The Landscape of Medicinal Cannabis in Australia with Thomas Brown of honahlee

Hello! How are you doing? 

Good thanks – you? This is such an interesting way of doing an interview 🙂

I’m good, thank you. Yes, Fariha and I are all about comfort and being as casual as possible.. Plus, I love going back to old school back and forth typing like this.

If you could describe your energy today using 3 words, what would they be?

Motivated, happy and excited.

Motivated because we have some really exciting features we’re going to be launching on the honahlee site in the next couple of days that will really help people with accessing cannabis medicine.

Happy because I had some really good sleep and just feel like today started off well and is going to continue that way. And, excited because this is a really nice change of pace – doing an interview in this way, and I’m going to be chatting with a lot of new people and planning some very fun things for work and personal reasons today.

Thank you for sharing and bringing some of that joy that you’re experiencing into this space this morning. I’m so excited to learn more about these new features. Hearing about an opening of access to cannabis in Australia actually makes my heart race – it’s soooo needed and I would love to know, how did you arrive at honahlee? What were the seeds that were planted that brought you to this healing platform?

I’d say that everything started when I was younger. It really all began with recreational use of cannabis back in the USA. I first used cannabis with my best friend and we thought it was something really fun and exciting. However, shortly after smoking cannabis for the first time, I realised that there were many other ways that people were consuming cannabis around me. One of my closest friend’s dad used cannabis as a medicine. He had various health issues and smoked a few times a day to manage the symptoms of this condition. As I grew older, cannabis changed for me. It was still something I used ‘recreationally’ but it was more for relaxation and to unwind. When I moved to Australia in 2011, I asked friends about cannabis and they said that it wasn’t that popular here, so for a few years I didn’t really think much about it. I finally found it again and so it became part of my relaxation routine but I realised it was also really helping with my back pain (I have disc issues with my back). Then I met my wife who has Fibromyalgia and a few other medical conditions. I introduced her to cannabis. It was one of the only things that helped her and so it became more of a medicine. Fast forward to 2018ish and I’d been thinking about starting my own business for ages. I saw a few articles about now being the time to get into the cannabis space in Australia if you wanted to get in on the ground floor. My business partner and close friend was also using cannabis for endometriosis. We decided that, because we’re both marketers, we should do something digital with cannabis. We put out a survey to about 200 people and found that most Australians didn’t know much about cannabis – eevenn the basics. What is CBD vs THC etc… they didn’t know much and took all their info from the US. So we decided on cannabis education. We put up a website with a guide to accessing medical cannabis and gained some traction so we decided to go all in. About 1.5 years later, here we are. Between then and now cannabis has helped people in my family and we’ve been able to help what I would estimate to be thousands, maybe tens of thousands of australians access medical cannabis and learn more about the plant in general!

Wow – what a journey. That education is so crucial for so many reasons, but what immediately strikes me is how through cannabis education, Australians can overcome a lot of stigma and a lot of shame around plant medicine. I live with PTSD and there are some days where I feel like such a felon lol because of how I medicate with cannabis. Can you speak a little more to what cannabis access in Australia actually looks like – in terms of who has access? Do you see a shift happening with a destigmatisation of the plant through your work?

Sure…so, any GP or specialist in Australia CAN prescribe cannabis – it’s just down to whether they want to. The only exception to that statement is in Tasmania, where currently the government is making it very hard for patients to access. However, as of 1 July 2021, all GPs and specialists in Tasmania will be able to prescribe also. I should also mention that medical cannabis has been legal in Australia since 2016.

We always recommend that patients go to their GP first – before going to a clinic or some cannabis specialist for a few reasons. Firstly, your GP really knows your health the best (if you’ve been seeing the same GP for a long time). Honestly it’s probably best to say to go to your primary care doctor over your GP because that’s who you really want managing most of your treatments. If your GP doesn’t want to help then you can always go to a cannabis clinic. Clinics have been set up to help patients access cannabis. They’re great if you want to get cannabis, however, all they do is prescribe. They don’t really manage your overall health and well-being like your primary care doctor does. That’s why we want to try to move people away from clinics to their GP. Well, that’s one of the reasons. The other is that the clinics are often very expensive and charge a lot of money for a 15min consultation. This is one of the reasons people think that accessing cannabis is so unachievable from a price perspective. 

