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How Does Medical Cannabis Work?

How does medical cannabis work
The two main active ingredients in medicinal cannabis are THC and CBD

What is medical cannabis?

Medical cannabis is a plant-based medicine using the marijuana plant and the compounds in it to treat symptoms associated with chronic diseases and conditions. The two main active ingredients found in medical marijuana are THC and CBD.

THC, also known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is a psychoactive compound. This means it has an intoxicating effect, often referred to as a “high”. CBD, or cannabidiol, is non-psychoactive and won’t mess with your mental or physical capabilities.

For years, the use of cannabis, both recreationally and medically, was banned in almost all countries across the globe. The coordinated international effort to keep marijuana out of reach has led to a limited and restricted amount of available research.

Recent years have seen the beginning of a new chapter in the medicinal cannabis story as many countries have started legalisation processes. Experts are now actively exploring how this plant may work

As far as buying weed in Melbourne goes, the Australian Government has established pathways to allow patients legal access to medicinal marijuana.

How does medical cannabis work?

How does medical marijuana help
THC and CBD interact with our endocannabinoid system

Part of understanding how medical marijuana works is understanding the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a complex collection of receptors and signals found throughout our bodies and brains.

The purpose of the ECS is to help control many aspects of our day-to-day functionality. These include memory, pain, mood, appetite, among others.

Inside our bodies, we produce cannabinoids known as endocannabinoids. These naturally occurring molecules attach to the receptors found in the ECS as a signal for it to act. Enzymes then break down the endocannabinoids once the ECS has performed the required response.

Similar to the endocannabinoids we produce, THC attaches to the receptors of the ECS. It floods the system with signals that the endocannabinoids did not send. The system is overwhelmed and an intoxicating effect is produced.

CBD works by preventing the enzymes from breaking down the endocannabinoids. As such, the ECS does not receive the signal to stop and continues to produce its effects.

What are the side effects of medical cannabis?

How does medical marijuana work
Medical marijuana is not free of side effects and may not be suitable for everyone

Both CBD and THC have a generally favourable safety profile and are well-tolerated for use in adults. There are, however, some side effects that may occur. The likelihood of noticeable side effects is much higher when using THC.

A few of the most commonly reported side effects of medicinal cannabis are:

  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in mood
  • Lethargy
  • Stomach cramps
  • Racing thoughts
  • Paranoia

Doctors have also warned that due to the psychoactive nature of THC, there is a potential for addiction and dependence among some of its users. CBD, however, holds no such risk.

Experts have also spoken of an increased risk of liver damage for users who have an existing issue or disease to do with the liver. Additionally, you should not use medical cannabis if you are currently pregnant, breastfeeding, or on blood thinners.

Is medical cannabis legal in Australia?

How medical marijuana works
Patients with a valid medical prescription can legally access medical marijuana in Australia

2016 saw a change in the laws surrounding cannabis to allow for patients with valid prescription to access the treatment option. The Australian Government created legal pathways for cases where the plant-based treatment could provide relief for symptoms of chronic conditions.

In cases where mainstream medicine fails to provide sufficient relief of symptoms, you may consult with a qualified medical practitioner about medical cannabis.

The doctor will examine your symptoms, and decide whether it is clinically appropriate in the circumstances to prescribe medical cannabis. There will need to be existing evidence that suggests that plant-based products may work for the condition being treated.

A qualified health practitioner can also provide the best guidance when it comes to how to use medical cannabis.

The product prescribed will depend on what the doctor believes may work best. CBD is classified as a schedule 4 prescription-only medicine, while THC is classified as a schedule 8 controlled substance.

Doctors will need to meet all of the relevant regulatory requirements when prescribing such medications. THC–dominant products are usually reserved for more severe symptoms.

Purchasing medical cannabis without a valid prescription is still firmly illegal across the country and may lead to hefty fines, criminal records, and potentially prison time.

What can medical marijuana treat?

What can medical marijuana treat
Researchers are actively exploring the benefits of medical marijuana

Research on the benefits of medical marijuana is still in its early phases, and experts continue to emphasise the need for more controlled studies and long-term clinical trials.

For now, the early signs are promising and the renewed interest has been justified. Experts in the field are consistently exploring and researching how medical cannabis affects the following symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures

While none of the existing evidence can be seen as conclusive, there have been some notable research papers and reviews on the topic.


One paper wrote that although preliminary data has supported the use of medicinal cannabis in the treatment of chronic pain, it is quite evident that further research needs to be performed to fully determine its true role in the world of pain management.


A review from 2022 wrote that medicinal cannabis has anxiolytic properties, particularly CBD, and is suspected to be an effective treatment for a number of anxiety disorders. Experts again emphasised that the efficacy of the treatment needs to be researched much more rigorously before anything can be concluded with certainty.


A review from 2020 wrote that there is currently encouraging, albeit very limited, evidence for medicinal cannabis in the treatment of a range of psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety.


A retrospective chart review wrote that medicinal cannabis may have a short-term benefit in improving sleep time, where evidence has shown reductions in sleep onset latency.

Based on the available evidence, THC and other derivatives, combined with CBD, have been shown to improve self-reported sleep scores.


A review from 2020 found that pure CBD and enriched cannabis oil extracts were found to be effective for epileptic seizure control in paediatric patients and young adults. The experts also emphasised that the THC content should be as low as possible, as we are still researching its effects on developing brains.


Medical marijuana is a natural alternative treatment option that uses the major cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. The plant-based medicine is used to provide relief of symptoms associated with a variety of chronic conditions.

When it comes to how medical marijuana works, understanding the ECS can help give you a clearer idea of what THC and CBD are doing inside of our bodies. Each one interacts with the system in its own way.

Both CBD and THC have favourable safety profiles, but there are a few side effects to be aware of. THC also holds potential for addiction or dependence for frequent users.

The research on medical marijuana is still in its early phases, but experts are actively exploring its effects on anxiety, depression, insomnia, and pain.

For more information on how medical cannabis oil works, don’t hesitate to speak to one of our team members today.

Take control of your health and well-being.

“Elevate your health, naturally”

Australia’s first national
online only plant-based healthcare centre.