Medical marijuana has been used therapeutically for thousands of years, but we’re only just beginning to understand how it works.
Over 3000 prescriptions for medical marijuana have been approved since the Federal Government legalised its use under certain conditions in 2018, for ailments such as chronic pain, epilepsy and anorexia.
Advocates of medical marijuana argue that it provides a safe and potent solution for those with intractable illnesses, whilst critics argue that there is a lack of evidence supporting its use for most conditions.
The Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) has declared it challenging to “come to firm conclusions” regarding how to best use the drug. The challenges of conducting research into the drug lie in part due to its illegal nature, as well as the complexity of the cannabis plant.
The plant contains around 100 cannabinoids, of which two have so far been identified as having therapeutic benefits – THC and CBD. The ratio of THC to CBD determines how effective the drug will be for treating certain conditions, and different strains of cannabis contain different ratios. It is unknown as to whether THC and CBD work separately or only together.
The research that has been conducted offers an inconclusive and mixed picture. A systematic review of the drug was conducted by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) in 2017 and suggested that available evidence for its use was “limited” and should only be tried after registered medicines have been used unsuccessfully.
The review found that the strongest evidence for medical marijuana is for treating children and young people who have drug-resistant epilepsy. CBD products are associated with a more than 50% reduction in seizure frequency in over half of patients.
The review suggested that there is currently “low to moderate” evidence for medical marijuana helping to reduce chronic pain, although more research is needed. However, a US review released by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 2017 found “substantial evidence” for its efficacy in treating chronic pain in adults.
Medical experts suggest that the use of medical marijuana is complicated and not as simple as it sounds, and that more research into its safety and efficacy – especially with regards to its long-term use – still needs to be done.