While there is no definitive answer to the question of how long cannabis (aka weed or marijuana) can stay in your system, studies can give us a good idea of how long cannabis may be detected in various drug tests, such as saliva, blood, urine, and hair tests. Generally, higher doses and more frequent cannabis use will lead to longer detection times. Depending on the type of test taken, cannabis may be detected in your system for up to 90 days or 3 months.1
For cannabis to leave your system, your body first needs to convert it into less active or inactive metabolites through the process known as metabolism, which we’ll explore below.
Metabolism is the body’s process of breaking down or transforming almost all of the materials that enter it, from food and drink to drugs and plant medicines like cannabis. The rate at which your body metabolises the cannabinoids and other compounds within your cannabis will determine how long it stays in your system.
In Australia, it is illegal to drive with any amount of THC in your system, and THC is the only cannabinoid tested for in drug tests. This is because THC is an intoxicating, psychoactive cannabinoid which can affect cognitive and motor skills that are needed for safe driving – including attention, judgement, vision, coordination and memory – at certain doses.
Studies have shown that moderate amounts of THC produce mild driving impairment lasting up to four hours. In comparison, 1500mg of the cannabinoid CBD (the highest daily medicinal dose) has ‘no impact on people’s driving or cognitive abilities’2 and so is not tested for in drug tests. Learn more about medicinal cannabis and driving in Australia here.
Let’s briefly look at the metabolism process for THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid detected in cannabis drug tests:
Step 1: The cannabis plant – which contains the cannabinoid THCa – is heated in a vaporiser, or is heated in the process of being extracted into another format for oral, sublingual or other consumption methods (such as an oil).
Step 2: As the THCa in the cannabis plant heats up, it converts to THC.
Step 3: When the THC is inhaled as a vapour or delivered sublingually (under the tongue), it travels through the body via the bloodstream before reaching the liver.
When THC is ingested / eaten, it travels to the liver via the digestive system before being taken up by fat tissue in the body and slowly released back into the bloodstream.
Step 4: THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the body to produce varying therapeutic and other effects.
Step 5: In the liver, THC is metabolised a number of times by CYP2C and CYP3A enzymes. It is first converted into the THC metabolite 11-OH-THC (which produces further psychoactive effects) and then into 11-COOH-THC (which is not psychoactive).
Step 6: More than 65% of THC exits the body via the stool and approximately 20% is excreted in urine. Most of the THC is excreted within 5 days as hydroxylated and carboxylated metabolites, but some can remain stored in the fat deposits in the body and in hair follicles.3
The amount of time it takes the body to metabolise cannabis and ultimately how long it will stay in your system will vary from individual to individual depending on many factors, including:
The most effective way to ensure you do not have any THC in your system is to abstain from THC for an extended period of time. How long you choose to abstain from THC may depend on any of the cannabis metabolism factors mentioned above, or on your driving status, work status or type of drug test you may need to take.
Maintaining good health during your abstinence period by drinking the recommended amount of water each day, eating a healthy diet and exercising may help your body metabolise and expel THC stores more effectively. But, there is no evidence to suggest that doing excessive amounts of any of these things will speed up the cannabis metabolism process.
Beware of any ‘cannabis detox’ products or methods that promise to magically flush out THC from your system in a short period of time. There is no evidence-backed supplement, cleanse, juice, tea, drink or product that can rapidly eliminate THC stores in the body. If you are a medicinal cannabis patient who regularly uses THC, your best bet is to abstain from THC and take a cannabis break to support the healthy functioning of your body, metabolism and liver and organs through adequate hydration and a healthy diet and lifestyle.
There are a number of different tests used to detect cannabis in the body. These tests measure the cannabinoid THC and THC metabolites which can remain in your system long after the effects of THC have worn off.
How long THC stays in your system depends on the factors above while the likelihood of THC showing up on a drug test will depend on the testing method used. Common tests for THC include:
A urinalysis (or urine test) is one of the most commonly used tests for detecting THC in Australia. Urine testing tests for the metabolite 11-COOH-THC, which can be detectable in urine for as long as 30 days or more, depending on the individual.
A 2017 review6 of urine tests found that THC was detectable in urine for varying durations after last use, depending on the following frequencies of cannabis consumption:
Saliva tests use saliva samples to detect THC. They are another common type of test performed in Australia, particularly in random roadside testing.
Generally, saliva tests can detect THC for about 12 hours after use in people who use cannabis infrequently. But for those who frequently use cannabis, such as medicinal cannabis patients who use cannabis to help treat chronic conditions, THC can usually be detected for around 30 hours after use.7
The hair test can detect cannabis for the longest duration after last cannabis use. Research shows that THC in hair can produce a positive test after 3 months (or 90 days) of last drug intake.8
Blood tests typically detect recent cannabis use, or use that has occurred within the last 2 to 12 hours.4 In heavy, daily cannabis users, THC can be detected in the blood for up to 7 days.9
THC which has been dormant in fat stores of frequent cannabis users may also be released into blood plasma following exercise, which may be detectable on blood tests.5
It is currently illegal to drive with any amount of the cannabinoid THC in your system in all states in Australia, even if you are a medicinal cannabis patient with a valid prescription. If you choose to take THC or do not wait long enough for the THC to leave your system before you drive and you test positive for THC in a mouth swab / saliva test, you can lose your licence.
Random roadside drug testing uses saliva tests to detect THC. However these tests have limitations. One study conducted by the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics in Australia found that roadside drug tests often failed to detect THC, while also producing false positives for THC presence up to 10% of the time.10
Because it is so difficult to know the exact detection windows after consuming THC, if you are a medicinal cannabis patient who has to drive frequently, you may want to consider a CBD treatment rather than a THC one under the current driving laws in Australia. Ensure you are open and honest with your prescribing doctor about your driving status and current situation so they can provide you with a treatment plan that works best for you.
Does CBD oil show up in an Australian drug test?
Routine drug tests in Australia, including roadside saliva tests and workplace cannabis drug testing, do not screen for the cannabinoid CBD. This is because CBD is a non-intoxicating compound that does not impair driving or other cognitive abilities.11
CBD oil or any other CBD medication that does not contain the cannabinoid THC will not show up on roadside or workplace drug tests, as these are testing for THC metabolites from the psychoactive cannabinoid THC (which can be impairing) and other drugs or illicit substances.
Do at-home drug tests work?
At-home drug tests generally use either urine or saliva to detect cannabis. Like laboratory tests, at-home drug testing kits test for the presence of THC metabolites, and will provide either a positive or negative result.
No test of this type is 100% accurate, and a number of factors can influence results, including:
While at-home tests may provide a useful indication for the presence of THC, laboratory tests are the most reliable way to confirm if THC is in your system.
Can secondhand smoke make you fail a drug test?
Secondhand smoke is unlikely to make you fail a drug test or produce a false positive under normal circumstances.
One 2015 study12 has shown that extreme cannabis smoke exposure can produce positive urine tests at commonly utilised cutoff concentrations. However, these positive tests are likely to be quite rare, limited to the hours immediately post-exposure, and occuring only under environmental circumstances where exposure is obvious.
An earlier 2005 study13 which placed cannabis smokers and non-smokers together in a vehicle showed that when collected properly and with a waiting period before collection, the risk of a positive result from secondhand smoke exposure was virtually eliminated in oral fluid testing.
You’ve probably heard by now that cannabis (historically known as marijuana, learn more about cannabis language here) is a very personalised medication. Unlike many other medications, there are no standardised dosages for medicinal cannabis. This means that what works best for you in terms of dosage, format, cannabinoid content and other factors may not work for another patient, even if you share the same condition.
So while finding your recommended dosage is a personalised journey you will undertake with your prescribing doctor, there are some general guidelines you can follow.
The main piece of advice you’ll hear is to ‘start low and go slow.’ This is particularly important for beginner cannabis consumers. Your doctor will likely prescribe a low dose and get you to slowly increase this at small increments until you find the best dosage for relieving your symptoms. They will also give you an ideal dose range to work within so that you’re not exceeding the recommended cannabis dosage and flooding your cannabinoid receptors. Through careful monitoring of your symptoms with the support of your prescribing doctor, you should be able to and gradually increase and adjust your treatment plan to find a dose that works best for you.
Let’s look at some of the factors that will play a part in finding your ideal cannabis dosage.
Bioavailability refers to the ability of a drug or other substance to be absorbed and used by the body for its intended purpose. When it comes to medical cannabis, bioavailability determines the rate at which cannabinoids are absorbed and effects are produced in the body. This means that bioavailability determines how quickly and how effectively your medicine will relieve your symptoms, which in turn determines what your ideal dose might be.
Cannabis bioavailability varies greatly depending on your method of consumption. This is because different routes of administration have differing effects on the way the human body absorbs, distributes, processes, and eliminates a substance like medical cannabis.
There are a number of different ways to take medicinal cannabis, and a number of different types and formats of cannabis that you may be prescribed. We’ll explore some of these below.
Vaping is the process of heating cannabis flower or extract at a high temperature without burning it, allowing cannabinoids and terpenes to be released in the form of a vapour, which is then inhaled.
In terms of bioavailability, a 2016 study found that some medical-grade cannabis vaporisers, including the Volcano Medic by Storz & Bickel, are capable of reaching bioavailability ratings of between 50–80%.1 This makes the bioavailability of cannabis vapour (with the right vaporiser) significantly higher than other cannabis formats, which may suit medical patients who require more rapid onset and faster relief from symptoms.
For medical uses, vaping is preferable to smoking not only because of its increased bioavailability, but because it maintains cannabinoid content and contains far fewer toxins and carcinogens. It is also supported by the TGA when a medical-grade dry-herb vaporiser is used.
Although smoking cannabis is the most common route of administration for non-medical cannabis use, it is not recommended for medical patients due to the health risks and the variability and unpredictability of each individual patient and their response.
Compared to vaping cannabis with a TGA-approved vaporiser, smoking cannabis comes with far greater health risks, reduced bioavailability (about 30%2) and less active ingredients. At least 40% of the THC dose in cannabis is lost in side stream/combustion when smoked,3 making it difficult to estimate the amount of THC a patient is receiving.
In the aforementioned 2016 study1 which compared the quality of cannabis vapour and cannabis smoke, only 3 non-cannabinoids were found in the cannabis vapour produced by the Volcano Medic, while about 150 chemicals were identified in the smoke of combusted cannabis, including 5 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are strong carcinogens.
The sublingual method of cannabis delivery allows active ingredients to be absorbed directly into the blood vessels of your tongue, bypassing the digestive system. Patients who use this delivery method will place their sublingual cannabis treatment under their tongue so that mucous membranes – similar to those in the lungs – absorb the cannabis into the bloodstream.
Because this method allows the active ingredients in cannabis to bypass the digestive system, its bioavailability is higher than that of edibles and other oral cannabis treatments, allowing for faster onset and higher concentrations of cannabinoids.
The bioavailability of sublingual cannabis treatments varies, and can range from slightly higher than oral methods (about 4–20%4) to as much as 92–98% for one studied oromucosal (sublingual) prescription spray.5
Ingestion methods of cannabis consumption refer to any cannabis treatment that is consumed orally – including cannabis edibles, oils, tinctures, capsules and extracts. Oral bioavailability is lower than other delivery methods, and is said to range somewhere between 4–20%.4
Despite the lower bioavailability of oral cannabis treatments, they typically last longer than other methods of consumption,6 with peak effects occurring about two to four hours after consumption.3 Given the slower onset and longer duration of oral administration this method may be more useful for medical conditions or symptoms where control over longer periods of time is required, much like any other slow release medication.
Before you find the right dose, your doctor will also need to help you find the right type of cannabis treatment for you and your needs. One of the most important factors they will consider is the active ingredients within your cannabis, including cannabinoids like CBD and THC, other cannabinoids, terpenes and other cannabis compounds.
The active ingredients within your cannabis will influence the effects your treatment has, as well as the dose you will need to take to get relief from your symptoms. Some cannabinoids or cannabinoid combinations and doses may be more effective for relieving certain symptoms, and your doctor will help guide you to find what works for you.
Because of their varying effects, it’s important to note that when consuming THC, you may notice effects more quickly than with CBD. Finding the right balance between CBD and THC and exploring different cannabis strains, formats and dosage requirements will be an individual process.The goal is to find your optimal therapeutic window where you get the most benefit without unwanted adverse effects.
Whether you are a regular cannabis consumer or entirely new to medical cannabis, your tolerance to your prescribed treatment will impact your cannabis dose. Patients who are new to cannabis are likely to have a low tolerance, and may only need 0.1–0.5 of the starting dose of a regular cannabis user3 to feel its effects. Patients who are regular cannabis consumers may have a higher tolerance, and may be able to start on a slightly higher dose. These patients should be advised to consider their tolerance and the accumulation of THC in fat stores and adjust their dose or take tolerance breaks accordingly.
We know that regular / prolonged use of THC-containing cannabis treatments may cause patients to develop a tolerance7 to the therapeutic benefits of their treatments. The means they may stop experiencing the same results or relief that they usually would with their regular THC dose. Tolerance breaks can help patients reset their cannabinoid receptors and return to their ideal dose (or even lower) to get the desired effects from their treatment, resulting in lower costs over time and a more balanced endocannabinoid system.
Each of us – whether we consume cannabis or not – has an endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a molecular system made up of a vast network of chemical signals and cellular receptors located all throughout our brains and bodies. These help regulate and balance many processes in the body – including immune response, communication between cells, sleep, pain, appetite, hormone levels, metabolism, memory, and more.
Because no two bodies are the same, the endocannabinoid system will vary between each individual patient depending on age, sex, health, weight, illness, potential endocannabinoid deficiency and other individual factors.
For example, age and sex of individuals are important determinants for the consequences of cannabinoid exposure on conditions like anxiety, with women having an increased propensity to anxiety-related disorders and biological differences in the endocannabinoid system compared with men.8
So, because the endocannabinoid system varies from person to person, so will our individual responses to medical cannabis treatments, which interact with the endocannabinoid system in a number of ways. This is why finding the right dose for you and your symptoms is an individual process that can only be done through trial and error and with the support of a healthcare professional.
Depending on your treatment goals and the condition/s and symptom/s you are using medicinal cannabis to treat, your ideal dose may be lower or higher than that of another patient, and that’s something only you and your doctor can determine together based on your individual patient needs. So while there may be general guidelines that your doctor can follow in terms of the type of treatment, the active ingredients and the dose that might be best for your condition and symptoms, it will all come down to how you as an individual respond to your cannabis treatment once you’ve started taking it.
For example, a patient with generalised anxiety, PTSD or sleep issues may see greater results with a lower dose of CBD (e.g. 25 to 75 mg)9,10 than with a higher dose (e.g. 600 mg).11 A patient with epilepsy however, might require 300 to 1500 mg of CBD each day to reduce seizures.12 It all depends on the individual patient’s response to treatment.
By monitoring your progress (a treatment journal which measures your symptoms over time as you find your ideal treatment and dose is a great tool for this) and regularly checking in with your prescribing doctor, you should be able to find a treatment plan and an ideal dose for your treatment goals.
