Who Meets the Criteria for Plant-Based Therapies in Australia?

Astrid dispensary team standing in the Melbourne dispensary, a plant based therapies dispensary in Melbourne

Plant medicine has gained increasing attention in Australia since its legalisation for medical use in 2016 as a potential treatment option for a wide range of conditions. However it may not be suited to everyone.

In this blog we explore some of the frequently asked questions, such as:
– who is able to prescribe plant-medicine in Australia,
– what is the current legal framework,
– who may be suitable, and
– what are the steps involved in getting started on your plant-based journey.

Who can prescribe plant-based medicines in Australia?

In Australia, any medical doctor can prescribe plant-based medicines upon receiving approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and the respective Health Department of their State or Territory. 

It is important to note that the majority of plant-based medications fall into the category of “unapproved products” and are not listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG). That means, the information on the efficacy and safety of the products has not been assessed. As a result, obtaining these medications isn’t as straightforward as picking up a prescription from your doctor and having it filled at a pharmacy, as you would with conventional registered medicines. Instead, the TGA has established specific avenues for medical practitioners to access these treatments when they are deemed clinically suitable.

For Australian registered medical professionals looking to prescribe unapproved products for particular conditions, two primary routes are available: the Special Access Scheme (SAS) and the Authorised Prescriber Scheme

Alternatively, general practitioners (GPs) can opt to refer their patients to specialised clinicians with expertise in plant-based medications such as Astrid Clinic. This approach ensures that patients can receive the care and treatment that best suits their medical needs, even in cases where the medications are not officially listed on the  ARTG.

Who may be suitable for plant therapies in Australia?

Australians with various medical conditions can be prescribed medicinal cannabis by a medical doctor, if clinically appropriate. However, there are two main criteria that need to be met:

  1. A diagnosed chronic medical condition
    1. You need to have a diagnosed chronic medical condition, generally by a doctor (usually GP) that has been affecting you for longer than 3 months. 
  2. Trialled conventional therapies
    1. Plant-medicine is not a first line treatment in Australia, and conventional therapies must have been trialled prior to being eligible. Often it isn’t a question of having trialled just one treatment, but numerous treatments (usually a combination of pharmacological (medication) and nonpharmacological e.g. physiotherapy, chiropractor, psychologists/psychiatrists, acupuncture, yoga etc.). If after trialling these, you are still struggling to manage your chronic condition, you have been suffering from ill-effects from these treatments or they are poorly tolerated, plant-based medicine may then be appropriate to trial. 
    2. It also may be acceptable that after discussing the option of trialling a traditional pharmacological treatment with your GP, you may have genuine concerns of potential side effects from medications, and decline commencement for this reason.
Forest canopy representing plant based therapies
Plant-based therapies in Australia has been legal since 2016

Which medical conditions may be appropriate to be treated with plant-based therapies? 

Currently, there is no official list of conditions that the TGA has approved for the use of plant-therapies, however there are over 100 conditions to date that medical practitioners have applied for the use of plant-therapies, through the Special Access Scheme pathway

The TGA have stated that the following conditions have some evidence to show that plant-therapies may be effective:

According to the TGA, there is currently limited scientific evidence to support the use of plant-therapies in most conditions, and in many cases the evidence is for their use together with other medicines. Therefore, plant-based medicines should be considered only when approved treatments have been tried and have failed to manage conditions and symptoms. 

What are some of the steps involved in getting started with plant-based medicine? 

If you’re wondering whether plant-therapies might be right to help better manage your medical condition, the first step would be to have a conversation with your GP, or our team of clinicians at Astrid Clinic

Some patients may find this daunting at first but our team of friendly experts are here to support you each step in this journey.

When speaking with a doctor, we recommend the following steps: 

  1. Be honest and open about your interest in exploring this as an option, whether it being due to you having researched this, or having previous experience. Explain why you think it may be a suitable treatment for your condition(s) and be sure to mention any side effects you’ve experienced with previous treatments. 
  1. Ask questions! Prepare a list of questions to ask your doctor ahead of time. Some questions you might consider are:
  • What are the potential benefits or risks associated with plant-based medications?
  • Are there any specific plant-therapies you suggest for my condition?
  • How may it interact with my current treatments or medications?
  • What are some potential side effects or contraindications?
  • How is this going to affect driving or what are the workplace regulations?
  1. Discuss your expectations for the treatment, whether it be improved quality of life, symptom relief, or a reduction in side effects from medications.

Always remember that GPs are healthcare professionals who have your best interests in mind. However, sometimes traditional medical doctors may not have much experience or knowledge in plant-therapies as there still is a lack of education in the conventional medical curriculum. 
If your GP is not able to assist you, there are clinics which specialise in plant-based medicine. The team at Astrid Clinic are committed to ensuring a seamless patient experience, and are proud to provide a comprehensive approach to accessing plant-based medicines. 

At Astrid, we understand the process may seem overwhelming, but plant-based therapies are legal and hold many benefits for some patients throughout Australia. 

The first step is to discuss plant-based therapies further with your GP or book in for a free screening consultation with one of our friendly Astrid Clinic nurses here: https://astrid.health/screening-consultation