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First Medical Cannabis Imports Arrive in Australia

Published on May 15, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Cargo Container Ship on The Bosphorus

Small bottles of Canadian cannabis oil were unloaded in Melbourne and Perth last week, part of an effort to speed Australian patient access to medicine.

The first-ever commercial shipments of cannabis to the country came from a pair of businesses that won government approval to import medical cannabis products: Canadian licensed producer Tilray and Australian wholesaler Health House International, which imports cannabis oil produced by Canadian company Cannimed.

The increased supply means patients will no longer rely on individual imports, instead accessing cannabis through pharmacies. That is, assuming patients can get a prescription; various hurdles at both the state and federal level can make for an onerous process. And though both Canadian companies also produce dried cannabis flower for local markets, Australian law currently limits patients to cannabis oils.

According to Health House, the cannabinoid oils use olive oil as a carrier agent because it is least likely to bring about sensitivities or allergies. The oils are produced using an involved pharmaceutical process:

“Food-grade alcohol is pumped through compressed cannabis flower material, extracting the THCA (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabiolic acid), CBDA (cannabidiolic acid) and other medicinal ingredients. The alcohol and excess water is then removed through evaporation, resulting in a pure cannabis resin. Olive oil is added at this stage. Once heated, the THCA and CBDA become THC and CBD through a heat-induced reaction called decarboxylation. This process is how the medicinal ingredients in the oils become active, meaning patients do not need to additionally heat the cannabis, like through a vaporizer when herbal cannabis is used. Additional olive oil is added prior to being bottled to ensure the correct concentrations of THC and CBD.”

Tilray, the exclusive supplier to the Victorian Government, currently provides CBD products to treat 29 children with epilepsy. The company also supplies a range of products to hospitals and pharmacies in all states of Australia. [Editor’s note: Tilray and Leafly are both owned by Privateer Holdings.]

Cannimed, for its part, has a long history with medicinal cannabis. Its parent company, Prairie Plant Systems, was the sole supplier of cannabis to Health Canada between 2003 and 2013. It offers three oils with varying THC-to-CBD ratios, from potent 18:0 to CBD-heavy 1:20.

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