Titration simply refers to the process of slowly increasing your medication dosage to find the right amount of cannabis that will produce your desired therapeutic effects.
Getting to this point requires a bit of patience, especially for beginner cannabis consumers. Try and follow these steps to find your ideal dosage:
1. Start low and go slow
When you are prescribed a medical cannabis treatment, your doctor should discuss your starting dose range with you. Always start with a dose on the lower end of that spectrum and wait until the estimated onset time for your particular product has passed to see if you begin to feel any therapeutic benefits or side effects.
If you’re not feeling the desired effects, you can gradually increase your dose by an amount advised by your doctor until you find your ‘sweet spot,’ ensuring you stick to that dose for at least two to three days each time you increase to give your body a chance to adjust. This process of determining the minimal amount of your medicine that will give you your desired results with minimal side effects is known as titration.
When it comes to medical cannabis, titration also involves finding the right balance between the different cannabinoids (eg. CBD and THC) in your medications, your condition and your body’s individual response.
2. Stay consistent
Cannabinoids take time to build up their effect within your body. For best results, make sure you’re sticking to your treatment plan consistently.
3. Less is sometimes more
Depending on your condition, when it comes to dosing medical cannabis, more is not always better. For some patients living with chronic conditions, smaller doses over a prolonged period of time may be more effective than a high dose. Ensure you’re working with your doctor to figure out what dose works best for you.
4. Pay attention to your body
Like with any medicine, your ideal dosage of medical cannabis can change over time. Whether increasing or decreasing your dosage, the important thing is to listen to your body and what it needs and to check in with your prescribing doctor regularly.
In the cannabis world, microdosing refers to taking small, low dose amounts daily (or on most days). Many patients do this in order to reap the medical benefits of THC while avoiding its psychoactive effects of THC that can interfere with the demands of daily life. Depending on your symptoms and condition, some patients may see greater results from a lower THC dose than with medium or high doses. Microdosing should always be done with the guidance and support of your prescribing doctor.
Microdosing may be suitable for patients who want to get the medical benefits of their THC treatment without any of the impairing effects. Microdosing is not suitable for patients who drive on a daily basis, as it is illegal to drive with any amount of THC in your system in Australia.
Microdosing may also suit certain conditions better than others. For example, a 2012 study of patients with advanced cancer who were unresponsive to opioid painkillers found that patients who received the lowest dosage of cannabinoids (CBD/THC) showed the greatest reduction in cancer pain, while those receiving higher doses actually experienced more pain.13 Similarly, another 2014 study of 104 incarcerated male inmates with serious mental illness found that PTSD-associated symptoms like insomnia, nightmares, general symptoms and even chronic pain were significantly improved in participants who received regular, smaller doses of the synthetic cannabinoid Nabilone.14
So while high doses of cannabis may be needed to treat significant symptoms or flare-ups for certain conditions, a lower daily dose or microdose of cannabis over time may actually be more suitable for maximum safety and efficacy in some patients.
To explore microdosing your treatments, you will need to talk to your prescribing doctor and work within the dosage range they recommend for your particular treatment. If you are using cannabis regularly, your doctor may advise that you take a tolerance break before starting your microdosing regime so that you can reset your cannabinoid receptors and start at a lower dose, gradually increasing until you get the minimal noticeable effect.
The way you microdose will also depend on the type of cannabis treatment you take and the method you use to take it, as well as whether you use one or a combination of medical cannabis treatments. Again, your doctor will be able to help you explore microdosing and find the lowest daily dose that works for you and your condition, so ensure you’re checking in with them regularly and monitoring your progress as you go.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to finding the right dose for your medical cannabis treatment, and treatment results will vary from person to person. Your best bet is to ensure you’re working with a qualified and experienced medical cannabis doctor on a treatment plan and dosing regimen that works for you. Monitor your progress, check in with your practitioner regularly and pay attention to how you’re feeling over time. With the right support, you should be able to find a dose that helps you reach your treatment goals.
Should you stick to the recommended standard dosage?
Always follow the dosage guidelines provided to you by your doctor, unless you experience unwanted side effects and need to stop your treatment (make sure you let your doctor know if this happens to you). Your doctor will provide you with a dose range to work within for your specific treatment and needs. You should start at the low end of that range and gradually increase / titrate your dose up until you get the effects you desire. Where your ideal dose ends up sitting within the standard dose range will depend on you and your symptoms as an individual.
If you reach the high end of your dose range and still don’t experience relief from your symptoms, you should reach out to your prescribing doctor for further advice on what to do. Be careful about increasing your dose beyond your recommended dose range, as this can flood your endocannabinoid receptors and create an imbalance, leading to symptoms like anxiety and sleep issues. Instead, you should talk to your doctor about other options, including tolerance breaks (if you are already a regular cannabis user), other medical cannabis formats and delivery methods, or other treatment options altogether.
Can you overdose on cannabis?
You can’t overdose on cannabis in the same way that you can overdose on other drugs or pharmacological medications, such as opioids. But it is possible to have a bad reaction or experience adverse effects, especially when cannabis use is combined with other substances like alcohol.
Cannabis compounds interact with receptors in the brain that influence things like memory, pleasure, and cognition. Unlike substances like opioids and alcohol, these molecules aren't found in areas that control breathing, meaning cannabis is unlikely to cause death on its own. Opioids can kill in high doses by binding to receptors that depress breathing, while large amounts of alcohol can similarly impair the body’s ability to control breathing.
CBD is generally well tolerated as a cannabinoid and is non-impairing, even at high doses.15 On the other hand, the effects of THC can include the ‘high’ feeling commonly associated with cannabis, and can be impairing or sedating in some people at certain doses. Because of this, THC is more likely to cause unwanted side effects like anxiety, confusion, dizziness, slower reaction times and increased heart rate at high doses. In rare cases and at very high doses it can also cause hallucinations, panic attacks, nausea and vomiting. These adverse events are highly unlikely to occur in patients who stick to the dose recommended by their prescribing doctor.
To date, there have not been any reported deaths in teens and adults resulting solely from cannabis use or toxicity.
A tolerance break (sometimes referred to as a ‘t-break’ or ‘cannabis holiday’) is when you give your body a break from your cannabis treatments for a period of time to reset your cannabinoid receptors and get the most out of your medication. We know that regular use of THC-containing cannabis treatments can cause patients to develop a tolerance to the therapeutic benefits of their treatments, meaning they may stop experiencing the same results or relief that they usually would with their regular dose of medication.1 A tolerance break helps counteract this effect by resting and resetting the receptors in your body that interact with cannabis so you can return to your preferred dose or even lower to achieve your desired therapeutic benefits.
When using medicinal cannabis to treat the symptoms of a medical condition, our goal is always to find the right type of treatment – including format, cannabinoid content and terpene profile – as well as the right dose to help you find relief while maintaining a sense of homeostasis or balance within your body. All of these factors vary depending on the needs of each individual patient, and what works best for you may not work for someone else’s symptoms or physiology.
As a medical cannabis patient, you may be prescribed any combination of CBD-only treatments, THC-only treatments, or combined treatments containing both CBD and THC, as well as other minor cannabinoids (such as CBG or CBN). The way these cannabinoids affect you and impact your tolerance varies depending on how they interact with your endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is the molecular system responsible for regulating and balancing many processes in the body – including immune response, communication between cells, sleep, digestion, stress, pain response and more. The ECS is made up of cannabinoid receptors, endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids), and the enzymes responsible for the synthesis and degradation of the endocannabinoids.
Let’s look at the different ways CBD and THC interact with our ECS and affect our cannabis tolerance.
Cannabidiol or CBD is one of the most abundant in a long list of cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, alongside THC. Unlike THC, CBD won’t bring on a feeling of being ‘high.’ CBD is known for its calming effects on the body, with potential therapeutic benefits ranging from relieving anxiety and depression to reducing seizures, pain, inflammation and more.
We know that the cannabinoid CBD has a narrow side effect profile.2 It’s non-impairing,3 and because it works indirectly, rather than directly, with our ECS (and binds only weakly to our cannabinoid receptors) there is little risk of CBD causing an imbalance or flooding our ECS. This means that you will likely be able to maintain your ideal dose of CBD without building up a tolerance, developing unwanted side effects or needing to adjust your dose too much. If you take CBD only treatments, you may benefit from taking breaks to reset your system and help maintain the effectiveness of your treatments, if your doctor advises you to do so. There is a very low risk of experiencing withdrawal symptoms during a CBD break.
When it comes to THC, things work a little differently. THC is a psychoactive, intoxicating cannabinoid that acts directly upon the body’s ECS4 by stimulating our cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2). THC’s potential therapeutic benefits range from pain and nausea relief to reducing inflammation, anxiety, insomnia and more. Because the ECS is responsible for maintaining balance and harmony in the body, the effects of THC will be dose-dependent. Meaning the correct dose of THC can help create balance, while too much THC over too long a period of time can cause an imbalance. Not only that, but research has shown that regular users of THC-containing cannabis treatments develop a tolerance to both the impairing effects, as well as the therapeutic benefits of the plant over time.This means that THC users may start to notice they are not achieving the same level of relief with their usual dose after a period of consistent use.
Thankfully, this built up tolerance is not a final, permanent state of regular cannabis consumption, but rather a temporary state of decreased sensitivity to cannabis that fluctuates depending on the pattern of cannabis use. This means that you can reset your cannabis receptors, lower your tolerance, regain your sensitivity and keep your cannabis dose within the ideal range for your needs (and your budget) by taking breaks from your treatments – with the guidance and support of your prescribing doctor.
Developing a tolerance to a substance is often associated with chemical dependence and addiction, but tolerance is not necessarily synonymous with addiction. Tolerance can occur after normal prescription drug use, recreational drug use and alcohol use. If tolerance occurs alongside more concerning signs like heavy use (i.e. beyond what is prescribed), risk-taking behaviours and neglecting responsibilities, it could indicate a more serious problem like addiction.
Medicinal cannabis is known to have a low to moderate risk of dependence that is significantly lower than alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and prescription drugs like morphine and opioid medicines.5 Taking tolerance breaks can reduce the amount of THC you need to feel the therapeutic benefits of your medicine and reduce the risk of dependence. For most people, there is a low risk of withdrawal symptoms when taking a tolerance break. Talk to your prescribing doctor if you believe you are experiencing any signs or symptoms of cannabis dependence or withdrawal before or during your tolerance break.
When you’ve been consuming THC for a while, your brain may decrease its cannabinoid receptors to try and rebalance itself. The constant activation of your ECS’s cannabinoid receptors by the THC can cause them to ‘downregulate’ and reduce their sensitivity to cannabis. This downregulation becomes cumulative when cannabis use is repeated before the cannabinoid receptors have fully upregulated after the last exposure to THC.
When you take a break from THC, you’re allowing your cannabinoid receptors to adjust and balance themselves out chemically so that you can regain sensitivity to cannabis and achieve your desired therapeutic benefits without having to increase your dose and flood your cannabinoid receptors.
Tolerance breaks can help you get the most out of your cannabis treatments in a number of ways. If you’ve developed a tolerance to the effects of your treatment, you may find that you’re needing to increase your dose of THC to high levels to find relief from your symptoms. But when you do this, you’re actually running the risk of overwhelming your endocannabinoid system.
Phytocannabinoids – like those found in cannabis, including THC and CBD – interact with our ECS and in varying ways. THC can activate specific cannabinoid receptors to produce a psychoactive effect, which may help to relieve pain, reduce nausea and vomiting, increase appetite, improve sleep and more. While CBD interacts with our opioid, dopamine, and serotonin receptors, giving it the potential to reduce pain, depression and anxiety while boosting the immune system and helping with addiction. Because THC works so directly upon the ECS and cannabinoid receptors, using too much can actually flood these receptors, potentially leading to dysregulation within the body and unwanted side effects like insomnia, anxiety and more.
Ensuring you are not overwhelming your ECS with THC by taking a break from your treatments, rather than continually upping your dose, will help maintain balance within your body. This will allow you to continue using THC to improve ECS function and assist with pain relief, sleep, anxiety and more, rather than creating dysfunction.
And because tolerance breaks can help you keep your dose at the ideal level you and your doctor will have decided upon without increasing to high levels, they can also help you make your medication last longer. This means less money spent on treatments, less scripts to fill and more benefits from your treatments over time.
If you’re not getting the same results you usually would with your regular dose of medication, it may be time for a tolerance break. Depending on your symptoms and condition, this might mean you’ve stopped experiencing the same amount of pain relief and have had to increase your dose, or you’re finding you’re more restless at night when your medication would usually be helping you sleep. You might feel your anxiety symptoms creep up or you may need to take more of your treatment to combat nausea. Or, you might just be running out of your medication earlier than expected. Whatever it looks like for you, your medication’s reduced effectiveness may be due to your built up tolerance – and it’s likely a good time to consult with your doctor about how to combat this.
Depending on your situation as a medical cannabis patient, you may be a daily user of cannabis who relies heavily on your THC-containing treatments to manage your symptoms and go about your daily life, and the thought of taking a break from them may be daunting. Or, you might find the break to be manageable. That’s why it’s so important to consult with your prescribing doctor and work out a plan for your tolerance break – including when you will take your tolerance break, how long you will take it for, how you can manage your symptoms during that time and how to resume your THC treatment at the end of your break.
Essentially, you will choose a start and end date for your break, and during that time you won’t consume any cannabis treatments.
There is no universal ideal timeframe for taking tolerance breaks, though it is generally accepted that a tolerance break should be at least 48 hours long to give your cannabinoid receptors enough time to start to reset. For long-time users who want a true reset and for THC to leave the system entirely, some patients take tolerance breaks ranging from a few weeks to a month to get back to optimal endocannabinoid system functioning. It all depends on your individual situation and your doctor’s advice.
When restarting your treatment at the end of your tolerance break, your doctor should provide you with a new starting dose that may be about half of your original dose so you can titrate up slowly to find your new ideal dose. If your new dose is the same or even lower than your original dose and you are achieving your desired therapeutic results, then your tolerance break was likely effective. In some circumstances, your doctor may prescribe a new type of cannabis treatment with varying cannabinoid ratios and terpene blends for you to try at the end of your tolerance break. This can help your receptors kick back in to get the most out of your cannabis treatments.
If you’re not already, it might also be a good idea to start taking a small amount of CBD alongside your THC treatments, or to start taking a full spectrum cannabis medicine which contains THC, CBD and a range of other beneficial cannabinoids and properties. CBD may help to mitigate or reduce the undesired effects of THC, and full spectrum medicine containing both cannabinoids can help to keep your dose of THC down thanks to the synergistic effect cannabinoids and terpenes have on the ECS. Talk to your doctor to find out if these treatments might be right for you.
The phytocannabinoids found in cannabis – like THC and CBD – are just some of a number of natural tools we can use to strengthen our endocannabinoid system and help our body achieve a sense of homeostasis (balance). When taking a break from THC-containing treatments, there are some things you might like to try to support your ECS and help manage your symptoms:
Not all of these tools will be achievable or effective for patients with severe symptoms. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage your symptoms and regulate your ECS during your tolerance break.
