medicinal cannabis & recreational-use cannabis

Exactly what is the difference between medicinal cannabis and recreational-use cannabis?

And why is medical cannabis legal?

In my experience, people feel trepidation when it comes to ‘medical cannabis’: on the one hand “it’s a plant, its natural, and everyone’s talking about the medicinal uses, so maybe its ok”; and on the other, the voice in our heads saying “yes, but it’s a drug, and gets people stoned, and it’s illegal for a reason”.

Here’s the thing:  Medicinal cannabis contains various amounts of THC and CBD, in different ratios.

The active ingredients in the cannabis plants are:

  • Cannabinoids: THC and CBD (explained below) are both cannabinoids.
  • Terpenes
  • Flavonoids

Some medical cannabis products are pure CBD, some of them are low THC and high CBD, some of them have equal amounts of THC and CBD. There are also just THC formulations. Some products contain various amounts of terpenes and flavonoids. They are standardised, meaning exact amounts of cannabinoids are delivered consistently.

There are around 140 different cannabinoids.  When we hear people talk about “whole plant therapy”, they are referring to the type and use of medical cannabis that allows these 3 active ingredients to work together and support the function of each other. Synthetic cannabis products, produced by pharmaceutical companies, don’t allow the natural working together of these 3 elements.  A bit like taking a vitamin C tablet instead of eating an orange.  Sure, you get the vitamin C, but what about all the other benefits in the whole fruit?

The two most abundant cannabinoids are:

1-Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”).

2-Cannabidiol (“CBD”)

Plus, there are over one hundred other minor cannabinoids.

THC is the most abundant part of the cannabis plant responsible for psychoactive effects. However, this molecule is also highly therapeutic. It helps pain, nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients, it is an appetite stimulant, anti-convulsant, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. It interacts with CB1 and CB2 receptors.

CBD is a non-psychoactive, non-toxic, non-addictive part of the cannabis plant.  In the body, it binds very weakly to CB1 receptors thus modulating the psychoactive properties of THC. It exerts it’s therapeutic properties by interacting with many other biochemical pathways. (That’s all I’m going to write about receptors, and the body’s Endocannabinoid System and associated enzymes, because I’m a lawyer, not a medical practitioner.)

Medical cannabis can be used in the treatment of many medical conditions.   For example, intractable childhood epilepsy, where CBD predominant formulations are used with low level of THC. In some adult cancer patients (particularly those undertaking chemo) cannabis formulations contain various ratios of THC and  CBD, because in addition to symptomatic relief, one of the desired outcomes is increased appetite, which THC is known to assist. A different combination of cannabinoids is necessary for each condition and each patient. What works for sufferers of Multiple Sclerosis will be different to the cannabinoid combination that is best for patients with inflammatory disorders, neurodegenerative disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune disease (like Crohn’s), and the myriad of other conditions the subject of medical cannabis research.

Like many medications, for some people cannabis doesn’t work, or they have a negative reaction to it. However overwhelmingly, the evidence is in: there is an important role for cannabis in the treatment or symptomatic relief of scores of conditions and illnesses. For sufferers of epilepsy, the results are nothing short of miraculous.

The potential for abuse or psychoactive effects is greatly minimised when cannabis is used judiciously in a proper clinical setting, utilising a start-low, and go-slow approach.

Unfortunately hemp seeds do not contain any of the cannabinoids.  Hemps seeds are a rich source of essential fats, Omega 3&6 and many other nutrients.

There’s some great, easy-to-read , plain-english books, written by researchers (with citations and links to the scientific source data from peer-review journals) explaining the body’s Endocannabinoid System, CB1 and CB2 receptors and the science of how CBD reacts with the body to relieve symptoms, or assist in the treatmeant, of a myriad of ailments and conditions.

The research into medical cannabis is limited in Australia because until 2016 medical cannabis was illegal.  Consequently, lawful cultivation for research was also difficult to orchestrate.  Medical cannabis became lawful in 2016.  However, the scheme that made it lawful also made it impossible to access (with 519 licensed users, and an estimated 100,000 people nationally, using medical cannabis without a license).  Access became easier in April 2018 when the role of the NSW Department of Health was significantly reduced, leaving the TGA and ODC as the key government stakeholders in the medical cannabis community.

I can explain more about current access schemes in another article.

This is clearly not medical advice.  I am a lawyer, researching the laws on medical cannabis.  Our work in this field is representing people who are self-medicating with cannabis and find themselves charged with cultivation and/or possession; and assisting people and companies to apply for licenses to cultivate, research, produce and distribute cannabis for medical purposes.  If you want to know more, or to read some information on medical cannabis and its uses, please email me via the website.


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