Outside of the plant-based medical field, when thinking about cannabis use, most people will get an image inspired by television or movies of a person smoking the plant to get “high”. Naturally, this is a turn-off for many patients because, firstly, these films instil negative associations regarding how these people are seen in society and secondly, smoking is bad for you.
Thankfully, no doctor specialising in treatment using medicinal cannabis will ever recommend it be smoked.
We have gathered some of the most frequently asked questions to help break some common myths and bring to light how medicinal cannabis is actually prescribed by doctors and used by patients. Below we endeavour to answer these questions in as much detail as possible so that you can feel comfortable and confident before seeking out this treatment.
How can you take medical cannabis?
As we touched on above, the smoking of medicinal cannabis is never advised by doctors. In fact, doctors find great pleasure in successfully converting patients from the use of smoking cannabis to vaping; it is referred to as ‘harm minimization’. Smoking, in any form, releases toxic compounds which can damage the lungs and cause uncomfortable side effects such as coughing, sputum and bronchitis.
Instead, there are a variety of alternative ways that medical cannabis can be used. The two primary methods are:
Most often, patients will receive a prescription for medicinal cannabis that can be taken orally. Oral solutions come in the form of capsules, oil drops and sprays.
Using a special device called a vaporiser, patients can inhale the vapour from the cannabis flower to get its effects. Unlike smoking, these devices heat the cannabis flower and release the cannabinoids into a vapour. Patients simply inhale. This vapour “smoke” is not the result of burning the flower. Thus, it does not release toxic compounds as smoking does.
Topical creams, patches or gels can also be prescribed. These are for direct application and can have some therapeutic benefits, but they are not so commonly used.
What’s the most common way doctors recommend taking medical cannabis?
Cannabis specialist doctors work closely with patients to understand their illness or ailments, as well as their medical history and current prescriptions. The means by which doctors recommend patients take medicinal cannabis will, depend on the clinical indication, as well as the preference of the patient.
Where possible, doctors want their patients to feel comfortable, both in the effects of the treatment as well as how it is taken. We mentioned above the two most common ways to use medicinal cannabis. Below we will look at how these two ways of taking medicinal cannabis work on the body to paint a picture of what scenarios may apply to which kind of treatment.
Oral treatments, any kind of medicinal cannabis solution which is taken orally and absorbed in the stomach, are slow-releasing treatments. After an oral treatment has been taken, it can take somewhere between 30 and 90 minutes for any effects to be felt and then it has long-lasting therapeutic effects. The peak of the effects can be felt around two to four hours after being taken, and the total length of time where patients can still feel the treatment is up to eight hours. For this reason, many patients commence on a regime of morning and night doses, so as to last throughout the day as well as while they sleep.
Vaporised medicinal cannabis is absorbed differently from oral treatments. Inhaling vapour bypasses the digestive process, and instead, it is absorbed in the lungs. Because it is not metabolised in the same way through the stomach, it is absorbed much faster in the body, and the effects are felt very soon after use. The effects of vaporisation will typically be felt within 90 seconds and reach the full peak of the effect in just 15 to 30 minutes. The total time effects are felt from vaporisation is between two to four hours. Just as the effects release quickly, they will also pass quickly – when compared to oral treatments.
How is medicinal cannabis different from marijuana?
On the surface, medicinal cannabis and marijuana are the same. But that does not mean that recreational (illegal) marijuana is a good alternative to medicinal cannabis. They may come from the same plant, but the means by which they are produced can make them very different by the time they reach the hands of the patient.
Both feature the same properties: cannabinoids. These naturally occurring chemicals are what have made cannabis/marijuana such an important plant in the sphere of plant-based medicine. The most common of these chemicals are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
Where medicinal cannabis and street marijuana begin to really differ is in how they are produced. The Therapeutic Goods Association regulates medicinal cannabis. They are responsible for overseeing strict guidelines that approved medicinal cannabis cultivators have to follow. These cultivators grow medicinal cannabis plants and produce all of the solutions, withdrawing specific compounds — be it THC or CBD — to provide regulation approved capsules, sprays, oils, vaporisable flowers and other solutions and doses.
Street marijuana, on the other hand, due to its illegal nature, is not grown under any regulations. This means that users rarely know how it is produced. There are many different kinds of plants, all producing different effects, and many growers of illegal cannabis will use certain chemicals or growing methods to increase the high effect from the THC. This is not a positive alteration, and these growers are not skilled to understand how this impacts users. Furthermore, illegal marijuana is most often sold to users in plant form, where it is expected it will be smoked. Which, as mentioned, can produce adverse reactions and side effects in the body.
Why smoking cannabis for medical purposes is not recommended
The harmful effects of cigarette smoking are well known in Australia, and as a result, cigarettes have been heavily taxed and regulated. Smoking, in any form, has these extremely harmful side effects. That too goes for cannabis.
Because of the many therapeutic benefits of cannabis, there is a tendency to forget that smoke in any form — including burning food in your kitchen — releases toxic compounds, irritants and carcinogens that can damage your lungs or worse. Cannabis has significant benefits, but smoking it remains harmful. Adding to the potential danger of smoking cannabis is how it is inhaled. Unlike when someone smokes a cigarette, cannabis is often inhaled deeper and held for longer. This increases the exposure to tar, toxic compounds, irritants and carcinogens.
The negative consequences of smoke inhalation mean that no medical doctor specialising in cannabis treatments would recommend it be used in this way.
How to access medicinal cannabis in Australia
Since 2016, medicinal cannabis has been regulated in Australia, with states all adopting their own controls on how patients can gain access. As of 2021, most states afford access to patients who have not found relief or results through other traditional, conventional lines of treatment.
Authorised organisations, such as Cannadoc, are then the means through which patients can obtain a legal medicinal cannabis prescription. In some cases, GPs may be able to source legal cannabis. This applies to those that have gone through the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s Special Access Scheme. However, most GPs will simply refer patients to medical professionals that specialise in cannabis treatments, such as Cannadoc.
Patients seeking to explore medicinal cannabis as a treatment option can do so via two potential paths:
- GP referral
Those who have a General Practitioner can simply request a referral to see a cannabis specialist. Patients can even supply our referral form to make the process easy for the GP to submit if they deem the patient to be eligible.
Those who do not have a regular GP, or do not feel supported by their GP for whatever reason, can complete an eligibility test to check they meet the criteria to be considered as a patient, which will then allow them to self-refer.
Who is eligible for medicinal cannabis in Australia
There is no black and white answer to this question, unfortunately. Medical cannabis is a treatment option for patients with which conventional medications have proven unsuccessful. In saying that, there are still criteria that need to be met in order to be deemed eligible.
Most commonly, medicinal cannabis is prescribed for those with:
- Neurodevelopmental Conditions – e.g. Autism
- Spasticity and pain in multiple sclerosis
- Chronic non-cancer pain:
- lower back pain
- neck pain
- other neuropathic pains.
- Cancer related pain
- Chemotherapy induced nausea & vomiting
Every case is carefully assessed, full medical histories are complete, and a comprehensive understanding of all existing treatments — medications, vitamins and everything else — is compiled before any recommendations are made. This level of critical assessment is essential to ensure that any treatments are safe and provide optimal results.
If you would like to understand more about medical cannabis and whether it could be a treatment option for you, please contact Cannadoc on 1300 944 033 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our team of medical doctors are here to offer you all the advice and support you need to get the relief you deserve.