What Is Medicinal Cannabis?

Medicinal cannabis is a range of medicinal products derived from the cannabis plant, otherwise known as hemp, or marijuana.

Originating in central Asia, the flowering herb contains more than 500 compounds including the plant’s psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as well as many non-psychoactive compounds including cannabidiol (CBD) which has been shown to have anxiolytic (anxiety relieving), anti-inflammatory and anti-epileptic benefits.  

Unlike the recreational drug marijuana, which is usually smoked or sometimes eaten, and varies widely in regards to the amount of active ingredients, medicinal cannabis is a prescription medicine that contains standardised amounts of the active ingredients THC and CBD.

Medicinal cannabis comes in a variety of forms including capsules, tablets, oils, sprays, ointments and patches.  

How does medicinal cannabis work?

The active ingredients in medicinal cannabis – THC and CBD – work on the body’s cannabinoid receptors which are found throughout the body including the brain, lung, muscles and digestive tract. These receptors form part of the endocannabinoid system which helps to regulate many functions such as mood, memory, stress response, immunity, pain, appetite and digestion.

What conditions can medicinal cannabis be used for?

According to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, medicinal cannabis has been shown to have therapeutic benefit for at least five clinical conditions – multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, nausea and vomiting, palliative care and chronic non-cancer pain.  

Surfers Health Practice Principal Dr Mark Jeffery says that medicinal cannabis may be useful as an adjunct in treating chronic pain conditions such as degenerative arthritis, the neuropathic pain associated with degenerative spinal conditions and diabetes, and Crohn’s disease. Other conditions medicinal cannabis has shown promise for include post-traumatic stress disorders, anxiety, and chronic pain from endometriosis.

“It’s important that we have an open mind,” Dr Jeffery says. “We need to remember that medicinal cannabis is a healing herb that has been around for centuries. Particularly for cancer patients, medicinal cannabis can give people an element of control over treating their physical pain without the side-effects associated with opiates. When you consider that it is almost impossible for patients to overdose on cannabinoids, and yet over a thousand Australians die each year from opioid overdose, then I definitely see a benefit in medicinal cannabis.”

Medicinal cannabis has been shown to be a safe and well-tolerated drug; however, it still carries the risk of potential side-effects. These include fatigue, dizziness, increased appetite, diarrhoea and vomiting. These generally are not seen due to lower therapeutic doses with positive effect.     

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has put together guidance documents for medicinal cannabis to improve knowledge, highlight current research and provide patient information:

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Suvi Mahonen is a Surfers Paradise-based journalist. Follow her on Facebook and online art-selling platform Redbubble

Photo credit: Davide Ragusa

6 Replies to “What Is Medicinal Cannabis?”

  1. Hey there!
    I am a international student living on the country for 2 years and I have been very anxious this last few weeks during to this tough times we all being trough. I have had some panic attack due my anxiety diagnosed by my therapist back in Brazil. I haven’t had any crises here yet but I just feel the cannabis could help me feel better as I have tried back to Brazil and the effect was just exceptional.
    I wonder if I could discuss about that with the doctor or anyone that could clarify my mind regarding to the process to have the access to the medication.
    Thank you so much,

    Kind regards

    1. Hi Matheus,
      Thank you for your enquiry 🙂
      You can contact Surfers Health Medical Centre on (07) 5592 5999 and make an appointment to see one of the doctors. They are all authorised to prescribe medicinal cannabis and will be able to advise you of the best treatments for your condition.

  2. I’ve been on quite alot of opiates (ms contin 100, ms contin 60, several 20) for chronic pain also benzos (avitan, Alprazolam, diazopam) and was wondering if I could lower my doses with the help of medical marijuana?
    I’ve got chronic osteoporosis, chronic pain from crushing my T5 and T6 vertibreas also S1 and S2 and other small fractures for over 10 years now,
    I also have sezures often if not when I don’t take some form (Alprazolam works best) of benzodiazopam mostly when I try to sleep.
    I’ve heard mostly positive responses from reading reviews, word of mouth, research, and medical professionals.
    I like the idea of a natural solution over chemical and also the medication I’m on is starting to get a bad name concerning me about side affects, addiction, withdrawals,
    Even though they leave me with a controlled level of pain.
    I would like to know if medical marijuana would be a good option for me to try reduce those other medications?

    1. Hi Nathan,
      Thank you so much for your comment.
      Medical marijuana has been shown to be useful for many medical conditions and my best advice would be for you to make an appointment to see one of our doctors at Surfers Health Medical Centre. They will be able to assess whether medical marijuana could potentially help you.
      Thank you again for taking the time to comment.
      All the best, Suvi 🙂

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