In addition to looking after your ECS during your tolerance break to help minimise your symptoms, you may want to pay attention to how your tolerance break affects your sleep. Many patients use cannabis treatments to help with sleep issues, and you may find that abstaining from cannabis makes it difficult to wind down at night. If this happens to you, you might like to try the following tips:
If you’re worried about how your tolerance break might affect your sleep, it’s a good idea to talk to your prescribing doctor about lifestyle, medicinal or herbal alternatives for sleep that you can rely on during your break from cannabis.
If you find your current dose of THC-containing cannabis medication is not as effective at relieving your symptoms as it usually is, it might be time for a tolerance break. As a Polln patient, the best place to go for guidance is your Polln doctor. Book a follow up consultation via your patient dashboard to talk to your doctor about what you’re experiencing, how the effects of your medication have changed and why a tolerance break might be right for you at this time.
Your doctor will help you develop a plan of action for your break – including the duration, when to take it, how to manage your symptoms and how to restart your THC treatment once you’ve finished. With your doctor’s guidance, you should be able to return to your ideal dose of cannabis treatment to get your desired results, and together you can make any required adjustments to your treatment plan so that you can get the relief you need from your treatments.
Each of us – whether we consume cannabis (aka marijuana) or not – has an endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a molecular system made up of a vast network of chemical signals and cellular receptors located throughout our brain and body. These help regulate and balance many processes in the body – including immune responses, communication between cells, sleep, pain, appetite, hormone levels, metabolism, memory, and more.
The endocannabinoid system is made up of:
Unlike the nervous system or cardiovascular system, the endocannabinoid system is not an isolated structural system located in a specific region of the body. Instead, the ECS is a receptor system broadly distributed throughout the body which is acted upon by cannabinoids and enzymes. Endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors can be found throughout the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells.
Let’s unpack the endocannabinoid system further.
The ECS plays a vital role in our central nervous system and immune systems. Researchers have linked the endocannabinoid system to at least 15 internal processes in the body.1
All of these functions contribute to the stability and balance of your internal environment. The role of the endocannabinoid system is to ensure that when external force – such as an injury, illness or stressor – throws the body off balance, your ECS can kick in to help return your body to a state of homeostasis.
The endocannabinoid system is made up of those three core components mentioned above: endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors and enzymes. Each of these components play an important role in helping our internal functions run smoothly, and are constantly working together to keep a wide range of bodily processes in balance. Let’s look at each component individually:
Endocannabinoids are naturally occurring molecules found in the body. They exist to mediate our normal physiological functions, and appear to have evolved in the brain to maintain biological harmony while also playing a role in neuronal plasticity (how the brain adapts to change).
The two major endocannabinoids that have been discovered are:
Both of these endocannabinoids help our internal functions run smoothly, and a healthy human body produces them as needed. When there is a deficiency or imbalance in our endocannabinoid production, then we may need to look at external ways to upregulate our endocannabinoid system (more on this below).
Endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) are not to be confused with Phytocannabinoids which are found in plants. Phytocannabinoids naturally occur in a range of plant species, but are most commonly associated with the cannabis plant. You’ve probably heard of the popular cannabinoids, CBD and THC, however there are hundreds of cannabinoids.
Cannabinoid receptors are found on the surface of cells throughout the body. When endocannabinoids bind to these receptors, this signals to the ECS to kick-start a response. Researchers have identified two primary cannabinoid receptors within the body:1
Many tissues contain both CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors, and each is linked to a different action. Both endocannabinoids (like Anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG)) and phytocannabinoids (like THC and CBD) interact with our two primary cannabinoid receptors to produce varying effects on the mind and body. More about how cannabis interacts with our CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors below.
Enzymes are molecules that accelerate chemical reactions in the body. Enzymes in the ECS are responsible for the synthesis and degradation of endocannabinoids.2 This means that certain enzymes will help produce endocannabinoids on demand, and once they have carried out their functions in the body, other enzymes will then just as quickly break the endocannabinoids down again.
There are two main enzymes responsible for this:
Modulation of these two enzymes can up-regulate or down-regulate the endocannabinoid system by increasing or decreasing endocannabinoid levels within the body.
The endocannabinoid system works by relying on each of its components – endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors and enzymes – to create balance within the body.
A typical endocannabinoid system function works when the body’s naturally produced endocannabinoids (which are present in various organs and tissues) become active by binding with a cannabinoid receptor (also located all throughout the body) to regulate a bodily function, such as digestion or sleep. Essentially, when a system or function in the body is out of balance, receptors bind to cannabinoids to help correct the problem. Once the endocannabinoid system brings the body back into balance, enzymes will break down the cannabinoids to prevent overcorrecting the problem.
Let’s look at an example: if your body is experiencing pain, then a signal may be sent to enzymes to synthesise (produce) the endocannabinoid 2-AG. The 2-AG may then bind with and activate the CB1 receptors and/or the CB2 receptors3 to relieve the sensation of pain4 without interrupting other important bodily functions, such as temperature regulation, digestion and more. Once the body has been brought back into balance, the enzyme MAGL will then rapidly degrade the endocannabinoid 2-AG to avoid overcorrecting the problem and creating an imbalance in the body. It is this process that helps other functions of the body run smoothly even when the body is experiencing disruptions such as pain, inflammation or a fever.
When it comes to conditions like chronic pain, anxiety, or inflammatory diseases where the endocannabinoid system has not managed to bring the body back into balance and reduce symptoms, then it may be worth investigating whether an endocannabinoid deficiency or ECS dysregulation is contributing to these symptoms and looking at ways to upregulate the ECS to provide relief (more on this below).
There are hundreds of cannabinoids found in cannabis. The most popular and well-known are CBD and THC, followed by CBN, CBC and CBG. Because these phytocannabinoids have a similar chemical structure to our endocannabinoids, they have the potential to aid internal processes and mediate physiological functions when taken correctly and responsibly – especially under the guidance of a prescribing doctor.
Phytocannabinoids like THC, CBD and CBN interact with our endocannabinoid system in varying ways:
THC has been shown to work directly with the ECS by activating the CB1 receptors in the brain, producing a psychoactive effect. This may help relieve symptoms of pain, reduce nausea and vomiting, increase appetite, improve sleep, and more in some patients. It’s important to note that because THC works so directly upon the endocannabinoid system via the CB1 receptor, using too much THC can actually flood the CB1 receptors, potentially leading to increased anxiety, impaired memory and slow reaction times. This is why it’s so valuable to undergo cannabis treatment with the support of a prescribing doctor who can tailor a cannabis treatment plan to your exact needs, symptoms and individual circumstances. Learn more about THC tolerance and how THC interacts with the endocannabinoid system by heading to our Tolerance Breaks article.
CBD works indirectly with the ECS to interact with our opioid, dopamine, and serotonin receptors, giving it the potential to reduce pain, depression and anxiety while boosting the immune system and helping with addiction. CBD is more likely to bind to the CB2 receptor, but it does not bind to the CB1 receptor like THC does. Because the stimulation of the CB1 receptors is what causes the ‘high’ associated with cannabis (an unwanted side effect for some), CBD taken without THC does not cause this effect. CBD may also work by preventing endocannabinoids from being broken down, allowing them to have a greater effect on your body. For example, CBD has been found to inhibit the activity of the fatty acid amide hydrolase enzyme,5 which breaks down the endocannabinoid anandamide (AEA). Because anandamide levels play a key role in memory, mood, appetite, sleep, and pain relief, CBD’s inhibition of the enzyme that breaks it down may aid these functions while stimulating a sense of happiness and mental wellness.
One of the lesser known (but no less important) cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant is CBN, short for ‘cannabinol.’ CBN is known to have anticonvulsant, sedative, and other pharmacological activities6 that are still being explored. CBN is created during the breakdown of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC.
Like THC, CBN also binds to the CB1 receptor, but at a much lower strength than THC.7 This technically makes it a psychoactive compound, but it doesn’t produce much of a ‘high’ sensation that some patients may experience with THC. CBN has a stronger affinity towards the CB2 receptors, which are mostly associated with immune system regulation.7
Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency8 (CECD) is a term coined by neuropharmacologist Dr Ethan Russo in the early 2000s in an attempt to explain the potential therapeutic effects of cannabis in treating certain treatment-resistant conditions. The theory suggests that a low functioning endocannabinoid system – which may look like low endocannabinoid levels, an overabundance of metabolic enzymes or some other ECS dysfunction – could contribute to the development of certain chronic conditions such as:
A 2016 article reviewing over 10 years of research on the endocannabinoid system and its relationship with IBS, fibromyalgia and chronic migraines, suggests that endocannabinoid deficiency may explain why some people develop some of these conditions.9 However, much more research is needed before we can come to a definitive conclusion.
If you develop issues with sleep, chronic pain, menstrual pain, unmanageable stress, IBS symptoms, migraine, depression or any other issues relating to bodily functions that are regulated by the endocannabinoid system, this may be a sign of endocannabinoid deficiency or dysregulation. Unfortunately, there is no definitive cause of CECD and the concept is still very much a theory which requires more robust research to be better understood. If you’re ever unsure, always speak with a qualified healthcare professional about your conditions and symptoms.
If you have a chronic condition with symptoms that are resistant to other types of treatment, such as pain or anxiety, you may want to explore medicinal cannabis as a potential treatment option with a prescribing doctor. Medicinal cannabis may be beneficial for patients who have some kind of endocannabinoid dysfunction, which has been seen in endometriosis patients, fibromyalgia patients and more.
Ultimately it will be up to a prescribing doctor to determine whether cannabis may be right for you and your condition. A cannabis clinician with experience in cannabinoid medicines is your best bet for getting specialised advice and a treatment plan that meets your therapeutic needs. An experienced cannabis clinician should be able to determine which cannabinoids and other cannabis compounds would benefit you and your symptoms, as well as your ideal type of cannabis treatment, the method you use to take it and at what dose.
There are a number of ways we can naturally regulate our endocannabinoid system to achieve balance in the body and treat potential endocannabinoid deficiencies. Some of these methods include:
Although there is still much research to be done, studies to date strongly suggest that the endocannabinoid system plays a vital role in our central nervous system and immune systems. This means that maintaining a balanced and functioning endocannabinoid system is essential for good health. Lifestyle changes like diet, exercise, stress reduction techniques and herbal medicines can be used to help upregulate the endocannabinoid system and drive a range of health benefits, while cannabinoids like THC and CBD can be useful in helping to correct potential endocannabinoid deficiencies where other treatments have failed.
At Polln, all of our doctors are experts in cannabinoid medicines who understand the therapeutic implications of medicinal cannabis. They can determine your suitability for medical cannabis and tailor a treatment plan with your individual needs, symptoms and potential endocannabinoid deficiencies in mind.
To talk to an expert in medicinal cannabis, sign up as a Polln patient today.
CBD oil, also referred to as cannabis oil or medicinal cannabis oil, is derived from the cannabis plant. The ‘CBD’ in CBD oil stands for cannabidiol, which is a natural cannabinoid found in the plant.
Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds found in cannabis, alongside terpenes (plant compounds responsible for aromas and flavours), flavonoids (plant compounds associated with various health benefits), fatty acids, and other materials.
CBD oil contains high levels of CBD and can vary in levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the cannabinoid that produces a high because of its psychoactive properties, and other cannabinoids or compounds. There are 3 different types of CBD oil:
With so many CBD oil products now available in Australia, it can be confusing to differentiate between them. Often, the blanket term ‘CBD oil’ is used to refer to all of these products, which can make it hard to find the exact medical cannabis products you’re after.
People tend to use the term CBD oil to refer to medical cannabis oils in general, which isn’t entirely accurate. It’s important to make a distinction between the different types of CBD oils, as they all serve different functions.
CBD Isolate is the purest form of CBD. It doesn’t contain any of the other cannabinoids (such as THC) present in the cannabis plant, or terpenes, flavonoids, and fatty acids. As CBD Isolate only contains CBD, it is often well tolerated by most patients with very few adverse effects1.
CBD Isolate is produced using the same extraction methods of other types of CBD oils, the only difference is that it goes through a final process called winterisation. During winterisation, the oil is dissolved in ethanol at sub-zero temperatures, which separates the compounds to allow them to be filtered off. What is left is pure CBD Isolate.
Full Spectrum CBD uses the entire plant extract and contains the complete range of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds that are found naturally in the plant. This includes trace amounts of THC (less than 0.3%), which is unlikely to produce any psychoactive effects. This is important to note if you ever need to drive (learn more about driving and medicinal cannabis here.)
It has been found that the complete assortment of compounds found in Full Spectrum CBD can help achieve better medicinal and therapeutic outcomes than CBD alone – this is known as the entourage effect.
Broad Spectrum CBD sits somewhere between Full Spectrum and CBD Isolate. It is essentially the same as Full Spectrum CBD, however in the final stages of extraction, it has had trace amounts of THC removed. This means patients who are prescribed Broad Spectrum CBD can reap the benefits of having a range of cannabinoids, terpenes and other compounds (aka the ‘entourage effect’) without feeling the psychoactive effects of THC and are able to drive (learn more about driving as a medical cannabis patient in Australia).
Both Full Spectrum CBD and Broad Spectrum CBD contain cannabinoids other than just CBD. Technically speaking, this means they’re more than just 'CBD oils', however they still fall under this definition in the realm of medical cannabis.
Cannabis flower is the flower of the female cannabis plant that has been harvested. Unlike CBD oil, cannabis flower is unprocessed and less manufactured.
CBD oil is usually consumed either sublingually (under the tongue) or orally. Oral or sublingual medicinal cannabis products have been shown to be better for chronic conditions, and ongoing pain that needs to be treated over a longer period of time2. This is because the cannabinoids are absorbed by the body slower, with effects that last longer.
The recommended method of consumption for cannabis flower is inhalation using a TGA-approved medical vape. Inhalation allows the cannabinoids to absorb directly into the bloodstream from the lungs, making it the ideal method for patients who require rapid relief for short-term pain or conditions2.
The terms CBD oil and hemp oil are sometimes used interchangeably, but to be clear, we use the term CBD oil in Australia when referring to medical cannabis oil. Some people mistakenly buy hemp oil thinking it is high in CBD, but it is not.
Hemp oil is made from hemp plants that have very low concentrations of cannabinoids. CBD oil comes from cannabis plants that have large, cannabinoid-containing flowers3. The only way to get oil that is high in CBD is to get a prescription for CBD oil (learn more about accessing medicinal cannabis here).
Hemp seed oil is a different thing entirely from both hemp oil and CBD oil. Hemp seed oil is produced through cold pressing hemp seeds, is consumed for its vitamins and antioxidants, and contains no traceable amount of cannabinoids.
CBD oil is made by extracting CBD from cannabis plants. The way that CBD oil is extracted can have an effect on the final product that is created, changing everything from its purity to its therapeutic and health benefits.
There are a few ways that CBD is extracted from plants. These include:
Before going into detail about the potential benefits of using CBD oil (CBD Isolate, Broad Spectrum CBD, and Full Spectrum CBD), it’s important to understand how CBD oil works with our bodies.
One of the main systems for regulating processes and biological changes in our body is the endocannabinoid system. This system is made up of three key parts: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.
