Everything You Need To Know About Medical Cannabis

The number of people using medical cannabis is on the rise, with more than 6,000 patients approved for treatment under the Special Access Scheme (SAS) in September 2020 alone. As medical cannabis becomes more mainstream in medicine across Australia, many find themselves questioning ‘is it legal?’ and ‘what is it used for?’.

In this article, we’re going to explore everything you need to know about medical cannabis, and how you can access it if required.

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What is medical cannabis?

Medical cannabis refers to the use of the plant Cannabis Sativa for medicinal purposes. The treatment typically comes in a pill, nasal spray, or oil form, but there are other variations of the plant extract available. Also known as medical marijuana or medicinal cannabis, it differs from the drug marijuana used for recreational purposes.

The cannabis plant contains different cannabinoids, ranging from 80 to 100 of them. THC or tetrahydrocannabinol is the one people use to get high, but there are a whole host of other cannabinoids with different purposes. For example, some people use it to reduce vomiting, as pain relief, or as an anti-inflammatory.

Medical cannabis has controlled amounts of THC and CBD (cannabidiol), and researchers are continuing to discover their effects. The cannabinoids work by influencing the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a biological system which uses the nervous system to control our mood, sleep, memory, and even our appetite.

What is medical cannabis used for?

Depending on which studies you read, medical cannabis can help in a wide variety of conditions, such as epilepsy, cancer, and multiple sclerosis. A recent survey by the Harm Reduction Journal found that the most common uses for medical cannabis were:

  • 57% for chronic pain
  • 56% for depression
  • 53% for arthritis
  • 27% for persistent nausea
  • 26% for weight loss

Are there any side effects?

Patients have reported side effects such as:

  • Feeling dizzy or drowsy
  • Problems with balance and coordination
  • Finding difficulty concentrating, thinking, or remembering

For more side effects although they are rare, please refer to the TGA public document under the following link: https://www.tga.gov.au/publication/guidance-use-medicinal-cannabis-australia-patient-information

The side effects may vary depending on your treatment, dosage, and individual reaction to the drug. Like all medicines, some side effects are more common than others, and if you have any concerns, you should talk to your doctor. Medicinal cannabis may work for many patients but some may not have enough therapeutic effects and others may develop some amount of allergy which may be the case  of any medication.

Is medical cannabis legal in Australia?

The short answer is yes, but there are tight regulations in Australia to control its usage. Nabiximols (Sativex) is the only legally approved product in Australia for people with MS. However, there are other approved products by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia, as they regulate the quality standard measures under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989.
 
Every state has slightly different regulations on medical cannabis, so check your local governance on the products you can access.

How can I access medical cannabis?

Speak to a doctor who is experienced in prescribing  medical cannabis if you think you would benefit from it. The doctor will screen you for eligibility. According to TGA guidelines, an eligible patient should suffer from a relevant medical condition for more than three months and the first line of treatments should have failed or not given adequate therapeutic effects. They can offer advice on the best route forward and discuss potential treatment options with you.

At Wandal Medical Centre Rockhampton, we treat all ages for a range of conditions and bring over 40 years of experience to our patients.

Author

Dr. Priyanta Thotagamuwa (MBBS, FRACGP)

Dr. Priyanta Thotagamuwa (MBBS, FRACGP)

Dr. Priyanta Thotagamuwa (MBBS, FRACGP) is operating Wandal Medical Centre in Rockhampton with the aim and interest of treating patients in a holistic manner. As a GP he offers medical assistance to patients of all ages, seeking advice, treatment or minor procedures.