For many, the concept of cannabis dispensaries conjures up images of shiny display cabinets full of numerous varieties of cannabis flowers, extracts and well versed “bud-tenders”. You may find this reality in international shop fronts, however, if you walk into Australia’s new dispensary, don’t expect to be greeted by an array of fragrant flowers.
A new clinic opened last week in Melbourne and is labelling itself as Australia’s first cannabinoid dispensary. The founder himself admits this label may be confusing for some, so let’s clarify.
Despite Canberra’s recent change in cannabis laws, at a federal level recreational cannabis is still illegal. Any storefront claiming itself as a dispensary should not be confused with the models of cannabis dispensaries seen in the USA and elsewhere.
The only cannabis products available in the shop will be those derived from non-psychoactive hemp seeds. Medical cannabis is not available over-the-counter in such establishments, with patients still having to go through authorised pathways to access cannabis treatments. Although, FreshLeaf Analytics has flagged that the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is currently undertaking a safety review of CBD at lower doses, which could possibly result in the relaxation of the scheduling status of low-dose CBD later this year to over-the-counter, which would constitute a watershed move for the medicinal cannabis industry.
The new dispensary in Melbourne intends to have a team of prescribing doctors in its future. With the idea patients could visit its location for anything from a GP visit for the common cold, a medical cannabis consultation with a trained doctor or, at the wellness end of the spectrum, to purchase hemp-infused honey or skincare.
With such a wide range of options available under the banner of cannabinoid dispensaries, some industry experts have reservations. Some have even named the advent of Australian dispensaries as “potentially unethical”.
By integrating medical cannabis with wellness products, conventional and complementary medicine practices – concerns are resonating through all the aforementioned industries.
Medical cannabis and other complementary botanical formulations stand together in a limbo of potential therapeutic medicines, with very few products having TGA approval. In both cases, there are historical uses of these plants as medicines, as well as modern scientific research purporting their benefits.
Yet neither has been fully accepted by conventional modern medicine. Whether you search for medical cannabis or any vast number of botanical therapeutics you will find thousands of human trials and clinical research dedicated to understanding their uses and how these plants interact with human physiology.
For a variety of reasons, largely the unpredictable nature of plant-based medicines especially within the context of scientific research, conclusions on the efficacy of such treatments are often inconclusive or varied enough to be dismissed by the medical fraternity.
Thus concerns are being raised that in opening so-called dispensaries, selling wellness products alongside complementary therapies and a prescribing medical cannabis clinic, the integrity of both cannabis and complementary medicines may be diluted. For two emergent industries, struggling to gain social and scientific respect, this could pose as another hurdle on their path to integration into modern medical practices.
Ease of access has been one of the main issues for Australian patients. Whilst the application approval process has been streamlined since initial federal approval in 2016, the average GP is still largely unfamiliar with the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis, let alone the regulatory and prescribing procedures.
Dedicated clinics such as CA Clinics therefore offer GPs and specialists that are trained and experienced in assisting patients with chronic conditions that may benefit from medical cannabis, without adulterating important information with retail products or advertising associated with dispensary models. GPs unfamiliar with medicinal cannabis can then refer their patients to these clinics to assess the option of medicinal cannabis as part of their patient’s ongoing treatment plan.
This isn’t to say dispensaries won’t be a part of the cannabis industry in the future. However, by mixing the concept of patient access clinics under the umbrella of “dispensary” so early in the Australian cannabis landscape, a sense of recreational use may be entwined with the prescribing of legitimate medical cannabinoid treatments.
So, is the dawn of cannabis dispensaries a dilution of Australia’s current medical cannabis industry? Or is labelling such storefronts with the title of “dispensary”, a step in laying foundations for the evolution and maturity of the cannabis industry in Australia?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.