Our bodies naturally create endocannabinoids, which travel and bind to the many receptors available to help regulate us when our natural state of being – called homeostasis – is disrupted.
There are two main types of receptors in our bodies. CB1 receptors are found in the central nervous system, and CB2 receptors are found in the peripheral nervous system. After an endocannabinoid binds to a receptor and carries out its function, enzymes break it down.
The effect that occurs after an endocannabinoid binds to a receptor depends on the type of receptor, and which endocannabinoid it binds to. CBD is unique because it doesn’t interact directly with our receptors. Instead, experts believe4 it works by slowing down the decomposition of endocannabinoids, which means our bodies can feel their effects for longer. THC and other cannabinoids can bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors, which produces a range of different outcomes when it comes to their potential therapeutic and health benefits5.
Because of how they interact with our endocannabinoid system, CBD oils may be able to help our bodies manage inflammation and disruptions to our nervous system more efficiently. Because of this, some potential benefits of medical cannabis may include:
Various studies have found that CBD oil can help relieve symptoms of anxiety and other mood disorders in some patients, including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, when administered acutely6.
This 2020 study7 into the antidepressant and antipsychotic effects of CBD found that CBD oil may interact with serotonin receptors in the brain in such a way that it can assist with regulating the mood of patients and treating depression, though more research is needed in this space.
Given how CBD interacts with the central nervous system, it may help with improving sleep quality by helping relieve symptoms of anxiety disorders, which tend to be related9. In a study10 of 24 participants over two weeks, participants reported an improvement in the time taken to fall asleep, time spent asleep, and feelings of being more rested and refreshed on waking.
Although chronic pain is one of the top reasons for medical cannabis use in Australia, there is still a lot more research that needs to be done. A study led by the Australian Government Department of Health found that medical cannabis was more likely than a placebo to produce 30% and 50% reductions in pain scores in patients with chronic pain due to conditions like multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia, and more likely than a placebo to produce a significantly greater reduction in pain intensity ratings11.
Though there have been a fair few studies done on the pain relieving effects of medicinal cannabis, more research needs to be conducted to reach a conclusive decision about the validity of it12.
The best way to take CBD oil is to drop the oil under your tongue (sublingually). This allows the oil to absorb faster into our bloodstream through your sublingual glands, which are found under your tongue. This is different to ingesting CBD oil, which goes through your gastrointestinal system and can take much longer to be absorbed by your body.
While CBD oil is typically used for long-term relief, cannabis flower can be used as an optional additional potential treatment for breakthrough pain or for patients who need more rapid relief.
When it comes to consuming all types of medical cannabis treatments, it’s important to start low and go slow and always follow the appropriate dosing prescribed by your healthcare professional so you minimise any potential negative side effects.
At the time of writing this, you can only legally buy CBD oil in Australia with a prescription (learn more about medicinal cannabis access in Australia here). There are two main methods of getting a prescription.
1. Special Access Scheme (SAS)
You can speak with your current doctor or healthcare professional who has a comprehensive understanding of your medical history. They will review your request and submit your diagnosis to the TGA, alongside a clinical justification for the prescription, any supporting evidence and details on how you will be monitored throughout your treatment. Unfortunately, many GPs aren’t well informed or prepared to go through this process with patients, so this pathway might not always be accessible. If you are unsure whether your current GP can help you access medical cannabis, you can make an appointment to speak with one of our expert Polln practitioners who are experienced in prescribing medical cannabis treatments.
2. Authorised Prescriber
You can speak with an Authorised Prescriber (AP), who is a specialist doctor that has already received authority from the TGA to write prescriptions for medicinal cannabis. These practitioners don’t need to apply for approval from the TGA for individual patient prescriptions as they are pre-approved. One of the benefits of taking this pathway is that APs are experts in prescribing medicinal cannabis and can write prescriptions as soon as they have assessed your eligibility – this means you’ll experience none of the wait time associated with the SAS pathway. An issue that arises when considering this route is that it’s not always easy to know if there is an AP located near you. At Polln, we’re breaking down this barrier by working with APs who know how to support patients through their journey with medicinal cannabis.
You may have heard that CBD oil has been approved for over-the-counter (OTC) use, however, you can’t actually purchase CBD products without a prescription in Australia13. This is because so far no specific products have been approved for the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG), which is a requirement for OTC sales in Australia.
You may notice many online stores are now selling unregulated CBD oil products to ‘cash in’ on the rise in popularity of CBD oil. It’s important to understand that if you purchase nonprescription CBD products online that actually contain CBD, this is technically illegal in Australia, and comes with quite a large risk. The alternative is you’re buying CBD oil that doesn't actually contain CBD, which is just as bad.
Because CBD oil and other medicinal cannabis products are prescription medicines they need to follow strict protocols during manufacturing, to make sure the end product is consistently produced. These same protocols aren’t implemented with black market products, and regulating them is practically impossible. There are limited quality control measures, and as a result, the end product could contain dangerous byproducts and contaminants. If you’re thinking of buying CBD oil online, it’s important to keep in mind that such a product has not been approved by the TGA. Learn more about legal vs. illegal cannabis in Australia here.
As with any treatment, the best way to ensure you’re getting what you need in terms of quality and effectiveness is to speak with a qualified specialist doctor. Sign up as a Polln patient to discuss your options and suitability for medicinal cannabis with one of our expert cannabis clinicians.
Vaping is the process of heating cannabis flower or extract at a high temperature without burning it, allowing cannabinoids and terpenes to be released in the form of a vapour, which is then inhaled.
Vaping is one of two inhalation methods for consuming cannabis flower, alongside smoking. In medicinal contexts, vaping is preferable to smoking because it reduces the amount of undesired hydrocarbons being absorbed into the body while also alleviating the need for tobacco, which can lead to addiction and other serious health issues. Vaping also allows for a more precise dose to meet the therapeutic needs of a patient, given that less of the THC dose is lost in side stream/combustion.
As of 2022, flower has become the second most approved form of medicinal cannabis (also referred to as ‘medical marijuana’ – learn about the history and implications of this term here) product in Australia.1 This implies that a large number of patients are using an inhalation method to consume their cannabis medication.
Inhalation delivery methods, like vaping, allow cannabinoids to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the lungs, making this the preferred method for patients who require rapid relief of symptoms.
To vaporise cannabis, you’ll need a device known as a vaporiser (or vape). While a vaporiser can include any device that releases a particular substance in the form of vapour, doctors will generally recommend a medical-grade dry herb vaporiser for use with medicinal cannabis. Dry herb vapes allow you to vape cannabis flower without burning it so that the plant’s oils can be released as a vapour. With a dry herb vape, the patient receives only the bioactive cannabis compounds needed to experience the medicinal benefits of cannabis – and none of the chemicals or additives that might be found in some other types of commercially available vapes, such as vape pens and cartridges.
When using a dry herb vaporiser, you can also vaporise your prescribed cannabis flower at the optimal temperatures for cannabinoid and terpene activation by using the vaporiser’s temperature setting. This makes it easy to control your experience by adjusting the temperature of your vaporiser to the boiling points of terpenes and other compounds within your cannabis flower to achieve desired benefits.
As always, you should follow the specific instructions for your vaporiser as well as your doctor’s advice for using your vaporiser and treatment and only use your medication as prescribed.
It is legal to vape medicinal cannabis in public smoking areas. There are no laws which prohibit the use of medical-grade vaporisers for consuming legally prescribed medicinal cannabis treatments as long as you are in a public smoking area and are not causing a disturbance to others in your proximity. This means that because your cannabinoid medication is a highly regulated substance prescribed to you only, you will need to ensure you are at a safe distance from others, especially children, who may inhale your medication passively.
You should always carry your medication in its original packaging with the pharmacy label attached as well as any documentation (such as your script and/or approval letter) and identification that can verify your legal patient status if you are stopped or questioned by law enforcement.
The patient guidance section of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) website states that cannabis flower treatments or ‘raw (botanical) cannabis’ should be ‘vaporised but not smoked’ for medicinal purposes. Therefore Polln does not recommend smoking your cannabis treatments anywhere, including in public smoking areas, as it is not supported by the TGA.
Some of the benefits of vaping medicinal cannabis flower, as opposed to smoking it, include:
Vaping comes with its own risks and side effects. It's important to discuss your suitability for vaping with your prescribing doctor and only use your cannabis treatments and vaporiser as advised.
Although smoking is the most common route of administration for non-medical cannabis use, it is not recommended for medical cannabis patients due to the health risks and the variability and unpredictability of each individual’s response. Here are some things to consider when it comes to smoking medical cannabis treatments:
Overall, vaporising cannabis results in similar rapid absorption and high blood concentrations as smoking it, but produces fewer toxins, poses less health risks (when a high quality dry herb vaporiser is used), is more cost-effective over time and leads to greater therapeutic outcomes.
Always follow the advice of your doctor when it comes to how you administer your cannabis medication and only use your treatments and devices as advised.
Although vaping cannabis – particularly with a TGA approved vaporiser – is known to be safer than smoking, it can still come with health risks. In comparison with smoking, vaporisation has been shown to produce the purest stream of cannabinoids and terpenes while containing less than 1/1000th the hazardous substances associated with combustion.6 But not all vaping devices are created equal.
The negative health risks associated with vaping, which include lung injuries, headaches, heart issues and more, are often related to the use of illegally manufactured vape products7 and vape products with chemical profiles that are closer to that of e-liquids. Illegally manufactured or modified vape products and vape products containing harmful chemicals such as vitamin E acetate significantly increase your risk of damaging your lungs. While harmful by-products, including microbial contaminants, harmful chemicals, carcinogens, and addictive substances like dextromethorphan, are often found in black market cannabis oils, unapproved vape pens, cartridges and e-liquids. Vaporiser injuries from unapproved vapes can also range from burns to accidental liquid ingestion and a lung disease known as 'popcorn lung.'
To be safe and effective, prescribed cannabis flower should be vaporised using a TGA-approved dry-herb vaporiser within the correct temperature range as advised by your prescribing doctor.
Knowing the different boiling points of the various cannabinoids, terpenes and other properties within your cannabis flower will help you adjust your vape temperature for the safest and most beneficial experience. Set your vape temperature too low, and you run the risk of missing out on the potency and unique flavours of your cannabis flower, as certain compounds will not have reached the minimum temperature required for them to activate. Similarly, if you set your vape temperature too high – especially at temperatures higher than 230°C – you run the risk of inhaling more toxic compounds and degrading the active ingredients in your cannabis so that they are no longer beneficial to your health.
The optimal temperature range of vaping cannabis is between 180–210°C – but there is room for experimentation within this temperature range to find what works best for you and the ingredients in your flower. While cannabinoids like THC and CBD will ‘activate’ or ‘evaporate’ at lower temperatures within this range, terpenes like linalool or limonene have a higher boiling point, meaning they activate at higher temperatures within that optimal range. So if you’re looking to reap the benefits of specific compounds within your cannabis, you might like to investigate the boiling points for each of those and play around with your vape temperature, with the support of your prescribing doctor.
Storz & Bickel, owned by Canopy Growth Corporation, are currently the first and only TGA-approved medical vaporisers available in Australia to be used with cannabinoid medicines. These devices are included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) (ARTG Identifier 319028) and are available for purchase at Shop Polln.
The VOLCANO MEDIC can be used with dried cannabis flower or liquid cannabinoids dissolved in alcohol. It is a desktop vaporiser which can be used at home, in hospital settings and in medical practices. In one 2016 study, the VOLCANO MEDIC was one of 4 electrically-driven and temperature-controlled vaporizers that were found to “efficiently decarboxylate acidic cannabinoids and release reliably the corresponding neutral cannabinoids into the vapour,”8 suggesting that the device may be a safe and efficient administration of medicinal cannabis and cannabinoids.
Always use your cannabinoid medicine and devices as advised by your prescribing cannabis doctor.
Vaping is just one of a number of delivery methods used to administer cannabis medications. It is known to be safer than smoking while providing greater control over therapeutic benefits and being more discreet and more cost-effective over time. Vaping may be beneficial for patients who require rapid relief from their symptoms, as effects can be felt within minutes. Although vaping with a TGA-approved vaporiser is legal in public smoking areas, you should always keep your medication in its original packaging with the pharmacy label attached and carry your script and identification so you can verify your patient status. And always be mindful of people around you who should not be able to inhale your medication passively.
At Polln, all of our doctors are experts in medicinal cannabis treatments who can help determine which, if any, medicinal cannabis treatment may be right for you while guiding you in the use of any required devices, such as a medical vaporiser. If you are interested in talking to a doctor about medical cannabis, you can sign up as a patient and make an appointment with one of our Polln doctors today.
Anxiety is an extremely prevalent mental health condition affecting millions of Australians daily. With symptoms ranging from excessive worry and restlessness to panic attacks and sleep disturbance, it’s no wonder so many Australians are turning to a wide range of therapies to help manage their condition.
Anxiety is among the top conditions that cannabis is prescribed to help treat in Australia.1 In this article, we’ll break down why medicinal cannabis is becoming such a popular treatment for anxiety and how it can help reduce anxiety symptoms in some patients.
Anxiety is the body’s physical response to a real or perceived threat. Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, it can even help us avoid danger in some real-life situations. But for some people, anxious feelings and symptoms don’t go away. They stick around even when there is no real or immediate threat to that person. Anxiety can affect concentration, sleep, relationships and the ability to carry out daily tasks. When anxiety is a problem that persists without the presence of a real or immediate threat, it is generally categorised as an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are the most common group of mental health conditions in Australia and affect 1 in 4 Australians2 at some stage in their life.
The common types of anxiety disorders are:
In some people, anxiety may also be linked to an underlying health issue. For some, this may mean anxiety signs and symptoms are the first indicators of a medical illness. Conditions associated with anxiety can include chronic pain, IBS, drug or alcohol dependence or withdrawal, thyroid problems, heart disease and diabetes. Certain medications can also cause anxiety in some people.
Some of the physical symptoms of anxiety can include:
People who have anxiety may also avoid certain situations, such as crowds or social events, and may experience constant feelings of fear, racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating and memory disturbances.
Anxiety symptoms may also vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder someone has, for example:
Treatments for anxiety are dependent on the patient’s needs, as well as the type and severity of anxiety being experienced. Anxiety treatment may include psychological therapy, lifestyle changes (including sleep, nutrition and exercise), meditation and mindfulness and/or medication, or any combination of those treatments.
The Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists recommends cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as the first line treatment for generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder and social anxiety disorder.14 Research shows that CBT is one of the most effective treatments for anxiety, and for preventing future anxiety.15 CBT treatment involves implementing strategies to change unhelpful thinking patterns and behaviours. It is generally conducted by a trained therapist over 6 sessions or more, and may be used alongside other therapy types, such as exposure therapy or interpersonal therapy.
Pharmacological treatments like antidepressants and tranquillisers are also commonly prescribed to treat symptoms of severe anxiety, panic and stress. For some, these medications can be extremely valuable and even life-saving. They can help patients go about their lives and participate in situations that their anxiety previously prevented. But for others, these treatments come with a wide range of unwanted side effects that make them intolerable.
