The first consideration for any Medical Cannabis patient is about driving.
For state and territory in Australia (other than Tasmania) it is currently illegal to drive with any amount of THC in your system.
If you are prescribed a Medical Cannabis product which does include THC, there’s no medical defense for using prescribed medicinal cannabis products that contain THC while driving, even if you’re not impaired.
Not all Medical Cannabis products include THC. Most doctors will start patients on a CBD only oil, which means they are allowed to drive on their non-THC medication.
This can put patients in a difficult position. If a medicine omitting THC is insufficient in treating their condition, they might have to choose between driving and treatment of their symptoms.
However for many patients – particularly those with mental conditions like anxiety, insomnia or depression – a CBD only formulation is satisfactory, so they don’t need to worry.
The exciting news is that the Victorian Government recently debated a change to driving laws for Medical Cannabis, which was supported by the major parties. When Victoria was the first state to legalise Medical Cannabis in 2016, the rest of the nation shortly followed suit, so it might not be long before patients can drive whilst taking their medication.
But for the time being, the absence of a medical defence for driving with THC in your system is something that all patients should be aware of before seeing a Medical Cannabis doctor.
2. Predisposition to Schizophrenia or Psychosis
The second consideration before discussing Medical Cannabis with a doctor is schizophrenia and psychosis.
There is evidence suggesting that cannabis use, primarily the THC in cannabis, in genetically predisposed or at-risk populations, leads to earlier diagnosis of psychosis/schizophrenia. This means that if you have a predisposition to psychosis or schizophrenia, you should not consider Medical Cannabis treatment.
For patients who do not have a predisposition, there is evidence that Medical Cannabis is not a risk of inducing schizophrenia or psychosis. For example, Canada’s cannabis legalisation framework was not associated with significant changes in cannabis-induced psychosis or schizophrenia emergency-department presentations.
More research needs to be done, but it is safe to conclude that if you have a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia or psychosis, you shouldn’t consider Medical Cannabis treatment
3. Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
The next consideration for a patient considering Medical Cannabis is pregnancy.
Cannabis use during pregnancy is potentially harmful. The THC in some Medical Cannabis products can cross the placenta easily, which may result in shortened gestation, decreased fetal growth, decreased infant birth weight and length, and meconium staining.
With regard to breastfeeding, THC is fat soluble and is rapidly distributed into brain and adipose (fatty) tissue. This means that it is likely to exist in breastmilk if the mother has consumed Medical Cannabis which includes THC.
Like most things for medical cannabis, more research needs to be done about the impact of cannabis use when pregnant or breastfeeding. However, the advice is that if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should not take any form of Medical Cannabis, including CBD only formulations.
4. Conditions Medical Cannabis is Beneficial For
Medical Cannabis changed my life, so I am as big an advocate as there comes.
However, it is important for patients to be aware of what research – or lack thereof – is out there to support Medical Cannabis for certain conditions.
The lack of evidence can be explained by the Endocannabinoid system only being discovered in 1992, and cannabis’ legal status for most of the time since. More research is coming out every week, and there are hundreds of cannabinoids other than CBD and THC which are yet to be heavily researched.
In 2017 the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) created a global report on the effectiveness of medical cannabis for a variety of health conditions. The report has been influential on Australia’s Medical Cannabis regime, and how doctors prescribe Medical Cannabis. The report found that:
There is conclusive evidence that cannabis is effective for treating:
- Chronic pain
- Cancer induced nausea and vomiting (CINV)
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
There is moderate evidence that cannabis is effective for treating:
- Sleep conditions
There is limited evidence that cannabis is effective for treating:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Tourretes syndrome
- Low appetite
There is a lot of buzz around medical cannabis treatment in Australia, and around the world. It is important as a patient to know that more research needs to be done, and that there is only conclusive evidence of cannabis’ efficacy for chronic pain, CINV and MS.
Beyond the conditions covered in 2017 NASEM report, there are 29 conditions which an Authorised Prescriber can consider Medical Cannabis Treatment for. They are:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity (ADHD)
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Cachexia (pronounced: Ca-Kek-Sia)
- Cancer symptom management
- Cancer-related pain
- Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea and Vomiting (CINV)
- Chronic non-cancer pain
- Crohn’s Disease
- Endometriosis (pronounced: Enduh-metriosis)
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Mood Disorder
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Neuropathic Pain
- Palliative Care
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Seizure Management
- Sleep Disorder
- Spasticity-associated Pain
As a reminder, a doctor can only consider Medical Cannabis for patients who have a chronic condition, which conventional medication has been unsuccessful in treating.
When it comes to treating your condition with Medical Cannabis, it’s important to be mindful of its limitations. It changed my life, and it may change yours, but it isn’t a one size fits all medication for every person and condition.
Want to learn more?
Medical Cannabis can only be legally acquired through a medical professional who has expertise in Medical Cannabis prescription. They’ll hold your hand through the journey, and assist you in finding out what works best for you.
If you have questions about Medical Cannabis treatment that we didn’t cover today, you’re welcome to book a time to speak with our team or book a consultation with an experienced Medical Cannabis prescriber to discuss whether it would be suitable for your condition.