Immune | December 18, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
The use of marijuana or cannabis for medical purposes is a highly controversial topic which sparks emotions and much political debate. Due to growing research to support its use medically, Australia recently legalised medicinal cannabis at the federal level—allowing marijuana, and its chemically related compounds to be prescribed by a medical doctor. There is overwhelming evidence suggesting medical marijuana is effective in treating paediatric and adult epilepsies, multiple sclerosis, various types of pain, palliative care, and nausea and vomiting as a result of chemotherapy and HIV/AIDS therapy.
The use of marijuana in Australia was restricted to medicinal and scientific purposes in the 1920’s— like many other developed nations at the time. In 1938, cannabis use was perceived as a significant social problem in Australia as new drug control laws were enacted at the state and federal level, along with increased penalties for drug offences. Fast forward to today and marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in Australia— but keep in mind recreational use varies significantly to its medical use.
Medicinal cannabis products are regulated as medicines in Australia. Generally, medicines imported into, supplied in, and exported from Australia must be entered in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG), which is administered by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). However, there are other mechanisms for access to medicines that are not registered on the ARTG.
Medicinal cannabis is therefore an approved, quality assured, cannabis derivative which is prescribed to treat symptoms of a medical condition or the side effects of treatment under qualified medical supervision.
Marijuana used outside these terms is a prohibited drug in Australia. It is often used recreationally to allows users to experience a ‘high’.
Most marijuana that's sold legally as medicine has the same ingredients as the kind that people use for pleasure. But some medical marijuana is specially grown to have less of the chemicals that cause feelings of euphoria.
Marijuana plants have hundreds of chemicals, known as cannabinoids.
The two main ones that have therapeutic benefit are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
THC gives some of the pleasurable effects that pot smokers are looking for, but it also has some effects that may treat medical problems.
THC has been found to have analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as well as being able to prevent and reduce vomiting.
Some research suggests that CBD may be helpful for some health issues, but it doesn't cause you to get high. In fact, CBD helps to control or moderate the ‘high’ caused by the THC and reduce other negative effects such as anxiety. Research is being conducted into CBD for its potential to treat schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, some tumours, and drug dependency.
THC and CBD oil act on a unique communications network called the endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoids and the pathways they interact with regulate a number of activities including memory, mood, sleep and appetite. It is thought that medicinal cannabis can treat various illnesses by acting on this system in the body.
It is understood that smoked cannabis will not be prescribed in Australia because of its associated dangers which will not satisfy governmental requirements that enable it to be classed as a therapeutic good.
As with many other drugs, medicinal cannabis can also cause unwanted side effects, such as difficulty with concentration, dizziness, drowsiness, loss of balance, and problems with thinking and memory.
Many studies looking into the anti-emetic effects of various cannabinoids have mainly been done on animals. They have found that both THC and the non-intoxicant CBD helps to get rid of nausea and vomiting in animal subjects.
In human studies, cannabinoids may be a useful therapeutic option for people with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting that respond poorly to commonly used anti-emetic agents (anti-sickness drugs).
They also have proven efficacy in people with HIV infection, who want to manage their symptoms better and reduce side-effects during long-term drug therapy. In a 2005 study, HIV patients reported improved nausea, appetite, muscle pain, anxiety, nerve pain, depression and paraesthesia (burning or prickly sensation in the body).
The most common reason why medical marijuana is prescribed is to provide natural pain relief. Evidence suggests that cannabinoids may prove useful in pain modulation by inhibiting neuronal transmission in pain pathways.
According to a 2007 meta-analysis conducted in Canada, the combination of CBD and THC nasal spray was found to be effective in treating neuropathic pain in multiple sclerosis, which can be debilitating for 50 to 70 percent of patients. It may also be prescribed to people in palliative care who suffer from pain due to cancer or other terminal illnesses.
A recent survey conducted by Epilepsy Action Australia found as many as 9 out of 10 Australians who use medical marijuana to treat epilepsy find it more effective than conventional medical treatments. The main reasons for medicinal cannabis use were to manage treatment-resistant epilepsy in adults and children and to obtain a more favourable side-effect profile compared to standard antiepileptic drugs.
This is backed up by numerous clinical trials, with one such study involving 120 children and adolescents aged 2-18 with Dravet syndrome and drug-resistant seizures. Participants were treated with oral CBD or placebo for 2 weeks, with a 12-week maintenance period.
The CBD formulation reduced the frequency of convulsive seizures among children and young adults with Dravet syndrome over a 14-week period. 3 CBD patients achieved total seizure freedom during the test period, with no placebo patients achieving seizure freedom. 43% of CBD patients had more than a 50% reduction in seizures, compared to 27% of placebo patients. Caregivers of placebo patients were more likely to report an improvement in overall condition.
Each state has specific requirements and conditions that need to be followed in order to use medical marijuana legally. For more information, speak to your medical health care provider.
Suraev AS, et al. An Australian nationwide survey on medicinal cannabis use for epilepsy: History of antiepileptic drug treatment predicts medicinal cannabis use. Epilepsy Behav. 2017 May;70(Pt B):334-340
Devinsky O, et al. Trial of cannabidiol for drug-resistant seizures in the Dravet syndrome. New England Journal of Medicine 2017; 376: 2011-20