These can include:
Potential adverse side effects of antidepressants:
Potential adverse side effects of long term use of tranquilisers
The range of negative side effects that standard pharmacological treatments for anxiety can elicit in some patients has led many to seek alternative medicines and options for treatment, from herbal solutions like kava, ashwagandha and lavender supplements to alternative prescriptions like medicinal cannabis.
Anxiety is the second most common condition3 that medicinal cannabis (sometimes referred to as ‘medical marijuana’, learn about the history and implications of this term here) is prescribed to treat in Australia. Both THC- and CBD-dominant cannabis treatments are prescribed to help treat symptoms of anxiety. A 2018–2019 survey4 of 1388 Australian respondents who were self-medicating with (mostly illicit) cannabis also found anxiety to be the most common ‘main condition’ being treated with cannabis.
While there is conflicting information surrounding cannabis and anxiety, we know that many patients benefit from using medicinal cannabis to treat their anxiety and those that do maintain an ongoing medicinal cannabis treatment plan for anxiety do so because they prefer these treatments to standard or conventional treatments they have previously tried.
For others, cannabis may not be an effective treatment for anxiety or it may even increase anxiety in some patients. It comes down to the individual, the type and severity of the anxiety, and the type of cannabis medication prescribed to that patient.
One rationale for the use of medicinal cannabis for treating anxiety symptoms stems from the way cannabis interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a biological system present in all humans (and nearly all animals) which regulates numerous physiological processes including mood, appetite, sleep, cognition and immune function. Our ECS and the physiological processes it regulates can be supported through a range of methods and lifestyle changes, including eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, drinking less alcohol and consuming cannabinoids. Preclinical research5 also suggests that the phytocannabinoids found in cannabis (including THC and CBD) can support the production and release of endocannabinoids which may have efficacy in treating anxiety disorders. However more clinical research is required in this area. Learn more about your endocannabinoid system.
CBD and CBD oil treatments may help manage the symptoms of anxiety in some patients. CBD has been shown to have anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) potential in numerous studies, including a 2015 review6 of 49 primary preclinical, clinical, or epidemiological studies supporting CBD as a treatment for generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder when administered acutely.
This study’s preclinical evidence conclusively demonstrated CBD’s efficacy in reducing anxiety behaviours relevant to the above anxiety disorders with a notable lack of anxiogenic (anxiety causing) effects.
In 2022, the Cannabidiol Youth Anxiety Pilot Study7 conducted by Orygen also found that CBD may be effective in halving the severity of symptoms and impairment caused by chronic anxiety. The study involved 31 participants aged 12–25 who were recruited from Orygen’s primary care services. The participants had a diagnosed anxiety disorder and had failed to show significant improvement in anxiety severity following at least five cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions.
“Young people with treatment-resistant anxiety had an average 42.6 per cent reduction in anxiety severity and impairment following 12 weeks’ treatment with cannabidiol – a non-intoxicating component of the Cannabis sativa plant which is often referred to as CBD.”
– Orygen, 2022
Orygen’s pilot study found that CBD not only helped to reduce anxiety symptoms, but was also very well tolerated. They noted that they “did not see side-effects like suicidal thoughts, irritability or sleep problems, which are not uncommon in people taking SSRIs.”
CBD works to reduce anxiety in a number of ways. It can activate our serotonin receptors,8 modulate the potential anxiety-inducing effects of THC (thanks to the entourage effect) and reduce the fatty acid amide hydrolase enzyme9 that breaks down one of the body’s own important endocannabinoids – anandamide – which stimulates feelings of happiness and mental wellbeing. Anandamide deficiency has been shown to be a predictor of stress-induced anxiety, with decreased anandamide corresponding to increased anxiety-like behaviours.10 So CBD’s ability to prevent a decrease in anandamide levels makes it a promising treatment for anxiety disorders.
Like with any medication, the effects of CBD will vary depending on the individual and the dose taken.
Like CBD, THC has been shown to have the potential to treat anxiety, depending on the individual patient and the prescribed dosage. A 2019 analysis of 83 eligible studies11 found that ‘pharmaceutical THC (with or without CBD) improved anxiety symptoms among individuals with other medical conditions (primarily chronic non-cancer pain and multiple sclerosis).’ While another 2019 review12 of the evidence supporting the use of THC in PTSD found emerging evidence for positive effects on sleep, nightmares and global PTSD symptoms.
So while there is less evidence to support the use of THC-dominant formulations for anxiety disorders, there is stronger emerging evidence supporting its use in patients with PTSD, as well as anecdotal patient accounts of THC’s efficacy in treating anxiety symptoms.
Unlike CBD which works indirectly with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and our cannabinoid receptors, THC acts directly upon the body’s ECS13 by stimulating our cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2). Because the ECS is responsible for maintaining balance and harmony in the body, the effects of THC will be dose-dependent. Meaning the correct dose of THC can help create balance, while too much THC can cause an imbalance (and potentially increase anxiety). With the help of a prescribing cannabis doctor, therapeutic benefits for anxiety can be achieved by finding the right dose of THC for an individual patient.
It’s important to note that THC can exacerbate anxiety under some conditions and in some patients, and that there are driving restrictions for patients taking THC medications.
Terpenes are the organic, aromatic compounds found in plants in the form of oils. Essentially, they are what gives a plant its unique flavour and aroma. The cannabis plant alone contains more than 150 terpenes. But beyond just influencing the cannabis plant’s unique taste and smell, terpenes also play a significant role in the therapeutic effects of cannabis by interacting with cannabinoids and other cannabis compounds to create subtle differences in our experience.
On their own, there are a number of terpenes which can reduce anxiety, including linalool (found in lavender, rose and basil), limonene (found in lemon and citrus fruits), beta-caryophyllene (found in black pepper and cloves), myrcene (found in mango, thyme and lemongrass) and more. Each of these terpenes (and many more) can also be found in the cannabis plant. And by interacting with the range of cannabinoids and other compounds found within cannabis, terpenes can create or emphasise particular medicinal or other types of effects, opening up a world of therapeutic combinations for anxiety and many other conditions (again, thanks to the entourage effect).
Just like cannabinoids, your doctor can help you choose an appropriate cannabis treatment based on its terpene profile and the effects these terpenes may have on your specific symptoms or condition. So, if you’re interested in cannabis treatments for anxiety, we highly recommend talking to your doctor about which terpenes and medicinal cannabis formats might be best suited for you and your condition.
Now that we know medical cannabis has the potential to help treat anxiety in some patients, you might be wondering about some of the conflicting information you’ve seen around whether cannabis can actually cause or increase anxiety in some people.
The simple answer is: yes, cannabis has the potential to cause or increase anxiety in some patients, depending on the type and dose of cannabis administered.
Let’s break this down into CBD and THC:
CBD → We know now that CBD is a known anxiolytic. Meaning it reduces anxiety with a lack of anxiogenic (anxiety causing) effects. CBD has a narrow side effect profile and does not cause the ‘high’ or any of the impairing effects that are typically associated with certain doses of THC. For these reasons, CBD is not a cannabinoid that is generally known to cause anxiety when taken at recommended doses (which all doctors will follow when prescribing cannabis treatments).
THC → THC is also commonly prescribed to treat anxiety disorders and has been shown to be effective for sleep, relaxation and PTSD. But because THC interacts so directly with the cannabinoid receptors within the endocannabinoid system, it has a stronger impact on the body’s ability to regulate anxiety and may even cause or increase anxiety when taken at too high a dose. With the help of a prescribing doctor, patients can mitigate these side effects by finding the correct product, strain and dose to achieve reduced anxiety levels through their medicinal cannabis treatment plan. But as with any medication or treatment plan, results will vary depending on the individual patient.
Cannabis medicine is not a one-size-fits-all approach. This means most doctors will take a unique approach to treating each individual patient they see. Often, doctors will prescribe a combination of THC and CBD to help treat a patient with anxiety. But this will depend on individual factors such as the patient’s driving status and sensitivity to THC.
Here are some examples of how doctors may prescribe cannabis to help treat anxiety:
Oral cannabis formats (oils, capsules, tablets, edibles): Often prescribed for ongoing anxiety and may contain just CBD or a combination of THC and CBD and other cannabis compounds such as terpenes. It’s common for doctors to prescribe a CBD only or high CBD cannabis treatment during the day to avoid impairment and then a THC/CBD treatment at night to support sleep – these are likely to be in an oil format. The effects of cannabis oils typically last longer than flower, about 6–8 hours.
Cannabis flower (for inhalation with a vaporiser): May also be prescribed for acute anxiety (such as panic attacks) due to rapid onset of effects. For individuals who are sensitive to THC, a high dose CBD flower may be prescribed. The effects of inhaled flower typically last shorter than oils, about 1–2 hours.
To be eligible for medicinal cannabis access as a patient in Australia, the TGA states that you must have a chronic medical condition (lasting 3 months or more) that conventional treatments have failed to treat and/or caused you unwanted side effects. Conventional treatments for anxiety may include any combination of psychological, pharmacological, lifestyle, herbal and other treatments that are commonly used to treat anxiety. So, if you have had chronic anxiety symptoms for 3 months or more and you are not satisfied with your current or past treatments, you may be eligible for medicinal cannabis access.
If you are interested in exploring medical cannabis treatment options for anxiety, the first thing you’ll need to do is talk to a doctor. Our Polln practitioners are experts in medicinal cannabis who can help determine whether cannabis is a suitable treatment option for you, and which type of cannabis treatment might be right for the type of anxiety disorder you’re experiencing.
While cannabis is not a first line treatment in Australia, it is also not a last resort. Meaning you do not need to have exhausted all of your treatment options to be eligible for medicinal cannabis access. If you’re not sure whether you might be eligible, you can take our free eligibility quiz or sign up as a Polln patient to discuss your options with one of our expert doctors.
Learn more about medicinal cannabis access in Australia.
As a medicinal cannabis patient with a valid, legal prescription, you are entitled to carry your medication between all states and territories in Australia. But before you travel, there are some things to keep in mind to help you carry your medications safely and responsibly.
In this article, we’ll answer your questions about travelling as a medicinal cannabis patient in Australia.
As long as you have a legal prescription from a qualified doctor or healthcare practitioner, you are allowed to travel with your prescribed cannabis medications between all states and territories in Australia. This includes all legally prescribed cannabis medication types, including oils, flower, tablets, wafers and more.
Whenever you’re travelling with your cannabis medications, you should keep them in their original packaging with the pharmacy label attached and carry a photo ID which matches the name on the label. It’s also a good idea to have your prescription handy should you need to verify your patient status. If you’re a Polln patient, these will be readily available via the ‘Documents’ and ‘Prescription’ sections of your Polln patient dashboard.
Yes. As a patient, you are allowed to carry your medicinal cannabis treatments onboard when flying between states in Australia. Again, just make sure your medication is in its original packaging with the pharmacy label attached and bring photo ID and any relevant scripts to support the fact that you are carrying these treatments legally.
If you’re at an airport, you may still encounter sniffer dogs or law enforcement, especially if you’re travelling with cannabis flower. But, as long as you have your valid prescription and proof of patient status with you, you are permitted to travel with those treatments.
There are no specific guidelines as to whether you should carry your cannabis medication with you onto the cabin or put it in your checked luggage. You may prefer to keep your medications handy in your carry-on baggage in case you need to take them at the airport or during your flight, or if you’re worried about your luggage going missing. Or, you may be comfortable having your medications in your checked luggage. Either way, you still run the risk of being stopped or having your baggage searched, so always ensure you have documentation to support your legal patient status.
There are airline restrictions for travelling with personal vaporisers. Most airlines require these devices to be in your carry-on baggage and prohibit their use and charging during the flight. Check with your airline prior to flying to find out what their rules are for travelling with personal vaporisers.
Legally, you are allowed to carry anything that has been prescribed by your doctor for the treatment of your medical condition. While vapes are not prescribed, if you have a legal vaporiser device that has been authorised or recommended for use with your medication by your doctor, you should be okay to travel with this.
Polln highly recommends that medicinal cannabis patients who are prescribed a flower for vaporisation use one of the devices listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG), including the Volcano Medic, Mighty Medic or Mighty+ Medic by Storz & Bickel.
When it comes to flying with your vape, airlines will have specific rules and guidelines around what you can and can’t do. Most airlines require personal vaporiser devices to be in your carry-on baggage and prohibit their use and charging during the flight. Check with your airline prior to flying to find out what their rules are for travelling with personal vaporisers.
If you’re taking a form of cannabis medication that does not need to be vaporised, such as an oil, topical or a wafer tablet, then you can take your medication just as you would any other medication, based on your prescription and treatment plan. This means you shouldn’t encounter any issues when medicating in public, including at the airport, so long as you can verify your legal patient status if needed.
If you’re vaping in a public smoking area, you will just need to be cautious and ensure no one else is around that could inhale your medication vapour by being in proximity to you. As your medication is prescribed for you and you only, you do need to make sure it is not affecting those around you and only vape in non-crowded public smoking areas or in private.
Remember that driving with any amount of THC in your system is currently illegal in all states, except Tasmania. So if you are travelling by car or vehicle in any state except Tasmania, you will need to ensure you do not have THC in your system.
While travelling, it’s always best to keep your medicinal cannabis treatments in their original packaging with the pharmacy label attached. This will ensure that if you are stopped or have your baggage checked, you can verify your patient status by matching your photo ID to the patient name on the pharmacy label and the medication names listed on your prescription can be aligned with those on the packaging.
As much as possible, you should try to maintain the quality and efficacy of your medication by storing your medication correctly while you travel. For cannabis flower, that means minimising exposure to heat, light and air. For all other medication types, that simply means following the storage guidelines on your medication label.
Ensure you have an adequate supply of your medication to cover you for the duration of your trip – based on your dosing and treatment plan – and take into account any delays you may experience.
If you are a Polln patient who needs to access your medication while travelling, you can easily access repeat scripts and arrange express treatment delivery to wherever you are in Australia by using your Polln patient dashboard or contacting the Care Team. You can also book and attend online consultations from wherever you are, in case you need to speak to your doctor on the go.
Because cannabis laws vary so much between countries and states, flying internationally with medical cannabis as a patient can be both difficult and risky. Before you leave Australia you should contact the Embassy or Consulate of the countries you intend to visit, including any countries where you will have a layover between flights, to find out what restrictions they have for travelling with cannabis medicines. Each country has its own required documentation for customs clearance when carrying medicinal cannabis, and some prohibit medical cannabis entirely.
If you will be away for an extended period of time, you should talk to your doctor about whether you will be able to access your medications should you need them while overseas. If you are unable to bring your cannabis treatments with you or access them while on your trip, you can also talk to your doctor about how to navigate being without your treatments for that period of time.
If you're travelling with medicinal cannabis as a legal patient in Australia, here are the main things to keep in mind:
If you’re a Polln patient, you'll have easy access to all of your medical cannabis services, including prescriptions, online consultations, Australia-wide express treatment delivery and more, from wherever you are in Australia. So, you can rest assured that your patient documents, doctor’s guidance and cannabis treatments are always just a few clicks away.
