Updated: Jun 21
Medicinal cannabis has emerged as a topic of significant interest and debate in recent years. Its potential medical and health benefits and evolving regulations and prescription practices have prompted researchers to delve deeper into this ancient plant. This article will explore the fundamentals of medicinal cannabis, the ongoing research efforts, and the current prescribing practices surrounding this plant-based therapy.
Medicinal cannabis, or medical marijuana, refers to using cannabis and its compounds for therapeutic purposes. The plant contains numerous cannabinoids, such as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), which are believed to have various medicinal properties. Historically, the illegal status of cannabis hindered scientific research and limited our understanding of its potential benefits.
HCPA has supported many cannabis research businesses in studying cannabis, and recent clinical studies have highlighted cannabis-derived treatments' medical and health benefits. For instance, a groundbreaking phase III placebo-controlled trial demonstrated the efficacy of CBD (cannabidiol) in reducing seizures in childhood epilepsy. Furthermore, the USA National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine conducted an authoritative review, affirming substantial evidence supporting the use of cannabinoids in managing chronic pain, nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy, spasticity in multiple sclerosis, and improving sleep in individuals with specific diseases.
While specific applications of medicinal cannabis have garnered substantial evidence, there are other areas where research is still ongoing. Limited but promising evidence suggests the potential efficacy of cannabis in treating conditions such as PTSD, appetite and weight loss in HIV and AIDS, Tourette's syndrome, social anxiety, and traumatic brain injury. Continued research and clinical trials are necessary to establish a more comprehensive understanding of cannabis' therapeutic potential in these areas.
The University of Sydney's Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics conducted the first in-depth study of Australia's national medicinal cannabis programme, initiated in 2016. The study revealed a significant increase in the prescription of medicinal cannabis for various conditions, including anxiety, pain, and sleep disorders. However, it also highlighted the limited evidence of efficacy for specific needs. Despite a lack of high-quality clinical trials, anxiety emerged as one of the top three reasons for medicinal cannabis prescriptions.
Prescribing practices for medicinal cannabis can be complex and controversial. HCPA currently supports a range of prescribers in accessing cannabis; the study found that flower-based cannabis products containing THC were prescribed for anxiety, mainly to males aged 31 or younger. However, the evidence base for using medicinal cannabis for anxiety is limited, with studies primarily focused on CBD-dominant products rather than THC-containing ones. Similarly, controversy exists regarding the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis for pain and sleep disorders, with limited clinical studies and diverging opinions among medical professionals.
The study emphasises that medicinal cannabis should be a last resort for pain, anxiety, and sleep disorders. It should only be prescribed after exhausting evidence-based behavioural and drug therapies, such as counselling, exercise, and deep breathing techniques. Prescribers, such as Associate Professor Vicki Kotsirilos AM, emphasise the importance of comprehensive treatment plans and integrating various therapies before considering medicinal cannabis.
Medicinal cannabis continues to captivate researchers, medical professionals, and the public due to its potential therapeutic properties. Ongoing research efforts aim to expand our understanding of its medical and health benefits while prescribing practices evolve alongside the emerging evidence. As we navigate this changing landscape, we must balance evidence-based approaches and compassionate care to ensure patients receive the most appropriate treatments for their conditions.
HCPA is an all-in-one solution for Medicinal Cannabis providers, supporting them with registration, growth and consulting. Contact us now here for more information.
SOURCES | The University of Sydney ‘Why is medicinal cannabis and why is it important?’ |