The earliest evidence for cannabis as a traditional medicine dates back to 2737 BC in China. Before the middle of the 20th Century, medicinal cannabis was prescribed and available as an over-the-counter remedy across the globe. This all changed after the 1925 Geneva Convention, which resulted in cannabis being re-classified as a prohibited substance.
However, over the last 20 years, there has been a significant shift in the sentiment towards cannabis and its regulation which has facilitated research on the positive therapeutic effects of medicinal cannabis. The liberalisation of cannabis laws in different jurisdictions has sparked a global movement to allow patients and prescribers greater access to medicinal cannabis products so that they may be used to treat a wide variety of health conditions.
Medicinal cannabis is a broad term referring to any product that is derived from the cannabis plant (both sativa and indica varieties) and prescribed as a medicine. In Australia, these products can only be prescribed by a doctor for the treatment of specific conditions or any associated symptoms.
There is widespread interest in the use of medicinal cannabis as a treatment option, particularly in cases where other medications have provided limited (or non-existent) benefits. All prospective patients undergo an assessment conducted by their doctor to decide whether medicinal cannabis is suitable for their condition and individual circumstances.
Cannabis plants and dried flower products from cannabis plants that are used for medicinal purposes within Australia must comply with the Therapeutic Goods (Standard for Medicinal Cannabis) (TGO93). This involves adherence to strict regulations and quality control measures that ensure all medicinal cannabis plants are high-quality and contaminant-free.
At Kind, our medicinal cannabis flower is sourced from world-leading cultivators based in British Columbia. Our plants are sun-grown in coconut husk fibre, fed proprietary plant food and selected for their natural resistance to pests and disease. All these measures ensure that our medicines are 100% natural, pesticide-free and non-GMO.
Aside from two products used in the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis (Sativex) and rare forms of childhood epilepsy (Epidyolex), medicinal cannabis products are not registered medicines in Australia. However, medicinal cannabis can be accessed for certain conditions from an Authorised Prescriber (AP) or with SAS-B approval from a doctor. Currently, there is no approved or official list but detailed below are some examples of conditions that medicinal cannabis is commonly prescribed to treat.
Medicinal cannabis may be useful in reducing pain when used as a supplement to traditional pain medications. There are also cases where medicinal cannabis can be used as an alternative to these medications when they have failed to provide any relief.
Some studies highlight only a moderate effect in relieving pain but this should not be disconcerting. Many patients have successfully used medicinal cannabis to treat pain symptoms, which is evident in the proportion of prescriptions being approved.
Currently, 60% of the medicinal cannabis prescriptions within Australia have been issued for symptoms related to chronic non-cancer pain (CNCP) , of which there are two main types. Nociceptive pain is caused by tissue damage and inflammation, resulting in sharp, aching or throbbing pain. Neuropathic pain is caused by nerve damage, resulting in burning, tingling pain or numbness.
Evidence suggests that medicinal cannabis products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are more effective at providing relief from neuropathic pain. Some patients have also used medicinal cannabis to relieve the pain associated with arthritis, fibromyalgia and migraines. Clinical research is ongoing to support its use as a treatment option for these conditions.
The use of medicinal cannabis as a supplement could also reduce the reliance on strong opioids to provide pain relief. In theory, this would allow patients to experience a similar amount of pain relief on reduced doses of opioid medications and potentially mitigate some of their associated adverse effects.
Medicinal cannabis can be used as an antiemetic to treat nausea and vomiting, particularly for cancer-afflicted patients. There is evidence to support the use of THC-based medications as an effective treatment in relieving chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV) when alternative medications have failed. THC-based medications may also have potential as a treatment for nausea and vomiting caused by other conditions but further research is required.
There are currently two registered medicinal cannabis products in Australia that are used in the treatment of neurological disorders.
Epidyolex is an oral solution containing cannabidiol (CBD) that is used in the treatment of certain childhood epilepsies (Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome). CBD-based medications have displayed the ability to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures in patients with paediatric-onset drug-resistant epilepsy. A small number of patients have even been able to achieve total seizure freedom with the use of CBD.
Sativex is an oromucosal spray containing an equal ratio of THC and CBD that is used in the treatment of MS-related muscle spasticity. Some studies have also found that medicinal cannabis may be effective in sometimes treating the pain symptoms of MS in addition to improving bladder function, sleep and quality of life.
Due to the success of these medicines, other medicinal cannabis products may prove to be a viable treatment option for a range of neurological disorders, disease processes and symptoms. Some of the conditions being investigated for the viability of medicinal cannabis treatments include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Tourette syndrome.
Medicinal cannabis also possesses therapeutic potential in the treatment of other conditions and their associated symptoms. Conditions where medicinal cannabis has shown promising results in some studies include:
· Cancer pain
· Crohn’s disease
· Insomnia and other sleep disorders
· Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
· Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
· Substance addiction
Even with strong patient-reported benefits and anecdotal evidence, further research on medicinal cannabis as a treatment option for these conditions is ongoing. Clinical evidence that supports the use of medicinal cannabis is required before it becomes an approved treatment for these specific conditions and others.
The Australian Government will continue to update the guidelines for both prescribers and patients when new evidence emerges from scientific research and clinical trials.
If you believe that medicinal cannabis may be beneficial for your condition, discuss it with your doctor or book a consultation wth an Authorised Prescriber.
Learn about the specific quality requirements for medicinal cannabis products in Australia.
Find out how the latest changes to medicinal cannabis prescribing pathways can benefit patients.