But, if you go to a GP and get bulk billed or get a medicare rebate then the cost of access doesn’t actually have to be that much.

Then you need to understand eligibility. There are two ‘types’ of cannabis that are currently legal:

  1. Prescribed medical cannabis
  2. Low dose CBD products which are over the counter

For prescribed products you need to have to meet a criteria:

  1. Have a chronic condition
  2. Have tried other treatments and the treatments have failed or given you unbearable side effects

If you meet that criteria then a doctor can apply to prescribe you cannabis. There’s no list of conditions for which a doctor can prescribe so, technically, a doctor can apply to prescribe cannabis for any condition as long as they can make a case based on some clinical evidence.

If approved then the doctor can write you a script and off you go to a pharmacy. There are a few other intricacies to this process but they’re really not worth mentioning as this is the most used pathway. Low dose CBD products became legal over the counter Australia wide as of 1 Feb 2021, however, we won’t see any of these products in chemists for at least another 18 months because they’ll need to go through clinical trials and meet a whole bunch of special criteria. But, when they are available you’ll be able to get CBD products that contain mostly CBD and 1% or less THC for specific ‘minor’ conditions – just not chronic conditions.

Regarding the perception changing – yes, I think the perception of cannabis is slowly shifting. We currently have about 65,000 active medical cannabis patients in Australia. But that number is probably a bit low as the Therapeutic Goods Administration isn’t doing a great job of tracking all the pathways of access. 

We’re seeing cannabis medicine on the news more, we’re seeing more political parties focused on legalisation of cannabis popping up – two members of the Legalise Cannabis WA party just won seats in WA parliament recently, and we’re seeing more politicians start to talk about legalisation. The only problem that I see with the way cannabis is becoming more ‘normalised’ is that we’ve gone from one end of the spectrum to the other. 

Cannabis has been this plant that’s been villianised for so long – it was only for ‘stoners’ and ‘potheads’ etc. Now we’re seeing it as a medicine but only for those who are chronically ill or on their deathbeds. The reality is that cannabis is an aid for health and wellness. It can be a medicine to some, a tool to relax for others, maybe it enhances experiences for others. We can’t box it into one space. As a community we need to see cannabis for what it is. It’s a plant that is relatively harmless. Yes, it does have negative side effects and can harm if used too much or incorrectly but it’s very harmless when compared to other drugs that are accepted like alcohol and tobacco and even opioids. We need to see cannabis as something that can be used safely and that people should be able to choose to use for whatever purpose they want as long as they aren’t harming others, or themselves.

Phewww!!! I’ve just learnt so much, thank you for sharing such valuable information. I think, even learning that medical cannabis has been legal since 2016 in Australia has alleviated some of my shame. And I totally agree that there needs to be a more nuanced approach to how we view the plant medicine. With all medicine, we need to be able to understand what it treats and how we can use it as a treatment. Platforms like honahlee make me hopeful that as a community we can come to that understanding in the near future.

I know honahlee did some work around world Autism day, which was last week. I have a nephew who was recently diagnosed and while I still haven’t suggested medical cannabis to his parents, it’s something that I’m thinking about as I’ve lived with the therapeutic effects for the past 6 – 7 years. What were some key things you learned while digging into medical cannabis as a therapy for people living with Autism?

I have to start by saying that I’m not a doctor so nothing I say here is medical advice. That’s one of the reasons we work with experts – because they have the experience. I think there are a few important things that people should know when looking at cannabis to help treat Autism.

  1. It’s not a magic cure. Cannabis doesn’t work for everyone so it’s important that people (and parents) don’t go into a situation thinking that cannabis will cure their child or someone you love.
  2. That said, cannabis may help. There is a lot of real world evidence that cannabis can help with symptoms of Autism. Cannabis may help with aggression, agitation, and sleep. It’s different for every individual so you won’t really know until you’ve tested it.
  3. Cannabis doesn’t mean ‘high’. And, when treating Autism, specifically in children, the psychoactive component of cannabis, THC, is often used at extremely low levels. I won’t go into the details of CBD and THC but when treating Autism, again, specifically in children, the solution is often mainly CBD which is non-psychotropic. 
  4. There is actually research that looks at CBD and treatment of Autism symptoms and it’s not perfect but it’s solid. A lot of doctors will say that there’s not enough research and it doesn’t work but we’re getting there. In this case, there is some solid research and some of it is coming from Australia.
  5. Finally, cannabis can have side effects and downsides. We often hear that cannabis is bad for children due to the developing brain. The research we have on cannabis and children/kids is mainly recreational and mainly high THC, not CBD. So while people often think that cannabis will hurt children, that’s only one part of cannabis. Now, that said, we don’t have too much data on long term CBD use, however, what evidence we do have shows that there isn’t much to worry about.

