we’d like it to – hang in there!
So What Can I Expect and When Can I Expect It?
Given the 24 month length of this marathon, Feb 2023 is when you’ll start seeing an array of over the counter CBD products in your local pharmacies. These products will be approved for treating specific mild conditions – which is great! This means whether you’re looking for something to aid relaxation or mild pain relief, you’ll be able to find a different CBD product made for that purpose!
Bare in mind, these low dose CBD products are not designed to work like stronger medicinal cannabis. There will not be an over the counter product for Epilepsy or Chronic Pain or Depression, just like how over the counter painkillers are not the same as prescribed ones.
What’s the difference then? Most chronic & acute conditions are better treated with full spectrum medicinal cannabis that contains certain levels of THC (the part that gets you high) which is not included in this recent down-scheduling. What you’ll be able to buy in pharmacies, eventually, is CBD-only products containing no THC, ensuring you can still safely work and drive while using these products.
Still, this will be a big win for a large chunk of our population who will benefit from a daily dose of CBD as a health supplement, hopefully also cutting down the use of other commonly-used lower strength pharmaceuticals – a win for the power of plants!
What Can You Do in the Meantime?
If you’re currently getting cannabis products through the Special Access Scheme, don’t say goodbye too quickly! You’ll definitely still need to go through your GP and the SAS for at least the next 12-24 months. Remember the new law only covers low-dose products, so the stronger doses of CBD will remain available only by prescription through the SAS and will still be the best method of treatment. Best to find yourself a pro-cannabis doctor and see what they say.