Understanding Medicinal Cannabis
Medicinal cannabis works when the main components (THC and CBD) interact with our endocannabinoid receptor systems. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in our brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. When a person uses cannabis, the cannabinoids find the endocannabinoid receptors in our central nervous system and bind to them. These interactions can have a variety of effects on immune function, inflammation, appetite, metabolism and energy homeostasis, cardiovascular function, digestion, bone development and bone density, synaptic plasticity and learning, pain, reproduction, psychiatric disease, psychomotor behavior, memory, wake/sleep cycles, and the regulation of stress and emotional states. The two main cannabinoid receptors are called CB1 and CB2. These receptors help regulate a range of body functions. CB1 receptors, for example, are found in the following parts of the body:
- Central nervous system
- Cardiovascular system
- Gastrointestinal system
- Musculoskeletal system
- Immune system
- Reproductive system
THC, the cannabinoid most commonly associated with cannabis, is responsible for the “high” often experienced when taking cannabis. Research has connected THC to the immune system regulating, anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving properties of medicinal cannabis.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a non-intoxicating component of the cannabis plant. CBD is a cannabis compound that has many potential medical benefits, and can actually counteract the psychoactivity of THC. It is an option for patients seeking anti-inflammatory, anti-pain, anti-anxiety, anti-nausea, anti-psychotic, and/or anti-convulsive effects without lethargy or dysphoria.
Terpenes are chemical compounds that are naturally found in plants and herbs such as cannabis. They are responsible for each strain’s unique aromatic profile and have a range of beneficial therapeutic effects when combined with THC and CBD.
The terms “indica” and “sativa” are botanical terms used to describe the morphology (shape) of different cannabis plants. Some people use the term “indica” to describe effects that are more sedating or physical in nature. Some use the term “sativa” to describe more cerebral or energising effects. Hybrids are thought to have a combination of traits from both Indica and Sativa strains.
These terms can be useful however they are not scientifically valid.
Most of the adverse effects that we commonly hear about in the media are related to chronic use of illicit low-quality cannabis usually containing pesticides, heavy metals and consumed via heavy smoking, with no qualified medical management by a suitably trained GP.
All medicines can have side effects, sometimes they are serious, most of the time they are not. You are more likely to get side effects when you start your treatment, and whilst they are usually mild and wear off within a few hours you should tell your doctor if you experience any side effects.
Patients will be using a calibrated dropper or syringe to administer their oil. The dose will be titrated as per the stepped guidelines provided by your doctor or pharmacist until a therapeutic dose and effect is obtained.
The Oil is best absorbed after a fatty meal and can be placed on or under the tongue. Effects can take 30 minutes- 1.5 hours, or longer to set in when cannabis is ingested.
Remember: Start Low – Go Slow,
and slowly increase dose.
Patients prescribed the dried form of cannabis will need to also purchase a “dried herb” vaporiser, which heats the cannabis to the desired temperature for efficient uptake and therapeutic effect. Accessories such as grinders and scales are available through the pharmacy.
When you first begin vaporising medicinal cannabis, start with one inhalation and wait 15 minutes before consuming more. Increase by 1 inhalation every 15-30 minutes until the optimal dose is achieved. Observe how your symptoms are affected and how your mind and mood feel, before deciding to take more.
Both CBD and THC has the potential to interact with other medicines. Much research is going on in this area and more detail about interactions, side effects and contraindications are starting to emerge and your doctor or pharmacist are the best people to ask about this.
Quality, consistency of product, and safety are the main reasons you should switch to a legal source of medicinal cannabis if you are a current user. Black market or illicit cannabis can contain contaminants like pesticides, heavy metals and mould that are not safe to consume, the effects of which can take time to develop.
Combining cannabis and alcohol is not recommended – their effects may magnify each other causing discomfort and inebriation.
Patients should not drive or operate machinery while being treated with medicinal cannabis because measurable concentrations of THC can be detected many days after the last dose.
It may take up to five days for 80 to 90 per cent of the dose to be excreted. Drug-driving is a criminal offence, and patients should discuss the implications for safe and legal driving with their qualified doctor.
As with all side effects, it depends on the person and the amount they have taken. But in general, side effects may include dizziness, dry mouth, bloodshot eyes and low blood pressure. Because cannabis can impair judgment and physical coordination, it is best that you do not drive, nor operate machinery whilst taking products contain THC.
Check your eligibility today
If you are suffering from a chronic medical condition, you may be eligible for plant-based treatment.