I think the takeaway here is that cannabis may be able to help individuals, adults or children, on the spectrum and if it’s something you want to test you shouldn’t be scared because of the stigma. The drugs that are normally used to help treat symptoms of Autism have a huge number of side effects and some far more dangerous than cannabis. Just know that you need to do your research and find a practitioner that you’re comfortable with. There are some really great doctors in Australia who have lots of experience treating kids and individuals with Autism.

I wonder if cannabis treatment for autism is similar to treatment for folks who live with PTSD? It’s so interesting to me that my therapists will suggest really hardcore anti depressants that make me feel terrible, and encourage me to stay away from medical marijuana. Is that something that comes up for you at honahlee?

I’ll answer the treatment question first – noting again that this isn’t medical advice. Cannabis is really interesting in the fact that cannabinoid treatment is really the same for everything. The only major difference at this stage is the dose. We’re still in the early phases of learning about the different cannabinoids – CBD, THC, CBC, CBG and so on. Scientists haven’t figured it all out yet so the two major components of our medication are CBD and THC. Regardless of your condition, you’ll start with a very low dose and titrate up slowly to avoid side effects. Some doctors understand other parts of the plant more, like terpenes for example, and may suggest certain products with more sedative properties etc, but that’s not happening often in Australia as we’re still a bit behind. So to recap that – yes treatment is pretty similar for all conditions.

Re a doctor saying to stay away from cannabis – yes that happens all the time. Most doctors in Australia are still anti-cannabis. When you put it in the context of how you feel from the medications a doctor prescribes and then look at some of the side effects of those drugs vs how you feel and the side effects from cannabis, it’s actually pretty crazy that more doctors don’t at least give cannabis a go with their patients.

This is all about the stigma of the plant – many doctors either still believe the lies that were told when cannabis started to be portrayed as this thing that made people mad. Others just don’t feel that the research is there yet, which is kind of true. We don’t have a lot of double blind placebo controlled trials – but when you look at the real world evidence – your story, mind and the hundreds of thousands and millions of people world wide. The ‘evidence’ that it works for some people is there.

It’s important that doctors see cannabis as a tool in their tool kit. Not the go to thing that they should give everyone. That’s all we really need. Doctors need to accept that it can help. Done 🙂

Amazing. Yes, just being open to the possibilities of healing that come with honouring such a sacred plant is so crucial. I guess we are still waiting for western medicine to catch up in that realm, but again, knowing that platforms such as honahlee exist makes me feel so assured.

As we come to a close, can you share a few grounding practices that you have come back to over the past year? 

For me it’s been yoga. I started to practice about two years ago and it’s really changed my life. As mentioned I have a back problem. Not only did yoga help with my back but because of the knock on effect that nerve pain can have on your overall health, yoga has helped me find a place of less pain and more calmness and open mindedness. I aim to practice 5 days a week and alternate that with swimming which I also find extremely calming and peaceful.

In terms of cooking, during covid I started to make pizza from scratch. This may sound silly but I really enjoy the process, particularly the kneading of the dough. People often think that pizza can be made without kneading, and it can, but the best pizza I’ve made has come with consistent kneading and a lot of precision. I find that the whole process focuses me and then the outcome… it’s delicious!

Tom Brown is a co-founder of, a startup junkie, a cannabis enthusiast and a digital marketer. Tom loves to trawl through cannabis research, documenting cannabis truths and myths. His interest in cannabis began as a teenager growing up in New York. 

Tom started consuming cannabis at an early age for recreational purposes. However, he quickly realised that people were using cannabis for various purposes, including health, wellness and medicine. Like many cannabis consumers, Tom’s cannabis consumption changed as he matured. 

You can connect with Tom on Linkedin or Twitter.