If you have repeat scripts on file, the Care Team can arrange invoices and express treatment delivery to wherever you are in Australia. While online consultations can easily be accessed on the go should you need to speak with your doctor or arrange new scripts.
We highly recommend talking to your doctor about travelling with your medications within Australia so you can travel with confidence. All Polln practitioners are experienced cannabis prescribers who can provide guidance specific to your treatment plan and needs when it comes to travelling as a medical cannabis patient.
If you have any concerns about travelling with your prescribed medications or vaporiser, you can also contact the Care Team for further support.
As of 2022, there have been more than 248,000 scripts approved1 for medicinal cannabis (also referred to as ‘medical marijuana’ – learn about the history and implications of this term here) since it was legalised Australia-wide in 2016.
If you’re one of the thousands of patients living with a chronic condition in Australia who have received a medicinal cannabis prescription, it’s important you’re aware of the rules, risks and restrictions that exist if you are going to drive. Especially if you have been prescribed a cannabis treatment containing THC.
In this article, we’ll answer your questions about driving as a medical cannabis patient in Australia.
Because no two patients are the same, the question of whether or not you should drive while taking medicinal cannabis treatments will also vary from patient to patient, depending on the effects you experience while taking your treatments. Currently in Australia, it is legal for you to drive as a medical cannabis patient as long as you have no amount of the cannabinoid THC in your system. But there are a few other things to consider when deciding whether or not to drive while taking your treatments.
Any time you take your prescribed (non-THC) cannabis treatments or any other medication or legal substance that has an effect on the mind and body, you should wait until you are confident that you are safe to drive and you are not experiencing any impairment or adverse side effects before you do so. You should not drive while impaired by CBD or any substance – even if it is legal for you to have it in your system. So if you are experiencing any symptoms like dizziness, low blood pressure or drowsiness while taking your treatments, you should always consider whether it is safe for you to drive and wait until the effects have worn off and you are feeling better before you get behind the wheel.
The most important restriction to note is that it is currently illegal to drive with any amount of THC in your system in Australia (except Tasmania), even with a valid prescription. This means that if you are prescribed a medicinal cannabis product containing THC, you will need to wait until the medication has left your system before you drive. This is challenging given that the amount of time cannabis stays in your system can vary from patient to patient and is dependent on factors like the type of cannabis consumed, the amount of THC in the cannabis, the method used to consume it and the frequency of consumption. But under the current laws in Australia, if you take a medication containing THC and test positive for THC in a mouth swab test, you can lose your licence.
CBD-containing cannabis treatments that do not contain any THC are legal to have in your system while you drive. You should always know which cannabinoids are in the cannabis treatments you are prescribed and understand the driving restrictions that exist for those treatments as well as the effects you experience when you take them. Some CBD treatments – like CBD oils – do contain THC, while others don’t. Check your treatment label and talk to your doctor before you drive while taking any cannabis treatment.
Even if your prescribed treatment doesn’t contain any THC, you should always pay attention to the effects you experience while taking it and ensure you aren’t driving while impaired. While CBD tends to have a minimal side effect profile, it can cause side effects like drowsiness and fatigue in some patients. Always make sure you feel safe, alert and confident before you get behind the wheel and wait for side effects to wear off before driving.
No. It is not legal to drive with any amount of THC in your system in all states in Australia, even if you are a medicinal cannabis patient with a valid prescription. If you choose to take THC or do not wait long enough for the THC to leave your system before you drive and you test positive for THC in a mouth swab test, you can lose your licence.
These laws exist because THC is a psychoactive cannabinoid which can affect cognitive and motor skills that are needed for safe driving, including attention, judgement, vision, coordination and memory. However, because THC can be detected in the body for up to weeks after the initial cannabis consumption, these laws can unfortunately unfairly discriminate against legal medicinal cannabis patients who may face fines and loss of their licence even when they are unaffected and unimpaired by their medication at the time of testing. In fact, cannabis is the only legally prescribed medication for which you lose your licence when testing positive for presence, not impairment (except in Tasmania). Tasmania is the only state in Australia that allows unimpaired drivers who have been legally prescribed medicinal cannabis to lawfully drive.
Any substance that has an effect on the mind and body is capable of affecting your ability to drive. This is true of both legally prescribed and recreational substances, as well as both plant-based and standard treatments. So any time you start a new medication or substance, change your dose or make any changes to your treatment plan, you should always wait and ensure you are not experiencing any effects or side effects which may impact your ability to drive before getting behind the wheel.
When it comes to measuring cannabis impairment, science tells us that there are several factors which play a role – including dose, mode of ingestion, length of treatment and individual factors like weight and metabolism. In 2020, a landmark study led by the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics at the University of Sydney and conducted at Maastricht University in the Netherlands found that CBD does not impair driving, while moderate amounts of THC produce mild driving impairment lasting up to four hours.2 A 2022 study led by the same group found that 1500mg, the highest daily medicinal dose of cannabidiol (CBD), has ‘no impact on people’s driving or cognitive abilities.’3
The results from these studies reassure us that patients using CBD-only products are most likely safe to drive, and help us understand the duration of impairment for patients using THC-dominant products. But since driving laws in Australia use a zero-tolerance policy for THC in drivers, the law still dictates that patients consuming THC should not be driving.
Another 2022 study4 conducted by researchers at the University of Sydney’s Lambert Initiative which analysed all available studies on the relationship between driving performance and concentrations of THC in blood and saliva found ‘blood and oral fluid THC concentrations to be relatively poor or inconsistent indicators of cannabis-induced impairment.’ This is in contrast to the much stronger relationship that can be seen between blood and alcohol concentrations and driving impairment.
– Lead author Dr Danielle McCartney, Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics
So while this research does not suggest there is no relationship between THC intoxication and driving impairment, it does call into question the validity of the methods used to assess cannabis-related impairment in drivers in Australia. This highlights the need for more reliable methods of assessing cannabis-impairment in drivers and a reform of the cannabis-driving laws which unfairly impact patients who are using legal medicinal cannabis products who cannot currently drive, even when they are not impaired.
The findings of this study were reported on The Project, Network 10:
If you take a medicinal cannabis product which contains none of the cannabinoid THC, such as a CBD-only oil, then it is safe for you to drive provided you are not experiencing any adverse side effects like dizziness or low blood pressure. You only need to wait until you are certain you are not experiencing any side effects which impact driving before you get behind the wheel. CBD-only products will not show up on a drug test and it is legal for you to drive after taking these.
If you take a medicinal cannabis product containing THC, the answer to this question is a little more complicated. Because it is illegal to drive with any amount of THC in your system, and because the amount of time it takes for THC to leave your system varies so much from person to person, there is no definitive answer to how soon you can drive after consuming THC. Although the above research tells us that the impairing effects of THC fade after four hours of having consumed it, Australian police test for THC presence – not impairment – when drug testing drivers. So it’s important to understand how long cannabis can stay in your system before you drive as a cannabis patient who consumes THC.
Unfortunately there is no definitive answer to this question, as it varies from individual to individual depending on a range of factors, such as:
Generally, random roadside saliva tests can detect THC for about 12 hours5 after use in people who use cannabis less frequently. But for those who frequently use cannabis, such as medicinal cannabis patients who use cannabis to help treat chronic conditions, THC can usually be detected for around 30 hours5 after use. Again, these numbers will vary from person to person.
For other types of drug tests, which may be required in certain workplaces or other settings, cannabis can be detected in your system for even longer, including up to 6 days for blood tests,6 up to a month for urine tests5 and up to 3 months for hair tests.7
Because it is so difficult to know when and if you might legally be able to drive after consuming THC, if you are a medicinal cannabis patient who has to drive frequently for work or other activities, you may want to consider a CBD treatment rather than a THC one under the current driving laws in Australia. Ensure you are open and honest with your prescribing doctor about your driving status and current situation so they can provide you with a treatment plan that works best for you.
Drive Change is an Australian law reform campaign fighting to give medicinal cannabis patients the same rights as other patients. They are a team of educators and advocates who believe that current drug driving laws ‘fail to improve road safety, discriminate against medical cannabis patients and impede public health outcomes.’
Drive Change proposes equal rights for legal medical cannabis patients through the following solution:
‘The government implements Australia-wide uniform drug driving laws to allow for a complete defence to the presence of THC in a driver’s oral fluid or blood when:
Visit Drive Change to learn more about how you can support the campaign and help create equal driving rights for legal medical cannabis patients.
Click on these resources to learn more about the local driving laws in your state:
New South Wales
Knowing whether or not you should drive as a medicinal cannabis patient can be difficult. But no matter what your situation is, you should never drive while impaired. Patients who take THC-free / CBD-only medicinal cannabis products can safely and legally drive provided you are not experiencing any adverse side effects that might impede driving ability. But patients taking THC medicinal cannabis products can face fines and even the loss of your licence if any amount of THC is detected in your system in a roadside test.
It’s important that you’re aware of the cannabinoids / ingredients in your prescribed cannabis treatment and any driving restrictions that exist for your treatment in Australia. You should always be honest and open about your driving status, situation and needs as a patient so your doctor can provide you with the best care possible and tailor a treatment plan that works for you.
Help create equal driving rights for legal medical cannabis patients by visiting Drive Change.
There are currently over 830,000 people living with endometriosis in Australia.1 Symptoms of endometriosis can be extremely painful and debilitating for those who live with the condition, often causing them to miss out on social, work or other engagements. Without a cure, these symptoms often need to be managed through medical or surgical interventions.
In this article, we’re answering your questions about how medicinal cannabis (also known as ‘medical marijuana’) may be able to help treat the symptoms of endometriosis in some patients – especially severe or chronic pain caused by inflammation and other associated symptoms like poor mental health, sleep issues, gastrointestinal issues and nausea and vomiting.
Endometriosis is a progressive, chronic condition whereby some of the cells similar to those that line the uterus / womb – known as the endometrium – grow elsewhere in the body, especially in the pelvis. These cells respond to messages from the ovaries, despite not being in the uterus, leading to endometriosis tissue bleeding every month when a person has their period.
This can be extremely painful, affect fertility and prevent those who have the condition from participating fully in their lives. Over time, the condition can cause inflammation and scarring and even cause adhesions, whereby organs stick together in certain places.
About 1 in 9 menstruating people in Australia1 develop endometriosis by the time they are in their 40s, causing tens of thousands of hospitalisations every year. There is no known cure for endometriosis, but some symptoms can be managed through a variety of interventions.
Medical cannabis is commonly prescribed to treat some of the symptoms associated with endometriosis and is known to be an effective treatment for many patients.
A 2017 Australian survey of 484 participants2 aged 18–45 and suffering from endometriosis found that one in ten participants used cannabis to treat their symptoms, citing good efficacy in reducing pain and other symptoms with few adverse effects. Pain reduction, as well as improvements in sleep, nausea and vomiting were the main reasons cited for self medicating with cannabis, with 56% of participants using cannabis having been able to reduce pharmaceutical medications by at least half.
In a separate 2021 study of 252 participants with endometriosis3 cannabis was found to be effective for pelvic pain, gastrointestinal issues and mood, with effectiveness differing based on method of ingestion (such as inhalation or other oral methods).
Each of us has an endocannabinoid system (ECS) and cannabinoid receptors all over the body, mainly in our central and peripheral nervous systems, immune system and organs. These receptors have also been found in the endometrium and gut linings. Research4 has shown that the endocannabinoid system plays a part in endometriosis, making cannabis treatments (which interact with the endocannabinoid system in numerous ways) valuable treatments to explore when looking at endometriosis.
The two main cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant are THC and CBD, both of which interact with the cannabinoid receptors found in our body and ECS to produce varying effects. Both THC and CBD can have benefits in the treatment of endometriosis.
Cannabis is known to have anti-inflammatory properties and studies have shown it is beneficial in treating chronic pain,5 anxiety6 and depression.7 Inflammation, chronic pain and associated comorbidities like mental health issues, anxiety and depression are all symptoms experienced by many living with endometriosis, so cannabis is a viable treatment option for these symptoms.
Like any medication, medical cannabis will work differently for everyone. Depending on the severity of your condition, the type of treatment prescribed and the individual way it interacts with your body, you may or may not find medical cannabis to be an effective treatment for your endometriosis symptoms.
Medical cannabis treatments prescribed in Australia can generally be classified as being high THC, high CBD or a combination of THC and CBD, whereby effects will vary depending on the ratio of THC to CBD.
Depending on your medical history and the symptoms you’re experiencing, your doctor may prescribe you a cannabis treatment from one or more of these categories in the format of an oil, flower, or other delivery format. The most common medical cannabis treatment prescribed for endometriosis is a CBD oil taken orally.
CBD and CBD oils are known to have anti-inflammatory and mild analgesic properties, which makes them effective at reducing the pain that many endometriosis patients experience, given inflammation is one of the main reasons patients with endometriosis experience pain.
In Australia, chronic pain patients make up around 60–70% of medicinal cannabis prescriptions.8 So while there is limited research about endometriosis and CBD specifically, we know that many patients in Australia benefit from taking medicinal cannabis treatments like CBD and CBD oil for pain (there is some discussion around the efficacy of varying ratios of THC to CBD in treating endometriosis symptoms in this aforementioned study3).
THC is known for its analgesic and psychotropic properties and is also known to have positive effects in treating many types of pain. In a study which looked at endometriosis in mice,9 THC was found to have analgesic and antispasmodic properties while also inhibiting the development of endometrial cysts. More studies are yet to be done on the effectiveness of THC in inhibiting endometrial cyst development in humans, but these findings are promising.
Scientists and those in the medicinal cannabis industries believe that using the whole plant – including a range of cannabinoids like THC and CBD, terpenes and other compounds – offers greater health benefits than using specific cannabinoids in isolation. This is known as the ‘entourage effect.’
Like any medication, whether it’s natural or pharmacological, medical cannabis treatments can cause unwanted side effects in some patients.
CBD has a narrow side effect profile, whereas THC can cause more side effects in certain patients. Some patients may experience things like fatigue, dry mouth, lightheadedness or nausea when starting medical cannabis treatment, or other effects which will vary from person to person. With the support of a prescribing practitioner, patients will often be able to resolve these side effects through correct dosing and titration. When taken in conjunction with THC, CBD can help mitigate the negative side effects associated with THC, especially rare symptoms of anxiety (thanks to the entourage effect!).
Currently, Australian law states that it is illegal to drive with any amount of THC in your system, even if you have a valid prescription and regardless of whether you are impaired or not. This is something patients should consider if they are thinking about accessing medical cannabis treatments for endometriosis.
Patients with endometriosis often have to manage their symptoms through a combination of lifestyle adjustments, natural medicines, pharmaceutical medicines and surgical interventions. This can look like taking herbal or other supplements, taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) like Ibuprofen and Voltaren or adopting other pain relieving or lifestyle adjustments, such as dietary changes.
However, a large number of endometriosis patients require stronger painkillers, oral or intrauterine contraceptive methods, progesterone hormonal interventions and laparoscopy surgeries to remove endometriosis lesions. A laparoscopy is the only form of treatment that changes the physiology of your body (addressing the root cause), whereas all other forms of treatment support in reducing symptoms.
