A steadily growing medical marijuana market has many wondering about the efficacy and safety of the treatment option. While its earliest medicinal use can be traced back to ancient times, the past few decades have been a period of prohibition and governmental restrictions.
In recent times, medicinal cannabis is being reintegrated into mainstream society. Many countries have either legalised or started legalisation processes surrounding the treatment.
CBD and THC are the two main biologically active ingredients found in medicinal cannabis. Also known as cannabidiol, CBD is non-psychoactive and won’t cause any sort of intoxicating effect. THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is psychoactive and has a mind-altering effect on its users.
Much like with conventional medicines, medical cannabis will not affect everyone in the same way. The benefits and side effects will vary among users.
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The benefits of medicinal cannabis
First and foremost, it’s important to note that while researchers are actively exploring the therapeutic potential of these treatments, we are in the very beginning phases of these studies.
There have, however, been encouraging signs regarding medical marijuana benefits. Most of the early research is focused on its effect on the following symptoms:
- Insomnia and sleeplessness
The existing research is as follows:
A research paper from 2022 stated that clinical trials and laboratory studies provide evidence of anxiolytic effects of CBD in healthy volunteers and clinical populations. They stressed, however, that current evidence is not strong enough to support it as a first-line treatment.
Furthermore, they noted that evidence regarding the use of THC-dominant products for anxiety is ambiguous, as some notice an increase in anxiety while others feel relief.
A systematic review of the effects of medicinal cannabis on psychiatric disorders wrote that there are promising signs regarding the use of these treatments for a range of mental health issues such as anxiety. Again, the experts were careful to highlight that this is a very early phase of research and nothing should be seen as conclusive.
Insomnia and sleeplessness
An article in 2022 wrote that cannabis may have a short-term benefit on improving sleep time, where evidence has shown reductions in sleep onset latency. It stated that THC and THC derivatives, used either alone or in combination with CBD, have been shown to improve self-reported sleep scores.
A randomised crossover trial in 2021 found that two weeks of nightly sublingual administration of a cannabinoid extract is well-tolerated and improves insomnia symptoms and sleep quality in individuals with chronic insomnia symptoms.
A 2015 review wrote that cannabis or cannabinoids may be effective for treating some types of chronic pain including neuropathy (nerve pain). They emphasised the need for physicians to educate patients on medical marijuana.
Research from 2016 found that the use of medicinal cannabis led to a reduction in opioid use, an improved quality of life, and much less noticeable side effects than with conventional medication.
A 2017 article stated that we are very close to obtaining definitive evidence of medicinal cannabis efficacy in some severe epilepsy syndromes.
A paper from 2021 concluded that whole-plant medical cannabis worked as an effective and well-tolerated medicine for reducing seizure frequency in children suffering from intractable epilepsy.
The side-effects and risks of medical marijuana
As with conventional medicine, medical marijuana does not come without risks or the potential for side effects. For the most part, experts believe that medical cannabis has a favourable safety profile.
This does not mean there are no risks or side effects, and researchers have stressed that there is virtually no data on its long-term safety. Users are also more likely to experience notable side effects if using potent THC-based products.
The most commonly reported side effects of medical cannabis are:
- Dry mouth
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in mood
- Dizziness and light-headedness
- Increased heart rate
- Racing thoughts
Experts have also advised that THC holds the potential for addiction and dependence. As such, it should be carefully used in line with a doctor’s recommendations. In addition, there have been some suggestions that those with a predisposition for bipolar and/or schizophrenia should avoid using medical marijuana.
Is medical cannabis legal in Australia?
Since 2016, patients with valid prescriptions have been legally able to buy medical marijuana in Australia.
If a doctor believes it clinically appropriate in the patient’s circumstances, they will prescribe medicinal cannabis. However, it cannot be the first line of treatment. This means that a patient must have first tried mainstream medicine to no avail.
There should also be some existing data that suggests the plant-based treatment could be beneficial for the patient’s condition.
Access to legal medicinal cannabis is not limited to a specific set of conditions or patient types. To know if medical marijuana is suitable for you, the first step is to consult with a qualified medical professional, be aware the cost of medical marijuana treatments are not covered by any state medical schemes.
Purchasing CBD and/or THC without a prescription is still illegal in every state of Australia.
Before going down the plant-based treatment road, be sure to review all medical marijuana pros and cons. We are still in the early days of assessing the efficacy and safety of CBD and THC.
Researchers are, however, actively studying how medicinal cannabis affects symptoms associated with different conditions. In the years to come, we will have a clearer and more definitive idea of the benefits and hazards of medical marijuana.
CBD and THC are also not free of risks or side effects, and patients should educate themselves on the potential harms associated with the treatments. Remember, only those with a valid prescription can legally access medicinal cannabis in Australia.