Since the legalisation of medicinal cannabis in 2016, more and more Australians have been hopping on board in terms of using the plant-based drug. The Federal Government relaxed restrictions regarding medicinal use in March 2018, and since then the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved over 3 000 cannabis scripts.
Naturally, the use of medicinal marijuana is an issue that often divides contemporary medical experts and drug critics. However, the Australian populace is warming up to the idea of self-medicating with cannabis, with over 100 000 people acquiring illegal cannabis to treat their conditions.
So, what’s the problem?
Issues with current research
One of the big problems with the medical marijuana movement is research. Researching the safety and efficacy of the cannabis plant has always been incredibly difficult. Indeed, this can be attributed to the fact that the plant itself is inherently complex. It contains greater than 400 bioactive molecules, of which 100 are cannabinoids. These “cannabinoids” represent a diverse group of natural chemicals that are largely responsible for producing the psychoactive effects. We’ve all heard of THG (tetrahydrocannabinol) – well, this is one of the main cannabinoids that induces the “high” many users seek.
However, the variability of cannabis means that while there is copious research regarding the benefits of medicinal cannabis, the way clinical studies have administered the drug has varied significantly across studies. What this means is that it is hard for scientists to come to definitive and firm conclusions.
A largely inconclusive picture
The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) oversaw a review of medical marijuana in 2017, in which their results concluded that there was “limited” evidence to support marijuana as a highly effective form of treatment. Instead, the NDARC suggested that patients only consider cannabis if all other registered medicines had proven unsuccessful.
However, that isn’t to say that the review found no results in support of cannabis. On the contrary, conclusions from the TGA review suggest that medicinal cannabis could be highly effective in children and young adults with drug-resistant epilepsy.
While the TGA’s results regarding cannabis treatment for chronic pain were largely mixed, the US-based National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found substantial evidence that marijuana could be used to treat chronic pain.