Medicinal cannabis (medical marijuana) is cannabis that has been prescribed by a doctor to relieve symptoms or to treat a medical condition. There are several types of medicinal cannabis (both natural and man-made) that can be accessed in Australia, but access is tightly regulated. Research into the effectiveness and safety of medicinal cannabis for treating various conditions is ongoing.
Cannabis is probably most well known as a recreational drug. Also called marijuana, hash, pot, grass or weed, various parts of the Cannabis sativa plant can be used and taken in different forms. For example, marijuana (the dried leaves and buds of the plant) can be smoked and hashish (the dried plant resin) can be baked into foods (such as cookies) and eaten.
What are the effects of cannabis on the body?
In addition to its mind-altering effects, cannabis has medicinal effects such as pain-relieving, anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory properties. What’s more, when cannabis or cannabis products are used in a controlled way, these medicinal effects can be achieved without the feeling of getting ‘high’ or ‘stoned’.
The Cannabis sativa plant contains up to about 100 different substances called cannabinoids that are involved in the workings of the endocannabinoid system – a communications system in the brain and body. By acting on specific receptors in this system, cannabinoids can influence your immune system, mood, memory, learning, sleep and appetite.
The 2 main types of cannabinoids that have been studied for medicinal use are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the type that can make you feel ‘high’. THC can also relieve pain, reduce muscle spasms and prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and can help stimulate appetite and improve sleep.
Cannabidiol (CBD) doesn’t have mind-altering properties, so doesn’t cause you to get high. It reduces the psychoactive effects of THC, and may reduce side effects of THC, such as anxiety. CBD may be helpful in controlling seizures and pain. It is also being investigated for the treatment of several other conditions.
Research into several of the other cannabinoids and their possible uses as medicines is ongoing.
What can medicinal cannabis be used for?
Medicinal cannabis (medical marijuana) has been investigated for treating a variety of medical conditions, including:
chronic pain (ongoing pain);
neuropathic pain (nerve pain);
nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy;
improving appetite in people with cancer and HIV/AIDS;
multiple sclerosis; and
certain types of epilepsy.
Medicinal cannabis has also been prescribed for people with terminal illnesses as part of their palliative care.
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