Medical cannabis

Learn about the evidence of the effects of medical cannabis

Medical cannabis history

Medicinal cannabis (also called medical marijuana) refers to the use of the cannabis plant and its component cannabinoids (such as THC and CBD) as a medical treatment for certain conditions and their associated symptoms. It should be noted that referring to medical cannabis as though it were one type of medicine is potentially confusing as medicinal cannabis comprises various delivery forms as well as a range of strengths and varieties. Medical cannabis is typically manufactured from the flowering head of the cannabis plant which contains the highest concentration of cannabinoids. This is different to hemp oil, which in Australia is derived from pressing hemp seeds that contain no significant amounts of cannabinoids.

Cannabis has been used medicinally since 1000 BC, initially as an anaesthetic and was introduced from India to Europe around the mid-19th century1. It was traditionally used for a variety of conditions including rheumatism, convulsions, and muscular spasms.1,2 In the early 1900s, although medical cannabis was widely used, chemists were unable to create a consistent product because the active ingredients were unknown. By the mid-20th century, cannabis became illegal in most countries around the world and its usage by the medical community ceased. In 1965, Raphael Mechoulam and Yehiel Gaoni isolated THC for the first time which led to a significant increase in investigations. Twenty-five years later Mechoulam discovered endogenous cannabinoids as well as the endocannabinoid system, which again reignited interest and research into the plant3.

The last twenty years have seen a gradual, world-wide re-adoption of cannabis for medical purposes. Cannabis has been legalised for medicinal purposes in Canada, Israel and many US states, as well as several European countries including but not limited to Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Finland.

In the last 45 years, there have been nearly 600 studies conducted using medical cannabis, with more than a third of those studies published in the last five years. This renewed global interest in medical cannabis has led to an improved understanding of the cannabis plant, and the identification of many more active components that have potential benefits across a range of conditions.

Which countries have legalised medicinal cannabis?

There are a growing number of countries allowing medicinal cannabis as a treatment option for a range of conditions including Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Lebanon, Thailand, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Canada, and over 30 states in the USA.

Please read the following country health care professional guidelines for further information including the conditions that medicinal cannabis generally may potentially be used to treat.

Australian TGA Guidelines

Health Canada Cannabis Guidelines

Israel Ministry of Health Cannabis Guidelines

The Office of Medical Cannabis

What is medical cannabis being prescribed for?

As of June 2021, over 215 conditions had been accepted for medicinal cannabis use in Australia, with over 71% of SAS B approvals having been granted by the TGA for the treatment of pain of an unspecified origin.

To date, over 130,000 SAS B approvals have been granted (June 2021).

For more information and to read about the other common indications being accepted for medicinal cannabis use please download the Senate Report.

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The Endocannabinoid system

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Additional Cannabinoids

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