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Medicinal cannabis in Australia

Many people with a spinal cord injury will tell you that muscle spasticity and pain are constant companions. And the pain isn’t just your common, garden-variety cut-your-finger type of pain. It’s most often neuropathic (nerve) pain. It can be stabbing, prickling, burning; it can be chronic, debilitating and require strong, potentially addiction-forming analgesics to enable a person to have a better quality of life.

What’s the issue with taking strong analgesics for pain relief?

Strong analgesics can have many negative effects on the body such as constipation, tiredness or fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness, hallucinations, nausea, increased sweating, feeling sad or depressed and, over a long period of time, can cause damage to the stomach and internal organs. The body gets used to the drugs so that they eventually become less effective, meaning stronger and stronger doses are required to achieve the same level of pain relief. People can easily get trapped in an addiction cycle which they may have great difficulty breaking.

Addiction to analgesics is a growing problem and people are dying unnecessarily as a result. Some 1,045 Australians aged 15-64 died of an opioid overdose in 2016, according to a report released by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of NSW in Sydney. The majority of these deaths (76%) were attributable to pharmaceutical opioids.

So how can medicinal cannabis help?

When it comes to treating pain, the use of cannabinoids (CBDs) extracted from cannabis can work in different ways. CBDs used for medicinal benefits are different to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which causes the euphoric “high” when cannabis (marijuana) is consumed through smoking, vaping or eating. For some people, CBDs shut down the sensation of pain. In other people, they help them to disassociate and relax so that they’re not so aware of the pain, enabling them to get on with their day.

CBDs act as a kind of circuit breaker, reducing the abnormal neuron activity that’s behind neuropathic pain. A CBD binds itself to CBD receptors in the body that are an important part of the nervous system. Once in place, they block the release of neurotransmitters that have been found to trigger pain.


There’s a growing body of evidence supporting the use of medicinal cannabis for the treatment of myriad conditions. A systemic review of the benefits and adverse effects of CBDs concluded moderate quality evidence to support their use for the treatment of muscle spasms, chronic pain and spasticity.

How is medicinal cannabis being prescribed in Australia today?

There is currently no predetermined list of conditions for which a cannabis-based medicine can be prescribed in Australia. However, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) states that medicinal cannabis is generally being prescribed for conditions including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy-induced nausea, PTSD and anxiety and depression.

There is currently no predetermined list of conditions for which a cannabis-based medicine can be prescribed in Australia. However, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) states that medicinal cannabis is generally being prescribed for conditions including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy-induced nausea, PTSD and anxiety and depression.

But access to medicinal cannabis is far from simple. To obtain it, people can’t simply visit their doctor, report they have chronic neuropathic pain and – voila! – expect a prescription to be immediately written.

There are currently two main avenues in Australia to obtain medicinal cannabis.

The first is through the Special Access Scheme (SAS) category B. Via this method, a doctor makes an application to the TGA which includes the patient’s diagnosis and indications for which the product is sought. The application requires a thorough clinical justification for the use of the product, the seriousness of the patient’s condition, details of previous treatment and reasons why an existing medication can’t be used instead. The application must also include safety and efficacy data to support the proposed use of the product. This may include references to clinical trial results and peer-reviewed data, details of intended monitoring for adverse events and patient response to treatment.

The second way is through a doctor who, as an Authorised Prescriber, is approved to prescribe medicinal cannabis to their patients without further TGA approval. To become an Authorised Prescriber the doctor must have the training and expertise appropriate for the condition being treated and the proposed use of the product, be able to best determine the patient’s needs of the patient monitor the outcome of the treatment. At the time of writing there are only 57 medical professionals registered as Authorised Prescribers in Australia.

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How is medicinal cannabis being prescribed in Australia today?

Apart from the onerous application process, another reason people might be finding it challenging to obtain medicinal cannabis is that knowledge amongst medical professionals about the benefits of CBDs is low. A new study from the Queensland University of Technology reports that although medical professionals broadly supported the idea of medicinal cannabis, they lacked information and the confidence to prescribe it, wanting more information before they did so.

Many people would benefit from easier access to medicinal cannabis from their regular doctor. But until this happens the message is clear – do your research so that you’re well informed when you visit your doctor and don’t take no for an answer. If your doctor is reluctant, ask them for a referral to a medicinal cannabis clinic. Such clinics have medical professionals on board who will assess your condition and make a decision about whether to apply for CBD-based pain relief on your behalf.

Visit the SCIA Resource Library for articles and studies or Google medicinal cannabis to become better informed.

What does CBD do?

The cannabis plant has made a bit of a resurgence in recent years – at least insofar as the broad public is concerned; the benefits it can confer are being widely reported by even major News outlets now. What, exactly, is the active chemical compound that makes this plant so useful for a variety of ailments? In this comprehensive article on the uses of the oil form of CBD, in particular, we’ll delve into the many ways you can apply or imbibe it. Let’s start with the basics, and progress from there.

