Medical Cannabis is a collective term for the Cannabis Sativa plant and all its derivatives, which are used for therapeutic and medicinal purposes to treat or relieve a variety of serious and chronic conditions.
Cannabis Sativa contains over 400 chemical entities, of which more than 100 are cannabinoids and terpenes, which can have a pharmacological effect on the human body. Among all these active compounds, 2 of them are of particular interest as they are present in large quantities, and have been studied most extensively. These are THC and CBD. THC or Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol is the compound that is responsible for the “high” one gets when imbibing cannabis. FDA – Approved THC based medication has been used to treat Nausea in cancer patients receiving radiation treatments and in AIDS patients with wasting syndrome to stimulate their appetites.
CBD or cannabidiol, on the other hand, is the other most prevalent compound that can be found in medical cannabis. According to the WHO, CBD did not exhibit any indication that it has any abuse or dependency potential and that to date there is no evidence of public health related problems with the consumption of CBD. CBD based medication has been used to treat Dravet syndrome and Lennox-gastaut syndrome. These forms of childhood epilepsy are not responsive to normal anti-seizure medications. CBD, in a number of studies, was able to reduce the number of seizures in patients and in some cases it stopped their seizures. Aside from seizures, CBD has been used to treat anxiety, insomnia, various forms of chronic pain, inflammation due to arthritis, and some forms of inflammation and neuropathic pain, although it has not been licensed for these conditions in Australia.
Is It Legal in Australia?
Unlike other countries that have legalised the recreational use of medical Cannabis, in Australia you cannot get access to Cannabis and cannabis based medication without the approval of a medical practitioner. This is because, to all intents and purposes, Medical Cannabis is still an experimental medication and as such there are still some unknowns that are being researched, and with those unknowns comes potential risks.
Aside from ACT, possession and consumption in Australia is illegal but from the end of January 2020, Act has allowed adults to grow up to 2 plants per person and up to 4 in a household. According to commonwealth law, this is still illegal, though.
Consuming imported Cannabis or buying Cannabis from unknown sources to treat yourself is highly discouraged, since you have zero control on the dosage or if there are additional substances mixed in with the unregulated “street” product. Street cannabis can vary hugely in potency from one batch to the next, and can sometimes contain pesticides or metal contaminants, which may be harmful if combusted or heated in a vaporiser and inhaled.
What are some uses of Medical Cannabis.
The most common use for medical Cannabis is for pain control. Whilst medical Cannabis is rarely used for acute severe pain like bone fractures or post-surgery pain, medical Cannabis is thought to be effective for some forms of chronic pain, and is often prescribed for patients with degenerative arthritic pain, chronic back pains and fibromyalgia. The advantages of medical Cannabis over other painkillers like opiates is it is less likely to cause a harmful overdose, and medical Cannabis also appears to be significantly less addictive. Opiates have been shown to be ineffective at treating chronic pain. Cannabis can also take the place of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory drugs, NSAID’s, such as ibuprofen or Voltaren, for people who are suffering from kidney problems and can’t take those kinds of drugs.
Multiple Sclerosis and nerve pain are another two conditions that medical Cannabis appears to be generally effective in easing pain from. These kinds of conditions are a bit different to your normal chronic pain, since there are a few options to manage these conditions. Yes, there are like Gabapentin (brand name Neurontin) or Pregabalin (brand name Lyrica) and other opiates, but these medications have tare often quite sedating. Patients that use Cannabis claim that it allows them to normally resume their activities without feeling drowsy or disengaged.
Cannabis is also said to be a very effective muscle relaxant. According to sources, Medical Cannabis can lessen the amount of tremors Parkinson’s patients can experience. Aside from managing tremors from Parkinson’s, medical Cannabis has also been used to treat fibromyalgia, interstitial cystitis, and other conditions where the final common pathway is suffering from chronic pain.
Other conditions potentially amenable to medical cannabis therapy include Nausea, Glaucoma and Weight Loss. PTSD is another area of research wherein Medical Cannabis is being considered as a treatment, as military veterans and their therapists have seen very notable improvements.
For most of the conditions discussed above, the level of scientific evidence available remain limited, although new research studies are being published every week. Hence, medical cannabis needs to be treated as an experimental therapy. It’s important for anybody considering a trial of medicinal cannabis therapy that they consult with a doctor of experiences in this area, and that they are followed up closely during the period of their treatment.
As with any medication, medicinal cannabis does come with some side effects, which may include
- Elevated heart rates
- Decreased blood pressure
- Short term memory loss
- Decreased attention span
- Reduced problem-solving skills
- Decreased blood sugar levels
- Dry Eyes
An important note here is that a lot of this side effects are dose dependent and if you and your doctor manage doses correctly, and ensure the correct balance of CBD and THC, these side effects can usually be minimised.
Medical cannabis treatment is generally not appropriate for women who are pregnant or lactating (or planning a pregnancy soon), for patients with a recent heart attack or with an unstable heart condition, or for those with a background of psychotic mental health problems.
Curious? Talk to your doctor.
Potential Patients might find themselves wanting to learn more about medical Cannabis. Cannabis in itself is NOT a cure, it is used to relieve symptoms or help people with the side effects of other treatments. Talk to your healthcare provider or GP for more information. For some basic primer, you can check out our education and resource page. We can also suggest you get in touch with us if you need help finding some doctors or clinics that can shed some light about how Medical Cannabis can help you.