What Is Medical Cannabis, and How Does It Work? - Cannadoc

Although cannabis has only just begun to receive mainstream recognition for its medicinal applications internationally and in Australia, it’s been around for all of recorded history. There are mentions of its therapeutic use in many corners of the world from as early as 2900 BC, and it’s been studied and recommended by modern science since the 1840s. 

While there were many years where government regulation had to catch up to scientific research, we are now in an age where those who can benefit from medicinal cannabis can access it through legal means. As this is quite a new turn of events, patients have a lot of questions, which we will endeavour to answer below. 

What is medical cannabis?

Medicinal cannabis, or medicinal marijuana, as it’s also commonly known, is a plant-based treatment that can be used for a variety of diseases or conditions. The properties making this plant so powerful for healing are the naturally occurring chemicals, known as cannabinoids, which have different effects on the body. Although cannabis has more than 100 different cannabinoids, it’s delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) that are predominantly used in medicinal treatments. 

THC is the chemical known to give the “high” feeling that is usually associated with cannabis use, and CBD is often considered the medicinal component. Both, however, have medicinal benefits, and both can be used for treatments tailored to individuals and their needs or particular preferences. Rest assured, patients who are prescribed THC treatment will not experience the psychoactive effects that recreational users often chase.

While medicinal cannabis comes from the same type of plants as the commonly known recreational cannabis, the primary difference is that medicinal cannabis is heavily regulated and comes exclusively from the Cannabis sativa plant. In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Association is responsible for overseeing how medicinal cannabis is accessed and ensures that strict guidelines are followed by approved cultivators, who have been producing medicinal cannabis in Australia since 2016. 

How does medical cannabis work?

The natural compounds mentioned above — cannabinoids — can help regulate the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). This connection between the plant and our own endocannabinoid system allows these natural chemicals to bind to the body’s endocannabinoid receptors and produce different effects. 

The ECS’s role in the body is to keep us in homeostasis – balance. Chronic pain, anxiety, disease and other ailments throw off this balance, and it’s the role of the ECS to bring it back.

Responsible for some of our key physiological functions, such as metabolism, immunity, mood, memory and energy, medicinal treatments that benefit the endocannabinoid system can have positive impacts on the aforementioned: metabolism, immunity, mood, memory and energy. 

Medicinal cannabis producers extract these beneficial compounds from the plant so that patients get dosages that deal directly with their particular ailment. The cannabinoids most beneficial for the endocannabinoid system are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), and CBD (cannabidiol).

What is medical cannabis used for?

In Australia, medical cannabis is considered a treatment option for those who have not found results through traditional solutions. It has garnered the most impressive results for the treatment of epilepsy and relieving nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy. In addition, it is widely prescribed for those suffering with: 

  • Chronic pain
  • Arthritis
  • Neuropathic pains
  • Spasticity and pain in multiple sclerosis
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Epilepsy in adults.

Patients with chronic pains make up the largest portion of medicinal cannabis users, followed by sufferers of anxiety. and then for treatment of epilepsy. 

How do you take medical cannabis?

Most patients are happy to learn that the smoking of medicinal cannabis is strongly discouraged. The majority of prescriptions will be an oral solution, but there are a number of other ways medicinal cannabis can be taken, which is best will and will depend on the clinical indication. The primary solutions include: 

Oral 

Oral prescriptions could take the form of sprays, oil drops or capsules. These are absorbed slowly in the body and take around 30 to 90 minutes before the effects are first felt, and can take between two to four hours before the effects reach their peak. Oral treatments can last around eight hours.

Vaporisation 

Vaporisation uses a special device that heats the cannabis flower, releasing the cannabinoids into a vapour form which is then inhaled by the patient. Vaporisation does not create the toxic compounds that smoking does, making it a safe alternative while offering the same rapid absorption into the body. The effects of inhaling the vapour will come within the first 90 seconds, with full effects able to be felt anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes later. Vaporisation lasts between two to four hours. 

Topical

For direct application onto the problem area, patches, gels, or creams may be recommended. 

Is medical cannabis legal in Australia?

Medicinal cannabis has been legal under the Australian Federal Government since 2016, and the means to supply medicinal cannabis has matured since then. Today, through the Therapeutic Good Administration, approved providers operate around the country to offer cannabis solutions that follow strict guidelines to ensure quality and safety. 

Legal medicinal cannabis is only accessible through a medical doctor in Australia. Patients are typically recommended to get a GP referral to visit a clinic, such as ours, to meet with medical doctors specialising in medicinal cannabis treatments. These protocols are important to ensure that patients are receiving holistic healthcare, as many patients who suffer from pain, anxiety, and other conditions may be receiving other traditional treatments. Most conventional medications are completely safe and complementary to use in conjunction with medicinal cannabis.

With a prescription from your doctor, an approved pharmacy will distribute the medicinal cannabis solution right to your door for both convenience and discretion. 

Are there any side effects with medical cannabis?

As with all medicinal treatments, there are certain side effects that patients may experience. In the case of medicinal cannabis, these side effects are most often from the THC component. THC is psychoactive, which may sound concerning, but psychoactive substances are very common in daily life. Alcohol, for example, is psychoactive, and so is caffeine. 

One interesting observation of medicinal cannabis is that users often develop a tolerance to its side effects quite quickly, while the therapeutic dose retains the same effects, which means that side effects, for some patients, will reduce in a short period, but the dose can remain stable and effective for years. 

Some of the common side effects of THC are:  

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Anxiety
  • Cognitive effects. 

Other side effects can occur when medicinal cannabis is combined with other medications that cause drowsiness. This is one more reason why it is so important to work with medical doctors for cannabis prescriptions. The team at Cannadoc work with your GP and you to get a full picture of your treatment and design a complementary solution with minimal side effects.  

When users smoke cannabis, which is the most common way to take illegally sourced cannabis, the most common side effects are coughing, sputum and bronchitis. Smoking medicinal cannabis is not advised. The damage from toxic compounds in smoke is counter to the benefits one would try to achieve through the use of medicinal cannabis. 

It’s important to remember that THC does impair cognitive functioning, which means it is dangerous to drive or work with heavy machinery. Driving while impaired by THC is illegal, regardless of your legal prescription and use. 

How do you get medical cannabis in Australia?

Medicinal cannabis can only be obtained through an Authorised Prescriber, such as Cannadoc. Some GPs may be able to source legal medicinal cannabis through the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s Special Access Scheme, but most will offer a referral to a provider like ours, who is able to consult with patients on the best treatment solution. 

At Cannadoc, we have two routes patients can take to find treatment through us:

  1. You can get a referral from your General Practitioner
  2. You can go through our self-referral pathway.

If you want to ask your GP for a referral, you can simply share our referral form and ask them to fill out your information if they deem you to be eligible. 

Should you seek to self-refer, you can go through our eligibility test to check first if you meet the eligibility criteria. 

No matter which path you take to the Cannadoc team, we complete a thorough evaluation to assess your medical history. We develop a comprehensive understanding of your situation and tailor treatment plans that meet your specific needs. This ensures that your prescription complements existing medications and other therapies to provide optimal results. 

Depending on your State, permits and applications may be necessary. Both of which we help you to navigate in order to get access to your medicinal cannabis. 

If you believe medicinal cannabis could be a helpful treatment plan for your illness or ailment, contact the team at Cannadoc, and we can guide you further with advice and support. Contact us on 1300 944 033 or email info@cannadoc.com.au to learn more.