CBD is an acronym for cannabidiol, which is the scientific name for the active element in the cannabis plant. Once CBD is extracted, it can be made into oil for topical application, broken down for purposes of inhalation, or even baked or put into food for direct consumption. Once it’s in your body, the active element (CBD) will seek out the neuro-receptors in your body – which are, analogously, the air traffic control system that dictates the comings-and-goings of your cells. The electrical signals that are affected by CBD aid in the productive management of your immune system and your mood, and can even help induce a state of homeostasis in the cellular environment.

1.CBD oil and pain management

It has long been known that cannabinoids are very useful when it comes to pain management; the general medical establishment has only recently caught on to the phenomenon. As a result, state legislation regarding the usage of CBD oil is slowly changing to reflect its undeniable utility. Some of the starkly painful ailments that CBD oil has been used to treat are the following:

  • neuropathic pain resulting from the autoimmune disease, multiple sclerosis
  • chronic pain that isn’t specifically associated with cancer
  • neuropathic pain associated with a breakdown of the nerves of the spinal nerve
  • some classes of cancer-related pain

In fact, CBD oil is so effective that in the mid-2000s, the Canadian government approved the use of certain cannabis sprays that contain both THC and CBD to aid in pain relief for both multiple sclerosis patients and cancer patients. Although the oil variant can be very effective when used topically, the form of CBD that can be introduced directly into the bloodstream is even more effective. However, if you suffer from topical pain and itchiness resulting from one of the above diseases (and others not listed), direct application of the oil has shown to be very effective for pain management.

2.CBD oil and its effects on depression and anxiety

One of the most profitable uses for the cannabis plant, in general, is for the management of depression and anxiety – long before it was regulated, people from several cultures (some of them ancient) accessed its benefits. In the case of CBD oil, most of them lack the THC element that is associated with a euphoric and addictive “high”; the CBD active ingredient is not intoxicating at all – but goes directly to the relevant neuro-receptors to help assuage anxiety. By binding with the protein CB1 and CB2 receptors on your cells, it helps to alter the low serotonin levels that are associated with states of depression and anxiety.

Specifically, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has done research with CBD oil in rats, and found that it is an effective stress reducer in that species – which have a similar central nervous system structure to humans. Even more to the point, there was a study done in the early 2010’s in which a group of human subjects were treated with 400 mg of CBD, which reliably reduced levels of anxiety and stress. A placebo was also randomly given, to prove that the stress-reduction didn’t stem from study expectations in the subjects.

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Lastly for our purposes, there was yet another study done by the Journal of Psychology in Brazil, where test subjects were given CBD in various forms to test how it affected anxiety levels. The results were interesting as pertains to the effective dose of cannabinoids. Dozens of men had their anxiety levels measured before an event that was devised to raise anxiety levels significantly:

  • Some of the men in the study were given 150 milligrams of CBD; interestingly, these became MORE anxious when the stress test was given.
  • Some of the men were given 300 milligrams of CBD; they experienced markedly less anxiety during the stress test.
  • The men who were given the big 600 milligram dose of CBD also experienced more anxiety.

As with all such studies, placebos were given to blot out anxiety due to the very expectation of a stress test. It seems, then, that too little or too much CBD increases anxiety, whereas the “correct” moderate dosage improves mens’ ability to remain even-keeled during a stress test.

3.Post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) management

There have been quite a few tests on the effects of various forms of cannabinoids taken by both adults and children – and many of these trials have been recent. In 2016, a research paper entitled “Effectiveness of Cannabidiol Oil for Pediatric Anxiety and Insomnia as Part of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Report” involved CBD oil specifically: the trial involved a single young child that suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome. The primary results of the PTSD that the child was undergoing were both anxiety and sleeplessness; application of the oil to the female child significantly reduced both of the PTSD-associated ailments.

Judging from yet another trial conducted several years later in 2019, much promise has been shown by medicinal combinations of both CBD and THC in the effective management – and treatment, in some cases – of PTSD of varying degrees. When combined with counseling, CBD products have been shown to be markedly effective.

4. CBD oil and diabetes

The way in which CBD oil works to help assuage the effects of diabetes is circuitous by some claims, and direct by others – it depends on which study you reference. The Arthritis Foundation, for example, has compiled reliable research in 2017 showing that people with arthritis are at higher risk of developing Type II diabetes. Supporting research on rats shows that CBD oil can reduce the inflammation associated with the later development of osteoarthritis. Even more to the point, cannabinoids reduced inflammation that resulted from diabetes in similar rat studies – as well as inducing a noticeable reduction in other neurotoxic effects that are historically associated with diabetes.