Each of these interventions comes with a range of side effects that many patients find intolerable, which may lead to them seeking out other alternative treatments to help manage symptoms, such as medicinal cannabis. Here are some of the side effects patients with endometriosis report experiencing from conventional treatments:
Many patients who use medicinal cannabis to manage the symptoms of endometriosis, especially chronic pain, report experiencing fewer side effects than those seen with their conventional treatments.10
To be eligible for a medical cannabis prescription, the TGA states that a patient must:
If you’re one of the 830,000+ Australians living with endometriosis and you’ve tried one or more of the conventional treatments listed above, or any other treatment, you are likely to be eligible to access medicinal cannabis to help manage your endometriosis symptoms.
The first thing to do is to talk to your doctor about wanting to try medicinal cannabis. If you’re unsure whether your current doctor can help you access medicinal cannabis, you can book a consultation with one of our Polln Practitioners who specialise in these treatments to discuss whether they might be right for you.
Research has shown11 that a significant number of Australians living with endometriosis use cannabis illegally to manage their symptoms. While this demonstrates just how beneficial many patients find cannabis to be in managing their symptoms, it also shows us that many are finding the Australian medical cannabis industry to be too inaccessible, expensive or difficult to navigate and are instead opting for illegal cannabis products purchased online or via the black market.
Because recreational cannabis is unregulated in Australia, there’s a big risk that your therapeutic goals will not be met by the product you buy without a prescription. This is because the active ingredients in unregulated products have varied concentrations, may differ from what you’ve been told they are, or in some cases may not be present at all.
When taking cannabis to treat a specific medical condition like endometriosis, it’s important to know exactly which cannabinoids are present within your cannabis, and at what quantity and ratio. Getting a prescription for medicinal cannabis from a licensed healthcare professional is the best way to ensure you’re getting quality, regulated medicine containing the active ingredients you need to treat your condition.
While the pathways to access medicinal cannabis haven’t always been clear, things are definitely changing.
At Polln, our biggest mission is to make alternative treatments like medical cannabis more accessible to patients living with debilitating chronic conditions, including endometriosis. If you’re unsure whether your current doctor can help you access medicinal cannabis, you can book a consultation with one of our Polln Practitioners who specialise in these treatments to discuss whether they might be right for you.
Consider making a donation to help end endo at https://endoaustralia.org.au/
Chronic pain syndrome is a condition affecting millions of Australians daily. About half of all medicinal cannabis patients in Australia are prescribed cannabis treatments to help relieve the symptoms of chronic pain. 1
In this blog post we’ll explore what chronic pain is and how medicinal cannabis (also known as ‘medical marijuana’) can help relieve pain and discomfort in some patients.
Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts for at least three months. It may be a consistent or intermittent pain that comes and goes without apparent cause, and it can occur in nearly any part of your body. Chronic pain is distinct from acute pain – such as pain from an injury that develops quickly and then subsides – in that it persists beyond the normal healing time of an injury or illness.
There are several different types of chronic pain, including bone, muscle or joint pain, nerve pain and pain due to cancer. Some of the most common types of chronic pain include:
Chronic pain can be caused by an illness such as migraine, arthritis or a musculoskeletal condition, or may be a lingering result of an injury or surgery. However, sometimes there is no apparent cause of chronic pain, making treatment extremely difficult.
The signs and symptoms associated with chronic pain will depend on the type of chronic pain you are experiencing. For example, if you have chronic pain in your lower back, you may experience pain that runs from the lower back and down your legs, while an injury or issue in the neck may cause pain in various other parts of the body. Other symptoms associated with chronic pain may include:
Acute pain, such as pain from an injury, surgery or illness, can develop into chronic pain syndrome if left untreated or not treated correctly. The longer acute pain remains untreated, the greater the risk of the pain becoming chronic and more difficult to treat.
If you are experiencing pain that persists beyond the normal healing time of an injury or illness, or that has no apparent cause, is worsening or is not responding to simple treatment, then it may be time to see a doctor.
While there are no definitive guidelines for when to seek help for pain or chronic pain, if the pain is persistent and is impacting things like your mood, quality of life and sleep, then a visit to the doctor might be needed to help determine the cause and appropriate treatment for your pain.
The main goal in chronic pain treatment is to treat the underlying cause of the pain, rather than just the pain symptoms. This means there are a range of surgical and non-surgical treatment methods employed to treat chronic pain, depending on the cause of the pain itself. Non-surgical treatments like physiotherapy and both over-the-counter and prescription medications are some of the most common treatments for chronic pain.
All medications can cause adverse side effects, from over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen to stronger prescription pain medications like opioids. When it comes to pain relief medication, opioids in particular are associated with a range of mild to severe adverse effects – from dizziness and nausea to dependence and fatal overdose. In fact, in 2018 opioids accounted for just over 3 deaths per day in Australia, with the majority of these opioid-induced fatalities being unintentional overdoses involving the use of pharmaceutical opioids, often in the presence of other substances.2 It is for these reasons that opiate medications are not always seen as a suitable or preferable treatment option for many patients suffering from chronic pain, leading some patients to seek alternative therapeutic options.
About half of all medical cannabis patients in Australia are prescribed medical cannabis to treat chronic pain symptoms, making chronic non-cancer pain the number one category for medicinal cannabis approvals in Australia. The treatment of chronic pain with medicinal cannabis has been shown to result in improved pain and functional outcomes. With one 2016 study of 274 participants3 finding that medical cannabis reduced pain symptoms, pain severity and pain interference with daily tasks in most patients, and even resulted in a significant reduction in opioid use.
In 20174 the Australian Government Department of Health commissioned a team from the University of New South Wales, University of Sydney and University of Queensland under the coordination of the National Drug and Alcohol Council (NDARC) to review the available evidence for the use of medicinal cannabis in patients with chronic non-cancer pain (CNCP).
A meta-analysis of all randomised studies in CNCP averaging across all medicinal cannabis treatments indicated that “medicinal cannabis was more likely than placebo to produce 30% and 50% reductions in pain scores and more likely than placebo to produce a significantly greater reduction in pain intensity ratings.”
The TGA has approved medicinal cannabis as a treatment for over 130 conditions, including chronic pain. The types of chronic pain cannabis may treat are nerve pain, arthritic pain, cancer pain and musculoskeletal pain. However, there is no specific list of conditions or types of chronic pain that the TGA has approved for medical cannabis treatment. This means that a prescribing doctor will need to assess you on an individual basis to determine whether medicinal cannabis treatment may be right for you and your chronic pain symptoms.
The two main cannabinoids found in cannabis – cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – can help with relieving pain both on their own and when taken in conjunction. Depending on the individual patient and their symptoms, condition and type of chronic pain, a doctor may prescribe CBD, THC or a treatment containing both cannabinoids to help relieve pain symptoms.
Here are some of the varying ways THC and CBD interact with the body to relieve pain in some patients:
Like any medication, cannabinoid treatments may not work for everyone and are not guaranteed to relieve chronic pain symptoms.
In some patients, using a combination of CBD and THC may lead to a better result and greater relief from their symptoms – this is known as the ‘entourage effect’ where different components of the cannabis plant work synergistically to enhance their overall therapeutic benefits.
To be eligible for medicinal cannabis access as a patient in Australia, the TGA states that you must have a chronic medical condition (lasting 3 months or more) that conventional treatments have failed to treat and/or caused you unwanted side effects. Therefore if you have had chronic pain symptoms for 3 months or more and you are not satisfied with your current or past treatments, you may be eligible for medicinal cannabis access.
If you are interested in exploring medical cannabis treatment options for chronic pain, the first thing you’ll need to do is talk to a doctor. Our Polln practitioners are experts in medicinal cannabis who can help determine whether cannabis is a suitable treatment option for you, and which type of cannabis treatment might be right for the type of chronic pain you’re experiencing.
While cannabis is not a first line treatment in Australia, it is also not a last resort. Meaning you do not need to have exhausted all of your treatment options to be eligible for medicinal cannabis access. If you’re not sure whether you might be eligible, you can take our free eligibility quiz or sign up as a Polln patient to discuss your options with one of our expert doctors.
‘Cannabis’ and ‘marijuana’ are terms used more or less interchangeably in the cannabis industry, but a growing debate has emerged around the use of the term ‘marijuana’ within industry and healthcare settings.
At a time when cannabis arrests still disproportionately affect minorities, when racism continues to have an effect on cannabis research1 and when racial bias in healthcare leads to poorer outcomes and lower-quality care for racial and ethnic minorities, is it time for the industry to retire a word with a discriminatory past?
Historian, scholar and author Isaac Campos attributes the origins of the word marijuana to botanists conducting research in Mexico in the 1850s. In his book, Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico’s War on Drugs, Campos found that these early researchers discovered that the local population had begun referring to the plant previously known as ‘pipiltzintzintlis’ by a new name – ‘mariguana’ – which would then go on to ‘conquer the lexica of most of the Western Hemisphere.2 The exact origins of the word prior to this usage are unknown.
So while the term has been abused for political aims and to stigmatise and incite xenophobia against the plant and the people associated with it since the 20th century, marijuana is itself a term indigenous to Mexicans that did not originate as a slur, one that has had cultural and historical validity since at least the 1800s.
Throughout the 19th century, medical journal articles, news reports, advertisements and medication packaging in the West almost exclusively used the terms ‘hemp’ and ‘cannabis’ to refer to the plant. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the term ‘marijuana’ came into use in the US, namely because anti-cannabis groups sought to frame cannabis as a threat to American notions of whiteness and purity of the time. Thus the term was intentionally used to align the cannabis plant with Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in order to play off anti-immigrant sentiments, incite xenophobia and demonise the plant.
Prior to the 1930s, the term held few negative connotations. But this incitement of fear and bigotry by anti-drug campaigners, coupled with the 1925 Geneva Convention and global moral panic surrounding the drug itself, played a large part in the resulting state restrictions of the plant before it was federally prohibited in the US. This then contributed to the ongoing and disproportionate criminalisation of racial minorities who use the drug, despite usage rates being almost the same between white and non-white people.
The cultural position and intent of the speaker as well as the context they are in are important things to consider when we look at who is using the term ‘marijuana.’ Is the term being used to celebrate or appreciate its origins? Is it merely being used to describe the plant? Is it being appropriated by a business or brand to sell a product? Or, is it being used as a slur or a way to demonise the plant or the person consuming it? These questions, alongside the question of who is speaking, can help us to understand when the term might be appropriate, and when it might be offensive.
Something important to consider here is that unlike some slurs – which often have offensive origins but may have been reclaimed by the community they once targeted (for example, the word ‘queer’) – the term marijuana did not originate as a slur. It is only through its discriminatory usage by white people in positions of power that the word developed its problematic history. It is understandable then that many would object to the use of the term by people and organisations who hold privilege or power, who are ignorant to the word’s problematic history, or who use the term without acknowledging its past and the ongoing discrimination that has resulted from it.
For many communities – especially those disproportionately affected by cannabis stigma and criminalisation – ‘cannabis’ is not a word people feel connected to, whereas ‘marijuana’ may hold more cultural and historical significance. It can be argued that labelling the term marijuana as racist or cancelling the term altogether would both alienate these communities and erase the complicated history of the term and the impact it has had on them.
Today, in Australia and across the world, many still use the term ‘marijuana’ or ‘medical marijuana’ when searching for information about cannabinoid medicines and treatment. By erasing the word marijuana altogether, healthcare providers and medicinal cannabis companies risk losing a portion of their audience – that is, patients who may not be able to find accurate, up to date information about the options available to them. It’s important then to consider how we in the industry use language to talk about our products and services, so that they remain accessible to all who need them.
Ultimately, it is up to the people and communities most impacted by the discriminatory use of a term to determine how it should be used, and who should use it. But these communities are not a monolith, and there is no singular answer to the question of whether the term ‘marijuana’ is an offensive one. Ongoing discussions around the language and words we use, how we use them, and how their meanings may evolve over time are essential in order to acknowledge the harms that have been caused while working towards a more inclusive, just and safe future for cannabis patients and users in Australia and beyond.
At Polln, our biggest mission is to make natural therapies more accessible to the patients who need them while overcoming the stigma and biases that exist for medicinal cannabis patients and patients from all backgrounds who seek to access the quality care they need. We do this by prioritising diversity and inclusion at all levels of our business – from our doctors to our Care Team, business leaders and coordinators – and by putting our patients’ needs above all else.
While we as a team are predominantly ‘cannabis-first' when we talk about cannabinoid treatments and therapies, we acknowledge the need to make our services and content as inclusive as possible. With marijuana still being a highly searched term, we will use it from time to time throughout our Library to include those patients who may be searching for valuable health information about these treatments. With this article, we hope to provide some context and educate our community on the history of the term so that they can make informed decisions about the language they choose to use when they talk about cannabis.
As a business in the healthcare and medical cannabis industries with an understanding of our privilege and position, we do not wish to claim, misuse or appropriate the term ‘marijuana’ by using it to talk about medicinal cannabis in Australia. Instead, we opt for the scientific name – ‘cannabis’ or ‘cannabis sativa’ – throughout our website, services and patient interactions. We will always remain open to the discourse surrounding this topic and encourage our patient community to do the same! And, as always, we welcome all thoughts and feedback.
To learn more about our values and commitment to a more inclusive healthcare, head to our About page.
Like any plant, as soon as the cannabis plant has been harvested and is no longer receiving nutrients from the root it was once attached to, it begins to degrade.
Once your flower has been harvested, dried and prepared for medicinal use, its optimal freshness zone becomes a finite window that can only be extended through proper storage methods.
Knowing how to keep your flower fresh will help you ensure your medicinal cannabis treatments maintain their quality and efficacy over time, allowing you to get the greatest therapeutic benefits out of your medication.
1. Light: studies have found exposure to sunlight and UV rays to be the leading factor in cannabinoid deterioration once cannabis is harvested. Keep your cannabis fresh by storing it in a cool, dark place away from sunlight, or in a UV-proof storage container.
2. Air: exposure to oxygen greatly accelerates the degradation process of cannabis, so it's best stored in an airtight container (or, even better, one with an airtight vacuum seal).
3. Humidity: the ideal relative humidity zone for cannabis is 59–63%. Storing your cannabis at this humidity level will prevent it from becoming either too dry (which weakens the bud structure) or too moist (which makes it susceptible to mould). Again, storing your cannabis in an airtight container in a cool, dark place will help you maintain an ideal humidity level.
4. Temperature: Cannabis is best stored at or below 21°C. To maintain the quality of your flower, never store cannabis treatments near heat or above kitchen or other appliances, as the heat will rise and cause your flower to dry out. You should also avoid storing your cannabis treatments in the fridge or freezer, as fluctuating temperature and humidity can reduce its quality and cannabinoid content and increase the risk of mould.
5. Odour: if you need to store your medicinal cannabis treatments discreetly, you may want to opt for a smell-proof storage container that contains the odour of the cannabis flower. Odour-proof storage can help keep your medicinal cannabis treatments safe and out of the wrong hands.
