Understanding Medicinal Cannabis: A Natural Approach to Healing
Medicinal cannabis, often referred to as medical marijuana, is a topic that has gained significant attention in recent years. It is the use of cannabis and its compounds to treat various medical conditions and improve overall well-being.
This article, provided by Haiku Health and medically reviewed by Dr Matthew Cullen, aims to shed light on what medicinal cannabis is, how it works, its potential benefits, and the legal status in Australia and various parts of the world.
What is Medicinal Cannabis?
Medicinal cannabis refers to the use of the Cannabis sativa plant, or its extracts, to alleviate symptoms and treat medical conditions. This plant contains over 100 different chemical compounds called cannabinoids, the most well-known being delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). These cannabinoids interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which plays a crucial role in maintaining balance and regulating various physiological functions.
How Does it Work?
The endocannabinoid system consists of receptors, endocannabinoids (naturally occurring compounds in the body), and enzymes. When medicinal cannabis is consumed, the cannabinoids in the plant interact with the endocannabinoid receptors, primarily CB1 and CB2, to produce various effects. THC primarily binds to CB1 receptors, leading to psychoactive effects, while CBD has a more complex interaction with both receptor types, often without the intoxicating side effects.
Minor Cannabinoids & Terpenes
Minor cannabinoids, like CBG, CBN, and THCV, play crucial roles in the therapeutic potential of medicinal cannabis. While THC and CBD often steal the limelight, minor cannabinoids exhibit unique properties and synergistic effects. CBG, for instance, shows promise in reducing intraocular pressure, aiding glaucoma patients. CBN, known for its sedative properties, may aid in sleep disorders and act as an appetite stimulant. THCV, on the other hand, may help regulate appetite and metabolism. Additionally, these minor cannabinoids can modulate the overall psychoactive effects of THC, enhancing the therapeutic benefits while minimizing adverse reactions.
Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in a variety of plants, including cannabis. They are responsible for the characteristic scents and flavours of different cannabis strains.
In cannabis, terpenes work alongside cannabinoids like THC and CBD to create a complex and unique chemical profile. These compounds are synthesized in the trichomes of the cannabis plant, which are the tiny, hair-like structures found on the leaves and buds.
Terpenes serve several purposes in the plant world, including repelling predators, attracting pollinators, and providing protection against environmental stressors. In cannabis, they play a role in the entourage effect, where the combination of cannabinoids and terpenes can have synergistic effects on the overall therapeutic and psychoactive properties of the plant.
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Potential Benefits of Medicinal Cannabis
Medicinal cannabis has been used to treat a wide range of conditions. In fact, the TGA has approved over 200 different conditions for medicinal cannabis treatments in Australia including:
Pain Management: One of the most well-documented applications of medicinal cannabis is its potential to relieve chronic pain, including neuropathic and inflammatory pain. CBD, in particular, has gained recognition for its analgesic properties without the “high” associated with THC.
Nausea and Vomiting: Medicinal cannabis has been used to alleviate chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, providing relief to cancer patients undergoing treatment.
Neurological Conditions: Some studies suggest that CBD may be beneficial in managing epilepsy, reducing the frequency and severity of seizures in certain forms of the condition.
Mental Health: While more research is needed, there is evidence to suggest that cannabinoids like CBD may help manage anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Inflammation: Medicinal cannabis has anti-inflammatory properties that make it a potential treatment option for conditions like Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Appetite Stimulation: For patients suffering from conditions like HIV/AIDS or undergoing cancer treatment, medicinal cannabis can stimulate appetite and help combat weight loss.
Sleep Disorders: Some individuals find relief from sleep disorders such as insomnia when using medicinal cannabis products with specific cannabinoid profiles.
Autism: CBD has been prescribed for autism, and there are a number of clinical trials underway investigating medicinal cannabis. One such trial active in Australia is investigating how CBD may benefit behavioural and neurodevelopmental challenges in 5-12 year old children.
ADHD: Medicinal cannabis shows potential in managing ADHD symptoms by improving focus, impulse control, and mood regulation, offering alternative treatment options.
