What is Medical Cannabis?
Cannabis in a medical form might seem new to those in western countries, but many cultures have been using marijuana as a medicine for thousands of years.
THC is the most active ingredient in cannabis. It stimulates cannabinoid receptors in the brain and body, often reducing pain and increasing appetite.
Medical Cannabis is currently used by patients with severe pain, nausea, certain types of seizures and in some cases anxiety, however it has many other uses.
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Commonly known as a recreational drug in New Zealand. Marijuana, or Cannabis actually has more potential as a medicine.
The mind-altering compound in cannabis is THC, which is short for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. The amount of THC in cannabis varies between plant strains, however there has been a steady increase in strength over the past few decades. In the 1990s cannabis had a average THC content of 3.7 percent, this is in contrast to the 9.6 percent or higher we see today.
When consumed, THC attaches to and stimulates cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Stimulation of these receptors affects the body in a variety of ways. The two most common effects are pain relief and increased appetite.
Many cancer patients that have used cannabis during chemotherapy treatments for cancer, have done so because they have a loss of appetite and are often in a great deal of pain. That pain can be physical or emotional, cannabis has been proven to help manage both.
People with cancer, especially those going through chemo therapy need a lot of good nutrient rich food to help their bodies immune system recover. Recreational users often get “the munchies”, it’s this effect that is so important for medical patients that can’t eat.
In New Zealand, medical cannabis use is legal, however there are strict regulations in place which make acquiring cannabis based products very stressful and expensive for those that need it most.
In a population of more than 4 million, 13.4% of those between the ages of 16-64 use cannabis. This ranks as the ninth highest cannabis consumption level in the world.
What does medical cannabis treat?
Researchers around the world continue to study the medical benefits of cannabis. It may be effective in treating:
- chronic pain
- muscle spasms
- sleep disorders
Physician Recommendation of Medical Cannabis by the California Medical Association (CMA) states that marijuana may also be used to help thread these conditions:
- chronic pain
- migraine headaches
- persistent muscle spasms
- multiple sclerosis
- severe nausea
- epileptic seizures
- any other chronic persistent medical symptom that limits your ability to conduct major activities in life or can cause serious harm to you if not relieved
Medical cannabis is used to relieve symptoms. It is not widely used to treat or cure a disease or chronic illness.
The use of cannabis is unlikely to change the outcome of a certain disease. It can however ease certain symptoms, improve your quality of life and make you feel better.
It’s a well known fact that stress and depression can have a negative impact on your health and your ability to recover from chronic illness. It’s possible marijuana can help the body heal itself by reducing stress and allowing the immune system to do it’s job properly.
What are the side effects of medical cannabis?
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), possible side effects of marijuana use may include:
- increased heart rate
- low blood pressure
- light-headedness or fainting
- short-term reduced memory
- short-term reduced attention span
- decreased problem-solving ability
Cognitive side effects of cannabis use may cause impaired:
- sense of time
- sensory perception
- attention span
- problem solving ability
- reaction time
- motor control
Other side effects of cannabis use are:
- lowered blood sugar levels
- increased bleeding from cuts
- adverse interaction with some medications or herbs
- adverse interaction with alcohol
For people with mental or emotional disorders may find the use of cannabis can make their depression, mania or other mental illness worse. Whilst hallucinations are uncommon, some users experience feelings of mild anxiety and paranoia.
How is medical cannabis taken?
Methods for taking cannabis include:
- smoking the herb material
- vaporizing the herb
- backing it into food or other edible items
- taking it orally in synthetic forms, such as dronabinol and nabilone (found in Sativex)
Your doctor will determine the specific dosage and frequency of medical cannabis use before seeking approval from the Ministry of Health for your application.