What’s the deal with getting and using CBD oil in Australia?
What you and your mates potentially know as CBD oil is actually cannabidiol, a compound found in cannabis/word you’ll probably have to try pronounce at least twice.
You’ve probably met its mate, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (aka THC aka the one that makes you wicked ≋h≋i≋g≋h≋) but CBD will not get you stoned. (Unless you’ve got it from somewhere slightly dodgy and you’re not 100% sure about the THC content).
So to be clear, CBD is used for medical reasons and NOT Reefer Madness. What kind of medical reasons? According to Dr Iain McGregor, Professor of Psychopharmacology, “It’s more a case of what it doesn’t do rather than what it does.”
What’s CBD good for?
It was first discovered in the 50s and 60s (in modern times) and was basically thought to be useless, says the Doc. That was, until the 70s, when we rediscovered its antiepileptic effects. But it really wasn’t until the past four or five years that there’s been a real increase in awareness and research.
“It’s become this almost universal panacea,” says Dr Iain. Depending on who you ask, CBD oil is good for what ails you, whether that be anxiety, anorexia, insomnia, PTSD, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, depression, migraines, or feeling chronically unchill.
Neuropharmacologist, University of Wollongong lecturer and Associate Investigator with ACRE, Dr Katrina Green, also notes that after 12,000 years of interaction between humans and cannabis, our understanding of this plant is still very much in its infancy.
“CBD is obviously pretty important. Its anti-inflammatory capacity and its ability to protect the brain is evident in almost every study that you pick up.”
She finds these anti-inflammatory effects, even in low doses of cannabidiol, especially exciting since inflammation kind of underlies everything. “Low levels of inflammation are involved in body weight gain, if you pull a muscle...there’s such wide ranging benefits to anti-inflammatories.”
“There’s evidence, particularly in illnesses of the brain, that it does work,” she says. So depression, anxiety, ADHD, tourettes, PTSD, different aspects of psychosis — for those type of things the evidence consistently shows that there’s benefits. CBD is not as great with pain, she says, because you kind of need THC to get any pain benefits.
But CBD research takes money, something which scientists are notoriously short on. And ideally they’d be able to grow their own products here to research but that would take less regulation, something which governments are notoriously fond of.
So, what’s legally available in Australia?
As of 2015 CBD oil is legal in Australia, as long as it contains at least 98% cannabidiol and 2% or less of other cannabinoids found in cannabis. When compared to a lot of other countries, like the US, Canada, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, UK, Netherlands, we’re quite behind.
“Surprisingly the government — particularly the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which regulates how drugs are marketed and available to consumers — seem to be listening,” says Dr Iain.
Earlier this year the Department of Health put in a proposal for CBD to change from Schedule 4 (prescription only) to Schedule 3, which would make it available over the counter at your local pharmacy. This could happen as early as February 2021.
How do you actually get CBD oil?
“CBD got caught up in the whole medical cannabis legalisation thing that happened from late 2016,” Dr Iain explains. As part of that, there was a “torturous process” set up for Australians to access CBD, whereby you have to go through a doctor, you need to hope said doctor is educated about CBD and is in favour of its use, then you need to persuade them that CBD is right for you, then they need to write a complicated application and send that off to Canberra to the TGA who would then decide either way.
Then, of course, if you do get approved there’s the issue of cost, which is prohibitive for a lot of people. Sitting at about $10-$15 a day, “you’d probably find it’s cheaper to grow your own (and a lot of people do).”
Out of the approvals issued in total in over three years, Dr Iain estimates that about 20,000 patients gained access legally (when you take into account the prescription renewals throughout that time). “And there’s probably 10 times more people — certainly from our surveys — that are accessing illicit cannabis and self-medicating.”
So yeah, the government and researchers are well aware that a lot of people in Australia are opting to bypass the current system and spend their money offshore, buying online from places like Canada and the US. But there are signs that prices will go down, since obviously there’s an increasingly competitive market for it.
Already there’s countless overseas companies taking an interest in selling to Aussies.
“They see it as perhaps the fastest growing market in the world, even though it’s a small population the numbers add up,” says Dr Iain.
“The main thing we need is a really vibrant domestic market. It grows particularly well in Australia — the stuff just jumps out of the ground!”
The good news in all of this, agree both experts, is that that strict regime tends to ensure high quality control of the product. “By being careful and quite well regulated the Australian scheme is probably going to give rise to very good products that will have a lot of export potential,” says Dr Iain. “The unfortunate thing is, Australian consumers are having to wait a very long time to get these products and at a reasonable price.”
On top of that, your average over the counter product that’ll be available here will have relatively low concentrations of CBD. So, if you’re getting an oil that has maybe 30 milligrams per mil, your average daily dose is probably less than 100 milligrams of CBD.
However, clinical trials and research suggest that effective doses for things like anxiety and psychosis tend to be a lot higher, they tend to be up around 500-1000 milligrams, which causes Dr Iain beg the question: “Even if we get the over the counter products available in Australia, will they actually be any good?”
Should you believe the hype?
Dr Iain says to “watch the hype.” He points to when cocaine was first invented, when they thought it would be a great cure for opium addiction and you could just chuck it in any old fizzy drink. “You always get this huge hype [around new drugs] and you do have to let research run its course. Big clinical trials take several years so complete; five years from now we’ll know a lot more about CBD and it’s potentials and limitations.”
There’s also the placebo effect to consider, so after weeks of use the shine may wear off and the expenditure may seem less worth it.
“The hype is almost certainly wrong. The idea that it’s just a placebo is almost certainly wrong, as well. So the truth is somewhere in between. What we have to do as scientists is work out what that truth actually is.”
As a neuroscientist, Dr Katrina is particularly interested in the developing brain and the short term and long term effects of cannabidiol use on it. “A lot of people say that CBD is non-psychoactive but psychoactive is defined as something that interacts with the brain and changes behaviour. Now that applies to THC, alcohol, heroin, whatever. CBD is absolutely psychoactive, it’s just psychoactive in a good way.”
“What is concerning...as CBD becomes more available companies will inevitably jump on board to try and make a dollar out of it. This is the hype that I’m concerned about,” she says.
Especially when it comes to younger brains and an increasingly casual use of cannabis products, Dr Katrina advises: “Just remember cannabidiol is a medicine."
"We’re saying that it’s beneficial for all of these illnesses, it’s not just a wellness substance like a vitamin C.” She recommends only taking it if you actually need to for genuine dysfunction or illness, not as a supplement, and to exercise “a little bit of caution when ordering things from overseas or using as a daily tonic”
Originally published here: https://www.abc.net.au/triplej/the-latest/getting-and-using-cbd-oil-in-australia/12437764