Insofar as clinical studies directly involve human patients with diabetes, the results are decisive. CBD has a confirmed ability to reduce both deleterious cellular oxidation and inflammation. Although it cannot, of course, cure diabetes, itself (there’s no known cure as of yet), CBD offers protection against many of the negative effects that diabetes confers on the body – particularly the ones contributing to the buildup of plaque on arterial walls. CBD has shown beneficial effects on Type II diabetes patients, especially by helping to decrease the levels of anti-insulin resistance; thereby helping insulin to accomplish its goal of blood sugar regulation. The results of the many studies that have been done pave the way to increased future use of multiple forms of CBD on diabetes patients.

5.Effects of cannabidiol for arthritis

Yet another ailment for which CBD oil has shown promise is arthritis. Arthritis is a condition in which the joint tissues experience inflammation due to the fact that they are slowly breaking down. Although the onset of deterioration can be due to several factors like age, congenital issues, genetics, etc, the resulting condition leads to the same spate of locomotive restrictions. These include loss of range of motion, pain in the joints, and/or stiffness.

A trial done in 2016 involved both male and female arthritis patients in the UK. Although they weren’t given the oil form of cannabidiol specifically, they were given an approved drug composed primarily of CBD. The result was dramatic improvements in sleep, as well as reduced pain during both movement and states of rest for the patients involved. The CBD-containing drug not only assuaged the pain of arthritis, it also succeeded in actually suppressing the effects of the ailment by resolving some of the inflammation, itself.

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There is one noteworthy point, as discerned from a later 2018 study performed on arthritis patients in Canada. The subjects were administered 250 mg of CBD, which resulted in significant pain management for the patients involved. However, for reasons yet unknown, the men in the group experienced more significant pain reduction than the women as a result of the CBD infusion.

6.Drug abuse and CBD oil – Specifically opioid addiction

The first thing to note here is that clinical trials specifically targeting humans to check for the effects of CBD on Opioid addiction are still undergoing and, although there are some results, the bulk of the results stem from trials involving rats – which, as stated earlier, have a very similar central nervous system to humans. With that said, experiments in which purified CBD was given to rats that had been plied with a heroin addiction reveal that the rats experience greatly-lessened anxiety, which then translates to stifling their addictive, heroin-seeking behavior. Basically, when given CBD, their cravings diminished and there were discernible changes in the brains of the rats. Medical researcher Yasmin Hurd conducted these experiments 20 years ago to date (2022 today).

When the above trials finally involved human subjects given CBD, they also experienced reductions in their cravings for the Opioid. Again, the CBD reduces the anxiety associated with not having the drug by apparently targeting the same serotonin receptors that approved drugs on the market do. Yasmin Hurd’s study showed that the positive effects of CBD persisted for more than a week from the time of last usage. More studies need to be completed to see whether cannabidiol continues to dampen Opioid cravings over time such that the CBD, itself, is no longer needed to optimize the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin.

7. Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties

Quite possibly the most robust of the attributes possessed by CBD oil and cannabidiol in general, is their antioxidant and inflammatory properties. The free radicals that travel throughout our body cause damage to cells; vitamins such as C, A, B, etc bind to free radicals and eliminate their ability to do damage. In fact, a sizable percentage of the ailments that we undergo manifest themselves as inflammation and oxidation; studies show that CBD stifles the proliferation of the dangerous cytokines that work to suppress the immune system.

As you know, inflammation is one of the progenitors of rheumatoid arthritis, which is why CBD oil is known to work to assuage the symptoms of this common ailment. In fact, by reducing the effects of the T-cell suppressing cytokines, cannabidiol actually helps to fight the underlying cause of arthritis – instead of merely suppressing the symptoms. More studies will need to be done to ascertain whether this can be a lasting effect.

As for the anti-oxidation effects observed, CBD has successfully stifled the peroxidation of keratinocytes in rat skin. In plain English, this basically means that CBD has stopped the UV-ray protection mechanism in rat skin from being compromised by a variety of lab-induced factors, for the purposes of carrying out the experiment.

8. Effect of CBD on seizures

Epileptic seizures affect nearly 3.5 million Americans every single year, with half-a-million of these being children. Few things make parents feel more helpless when their child is undergoing a grand mal epileptic seizure – which is why the results of drugs containing CBD are so promising. Indeed, these results have gone beyond the trial stages (for the most part; new studies are always being conducted) and found their way into FDA-approved drugs – one of which is named Epidiolex.

One of the studies in question was performed on over 500 patients with one of two forms of epileptic conditions. As is always the case with such studies, a placebo was given to stamp out the possibility of expectations affecting the anxiety states of the test subjects. The study showed that there the frequency of the seizures diminished. Additionally, in other trials, Epidiolex successfully treated epilepsy in children as young as 2 years old.