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Man fined $10,656 for alleged unlawful advertising of cannabidiol including COVID-19 claims

17 December 2020

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), part of the Department of Health, has issued four infringement notices totalling $10,656 to a West Australian man, for alleged unlawful advertising of cannabidiol (CBD) under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 (the Act).

The man allegedly advertised, on websites and a social media platform, various oils containing CBD that were prescription only medicines. The Act prohibits consumer advertising of substances included in Schedule 4 (prescription only medicine) or Schedule 8 (controlled drug) of the Poisons Standard.

The various oils containing CBD were not included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) at the time of advertising. The Act prohibits consumer advertising for therapeutic goods that are not entered in the ARTG, unless a specific exemption, approval or authority applies (which did not exist in this case).

The TGA alleges that the man referred to prohibited representations in promoting the CBD oils on a social media platform as a treatment for cancer and a cure for brain tumours.

The Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code specifies that representations relating to the treatment, cure, prevention or diagnosis (including screening) of neoplastic diseases, including all types of cancer, are prohibited representations.

The man allegedly also promoted the CBD oils on a social media platform using restricted representations by promoting them as a preventative for COVID-19, and as a treatment for Parkinson's disease and epilepsy. Any claims or references to treating a serious form of a disease, condition, ailment or defect are restricted representations.

Under the Act, the use of prohibited or restricted representations in ads for therapeutic goods is unlawful without prior approval from the TGA.

The TGA had not granted any relevant approvals in relation to this matter.

The TGA has informed the man that unlawful advertising on websites and social media must be removed immediately.

The TGA's highest priority is to protect the health and safety of the Australian public through the regulation of therapeutic goods.

Consumer information on accessing medicinal cannabis

Beware of buying medicines, including medicinal cannabis, online. It may seem like a simple, affordable option, but products bought over the internet may be a serious risk to your health and may not deliver the health outcomes they are promoted for.

The TGA has published information for consumers, including a printable infographic, about safe and legal access to medicinal cannabis products in appropriate circumstances.

If you have any other questions about medicinal cannabis products, please talk to your doctor.

The TGA takes action against breaches of the Act

The regulatory scheme is critical to the safety of Australian consumers and the TGA investigates suspected illegal activity in relation to therapeutic goods. A range of compliance and enforcement tools are available and may include criminal or civil court proceedings, which can result in substantial penalties, fines or imprisonment.

Any person, including businesses, advertising therapeutic goods to consumers must comply with the requirements for advertising. The TGA encourages people to report suspected non-compliant advertising via its advertising reporting form.

The TGA website includes tips for consumers about how to spot a dodgy health product ad.