Multiple Sclerosis: Medicinal cannabis may alleviate multiple sclerosis symptoms, reducing pain, muscle spasms, and improving mobility, enhancing the quality of life.
Legal Status Worldwide
The legal status of medicinal cannabis varies widely across countries and regions. In some places, it is fully legalised and regulated, allowing patients to access cannabis-based treatments with a doctor’s prescription. Other areas may permit only specific cannabis-derived medications, while some jurisdictions maintain strict prohibition.
In recent years, many countries have recognized the therapeutic potential of medicinal cannabis and have taken steps to legalize and regulate its use. This shift in attitudes is driven by increasing scientific research and anecdotal evidence supporting its efficacy in treating various medical conditions.
Is Cannabis Legal in Australia?
Yes, Medicinal cannabis is legal in Australia. In 2016, the Australian government passed legislation allowing for the cultivation, production, and use of medicinal cannabis products. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is the regulator, and eligible patients can access medicinal cannabis through a prescription from a registered medical practitioner.
Prescriptions for Medicinal Cannabis
To be prescribed medicinal cannabis as a treatment, you must first meet the eligibility standards set by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
You must be suffering from a chronic condition and have attempted previous treatment options. If your existing medication has failed to improve a chronic health condition or its side effects are having negative impacts, medicinal cannabis can be prescribed by any doctor via Special Access Schemes or by Authorised Prescribers of medicinal cannabis who are experienced in medicinal cannabis prescribing.
There are various types of medicinal cannabis products developed to offer treatment options to treat chronic healthcare conditions. These products include pharmaceutical grade oils and tinctures, capsules and softgels and dried cannabis flowers, which are all legally prescribed by registered Australian doctors.
Accessing Authorised Prescribers
Haiku Health is a leading Australian online medical practice offering accessible and efficient telehealth consultations for patients suffering from chronic medical conditions. Inspired by the poetry of wellness and the Japanese concept of Shinrin-yoku (the Japanese practice of bathing in nature) Haiku Health seeks to connect Australians with the therapeutic benefits that nature has to offer.
The prescription process looks like:
Haiku Health considers the unique nature of every patient, the guiding values stemming from a firm belief in exploring every available opportunity for improving quality of life.
Medicinal cannabis is currently not subsidised through the PBS and must be purchased privately. It’s worth checking with your health-care provider as many Australian Private Health funds now subsidise plant-based treatments, consultations and prescriptions.
What side effects of medicinal cannabis use should I be aware of?
As with all prescription medicines, medicinal cannabis products can have side effects. The extent of these effects can vary between individuals and depending on the type of medicinal cannabis product used and should be discussed with your doctor.
Potential side effects are minimised by Haiku Health’s individual treatment plan and doctors will thoroughly assesses a patient’s medical history and balance the potential side effects with potential therapeutic effects.
Although highly effective in treating many chronic health conditions, it is important to note that medicinal cannabis may or may not be appropriate to everyone’s condition and individual circumstances. Haiku Health’s registered doctors take into account medical & personal history, family health history and will consider a patient’s current medications.
Haiku Health offers alternative treatments for those patients whose existing treatment plans have failed to provide relief, or caused intolerable side effects. Under expert medical guidance, Haiku Health offers an assessment to see whether alternative plant-based medicines are right for you.
Medicinal cannabis offers promise as a natural and alternative approach to managing a range of medical conditions. Its potential benefits in pain management, nausea relief, neurological conditions, and mental health are becoming increasingly evident through research and patient experiences. However, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional before considering medicinal cannabis as a treatment option, as individual responses can vary significantly.
As research continues to expand our understanding of medicinal cannabis, its role in modern medicine may continue to evolve, providing new avenues for improving the well-being and quality of life for Australian patients.
‘Chemist2U and Haiku Health are not promoting the use of medicinal plant alternatives. Prescription of medicinal plant products is at the absolute discretion of prescribing doctors based on professional medical opinion. Plant-based medicine can affect each individual differently, based on how active ingredients may be metabolised. Plant-based medicine might not work for you, and like any medicine, you might experience side effects.’