At Polln, we want to ensure our patients get the most out of their medicinal cannabis treatments. We've partnered with Staze because their vacuum seal jars are among the best methods of storage for maintaining cannabis quality, efficacy and cannabinoid content. Meaning our patients get the therapeutic experience and benefits they deserve. Every time.
With such a wide range of cannabis brands and packaging coming out in Australia, we discovered that many of our patients were finding it more difficult than it needed to be to carry or have a smaller dose available while keeping their treatments discreet and out of the wrong hands (and away from children). This was especially true for patients receiving treatments packaged in large mylar bags! After receiving this feedback, we wanted to provide our patient community with a storage option that maintains their plant’s integrity and quality and protects the flower from being crushed while remaining discreet and odour-proof.
With a considered design that eliminates exposure to light and air and prevents odours from escaping, Staze ensures the work your cannabis growers put in, stays in.
Get to know Staze at Shop Polln.
If you’ve been prescribed another type of cannabis treatment, such as an oil or a capsule, you will simply need to follow the storage instructions written on the box or packaging that your medication came in from the pharmacy.
You will likely not need to explore alternative storage options like you might use for cannabis flower, but instead focus on storing your treatments at the correct temperature and away from direct sunlight or moisture.
While public perceptions are shifting around the use of cannabis to treat a growing list of conditions, many still understand cannabis through the lens of stigma, misinformation and its history of criminalisation.
You might find that your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other family members have different opinions about your medicinal cannabis use than your friends and your healthcare providers do.
If you're dealing with a loved one who doesn't support your medicinal cannabis use and it's affecting your relationship or wellbeing, here are five things you can do:
Change begins one person at a time, so why not start with a one-on-one conversation? You can ask your loved one to share what they know about medicinal cannabis and try to get them to open up to you about how they formed their strong opinions on cannabis use. Try to come to the conversation with an open mind and a will to understand your loved one’s experiences, and ask that they try and do the same for you. You might like to start by opening up about your health and medical condition and how it has been impacting your life and wellbeing prior to trying medicinal cannabis.
Perhaps your loved one grew up in a time where cannabis was demonised, or maybe they knew someone who had an unhealthy relationship with recreational drugs. It’s possible they’ve even tried cannabis recreationally themselves and had a bad experience! Whatever their background with cannabis is, try to understand where they're coming from without judging their beliefs or experiences. This will help you understand where to start with educating your loved one on the benefits and history of medicinal cannabis and debunking any misinformation they have come to rely on.
There are a wide range of studies, statistics and resources exploring the history, safety, benefits and medicinal uses of cannabis today and throughout human history. If you're going to try and educate your loved one and clear up misinformation, try to back yourself with the right research and resources to help you speak from a place of understanding.
Some reputable places to source your medicinal cannabis information from are peer-reviewed medical journals, university departments or initiatives dedicated to researching cannabinoid therapies, peer-reviewed articles about cannabis clinical trials and any reputable platform or initiative dedicated to exploring the benefits and uses of medicinal cannabis (always check any references they’ve provided to ensure they’re coming from reputable sources).
You might like to talk about how cannabis has been used as a medicine throughout human history, or how many countries have legalised cannabis as a medicine today. You can point to studies where cannabis has shown to be beneficial in treating or mitigating the symptoms of certain conditions, such as your own condition or even a condition your loved one suffers from, if you feel comfortable.
You might want to share the studies and information you come across with your loved one for them to look at on their own time so they can read and digest the information when they’re ready.
If you feel comfortable talking about your medicinal cannabis use, sharing how your medicinal cannabis treatment has helped you in managing or healing your condition can help your loved one understand your cannabis use on a personal level. You might talk about positive changes you've seen, how the treatments compare with other conventional treatments you've tried and how they've impacted your life overall.
If, for example, your medical cannabis treatment has helped improve your relationships with others by lessening the symptoms of anxiety or chronic pain, then you might talk about how medical cannabis has allowed you to spend more time or improved the time you spend with your loved ones, family and friends. You might talk about how it’s allowed you to do better at work, participate in activities or any other benefit your treatment has had on your symptoms and lifestyle. You may also like to talk about how other treatments you’ve tried were less effective or produced adverse side effects that were worse than those you’ve experienced with medical cannabis.
Anything you can share that will challenge your loved one’s ideas about how cannabis affects users will help break down any stigmas they’ve learned to associate with cannabis and help them understand your decision.
We can’t always change the minds of people with strongly-rooted beliefs. And that’s okay. How you choose to look after your health, as long as it is safe and legal, is entirely your decision. If you feel you’ve done all you can to change your loved one’s mind and you still haven’t seen eye to eye, trust that you and your doctor know what’s best for your health, and you don’t need to involve anyone who isn’t your healthcare provider, legal carer or guardian (if you are underage) in your healthcare decisions.
Even if your loved one hasn’t come around to the idea of your medical cannabis use right away, you may have made more progress than you think in shifting their beliefs. As time goes by and these treatments become more mainstream and readily available, you may find your loved one becoming more and more open to the idea of your medical cannabis use. In the meantime, try to learn to agree to disagree and remember there is a large community of patients, practitioners, scientists, pharmacists, growers, researchers and healthcare providers who can advocate for the uses and benefits of medical cannabis in treating a wide range of conditions.
Let’s break down the medicinal cannabis stigma, one conversation at a time.
The medical cannabis system in Australia hasn’t always been easy to navigate. With many still finding the pathways to accessing medicinal cannabis confusing and frustrating, and with Australian medical and legal attitudes towards cannabis being somewhat behind those of other countries, it’s no surprise that people are still turning to illegal pathways to access their cannabis products.
While recreational cannabis remains illegal in all states and territories except the ACT, medical cannabis is legal Australia-wide. Medicinal cannabis is any cannabis product prescribed by a qualified doctor to relieve the symptoms of a medical condition. And recreational cannabis is the illegal use (at the time of writing in Australia) of cannabis for any purpose, including social, pleasure, creativity, relaxation and/or self-medication. Cannabis is sometimes also referred to as 'marijuana' – learn about the history and implications of this term here.
In this article, we’ll answer some of your questions about accessing medical cannabis in Australia so you can make informed decisions about what you’re buying when it comes to your health.
The differences between the regulated cannabis products you can get with a prescription and the black-market products you might get from other sources run deeper than just who you get them from. The biggest differences between the two are quality, regulation, cost, and assurance and consistency regarding the active ingredients (cannabinoids) found within the product.
Put simply: with a medicinal cannabis prescription, you might pay more, but you’ll know exactly what you’re getting. When you buy cannabis illegally, you often won’t.
This may not be an important consideration for people who use cannabis for more recreational purposes like socialising or getting high. But for those who use cannabis to relieve the symptoms of a medical condition like anxiety or chronic pain, knowing what’s in your product and what dose you should be taking can make a big difference to your health.
Because recreational cannabis is unregulated in Australia, there’s a big risk that your therapeutic goals will not be met by the product you buy without a prescription. This is because the active ingredients in unregulated products have varied concentrations, may differ from what you’ve been told they are, or in some cases may not be present at all.
When treating a medical condition or taking cannabis for a specific purpose like relaxation or boosting creativity, it’s important to consider which cannabinoids are active within the product you’re taking. Knowing what’s in your product will help you ensure that your therapeutic or other goals are met, and that you’ll be less likely to experience any unwanted effects associated with specific cannabinoids.
In Australia, medicinal cannabis is categorised into three different types. These are:
How you experience your product will depend on the cannabinoids present, what dose you take, how it is taken and the quality of the product itself. For example, if your product contains mainly CBD, you won’t experience psychoactive effects. You may experience medicinal benefits such as pain or anxiety reduction, improved sleep, relaxation and/or relief from other symptoms associated with a specific medical condition. If your product contains mainly THC, you may also experience pain relief, reduced nausea or other medicinal benefits depending on your health condition/s. You will also likely experience the ‘high’ associated with THC, given its psychoactive properties.
When you access cannabis legally, you may be prescribed CBD, THC or a medication containing a combination of both, depending on the condition you’re treating. If you’re going to use cannabis as a medication, speaking with your medical professional is your best bet for ensuring you’re getting the treatment and care you need.
At the time of writing in Australia, CBD oil is legal with a prescription – just like any other medicinal cannabis product. As of 2021, you can legally purchase low-dose CBD (containing 98% cannabidiol and no more than 2% of other cannabinoids) over the counter at pharmacies without a prescription, however there are regulatory hurdles still to be cleared before you’ll see these products become available. And many experts are questioning the effectiveness of CBD oil at such a low dose, meaning more research is still to be done.
CBD oil has quickly become one of the most popular and sought after health products in Australia. But as the cannabis industry grows, so does the spread of false promises misinformation. Because of the lack of clarity around the laws and pathways to buying regulated CBD oil in Australia, many have turned to online sellers to buy their products. And this comes at a risk.
With the abundance of unregulated CBD oil products online claiming to cure everything from cancer to diabetes, it’s easy to see why Australians are choosing to buy their products from local or overseas websites. The important thing to note here is that buying any product online that actually contains CBD is technically illegal in Australia. Many buyers are aware of this and may choose to still buy online due to cost and convenience, however many are unaware that the products they are purchasing – if they do contain CBD – are illegal. If you are buying reputable products from overseas, you might want to consider whether the costs are actually that different to obtaining a prescription and purchasing regulated medicinal cannabis in Australia, as the prices often don’t vary much per mg level.
If you are buying CBD oil from local Australian websites, you are either buying products which do contain CBD (and are therefore illegal) or you are buying products which do not contain any CBD, but say they do (meaning you’re being lied to). In fact, in Australia, there’s a 1 in 4 chance that the CBD oil you buy online is ‘not what you think it is in terms of strength and potency’ and a 1 in 9 chance that you’re being sold an entirely fake product.
As with any treatment, the best way to ensure you’re getting what you need in terms of quality and effectiveness is to speak with a health professional.
To legally access medicinal cannabis products in Australia, you need a prescription from a qualified doctor. While many Australian doctors are still uncomfortable or unfamiliar with prescribing medicinal cannabis, there are a number of doctors who specialise in medical cannabis prescribing – often called cannabis doctors – who are familiar with the many health benefits that these treatments can offer. The best way to access medical cannabis is to find a trusted doctor – either your current GP or an authorised prescriber such as our Polln Practitioners – and discuss your current condition/s and why medicinal cannabis might be right for you.
When buying cannabis in Australia, it’s important to consider what you’re using it for and whether things like active compounds, quality, regulation and consistency of the product are important to you and your needs. This is especially true if you are using cannabis to treat a medical condition. While the pathways to accessing medicinal cannabis in Australia have not always been clear, the rise of cannabis clinics and increasing government action and public awareness about the benefits of these products is making it easier for patients to access the treatments they need.
At Polln, our biggest mission is to make alternative treatments like medical cannabis more accessible to patients living in Australia. If you’re unsure whether your current doctor can help you access medicinal cannabis, you can book a consultation with one of our Polln Practitioners who specialise in these treatments to discuss whether they might be right for you.
Over 130 conditions have already been approved for prescriptions, but many doctors and patients are still unsure about how to access medical cannabis treatments.
In this article we’ll help you understand your options and eligibility when it comes to accessing medical cannabis as a patient in Australia.
Medicinal cannabis (also referred to as ‘medical marijuana’) is any cannabis product approved for therapeutic use and prescribed by a doctor to alleviate the symptoms of a medical condition. One of the main differences between prescribed cannabis products and recreational cannabis, which is often used to self-medicate, is that prescriptions are made with individual patients' needs and symptoms in mind. Because recreational cannabis is unregulated in Australia, you won't have transparency around the origins, cannabinoid content, quality or safety of what you're consuming. But because medical cannabis is highly regulated in Australia, all prescribed cannabis treatments available to Australians have passed stringent tests for quality, content and safety. Meaning you'll know exactly what you're getting and how it can help with your individual symptoms and medical condition/s.
In Australia, medicinal cannabis mostly fits into three categories – mainly CBD, mainly THC, and a mix of CBD and THC. These are the main chemical compounds found in cannabis plants that are most commonly used for medicinal purposes, though other ingredients – like terpenes and flavonoids – are also important.
While recreational cannabis use (any use of cannabis without a prescription) remains illegal in all states and territories except ACT, medical cannabis is legal in every state in Australia.
Medicinal cannabis has been legal Australia-wide since 2016. It is considered an ‘unapproved’ medicine. So, to access it, your doctor must gain approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration — the regulatory body that doctors apply to when seeking approval for patient prescriptions.
So, you’ve learnt what medical cannabis is… but are you eligible?
Even though medical cannabis has been legal for over five years now, there are still many misconceptions about who can obtain prescriptions.
Although it is always best to learn about the process and eligibility criteria yourself, it is your prescribing doctor’s responsibility to assess your condition and decide whether medicinal cannabis would be beneficial for you.
Criteria may sound like a daunting word to come up against when seeking out treatments, but don’t let it scare you away. The boxes you need to check off when considering your eligibility are:
If you’re a patient considering medicinal cannabis, there are three pathways you can take to access it:
Like other prescription medicines, your doctor can write a prescription for you after assessing your eligibility, medical condition/s, and other treatments you have tried. The Special Access Scheme allows your doctor to obtain approval to prescribe medicinal cannabis from the Therapeutics Goods Administration (TGA). Once the TGA approves your doctor’s request, your doctor can organise access to treatments and write up prescriptions.
While this might sound complicated, it is the most commonly used pathway to access medicinal cannabis. Unfortunately, many GPs aren’t well informed or prepared to go through this process with patients, so this pathway might not always be accessible. Although reliable information is shared more regularly now, stigma and misinformation still get in the way of patients seeking support.
If you are unsure whether your current GP can help you access medicinal cannabis, you can make an appointment to speak with one of our expert Polln practitioners who are experienced in prescribing medicinal cannabis treatments.
An Authorised Prescriber (AP) is a doctor who has already applied for and received the authority from the TGA to write prescriptions for specified patients. These practitioners don’t need to apply for approval from the TGA for individual patient prescriptions as they are pre-approved.
One of the benefits of taking this pathway is that APs are experts in prescribing medicinal cannabis and can write prescriptions as soon as they have assessed your eligibility – this means you’ll experience none of the wait time associated with other cannabis access pathways, such as the SAS pathway. An issue that arises when considering this route is that it’s not always easy to know if there is an AP located near you.
This pathway might not be the right option for everyone, but there is an urgent need for participants in clinical trials. As the demand for medicinal cannabis grows, so does the number of clinical trials.
Unlike patients in the USA and some other countries, Australian patients do not need, nor will they receive, a ‘medical marijuana card’ to access medical cannabis. Instead, Australian patients simply need to obtain a prescription from a healthcare professional using one of the above pathways to access medicinal cannabis treatments. Your prescription will allow you to access the specific medications you have been prescribed, and will be an important document to have handy incase you need to verify your legal patient status to law enforcement while on the move.
Wait times will vary between each access pathway, but the fastest route is through Authorised Prescribers as these practitioners don’t need to wait for the TGA to approve prescriptions. If you’re looking into the SAS pathway, note that it can take between 24–72 hours for your doctor to get a response from the TGA before your script can be provided to you or your treatments made available.
If you’ve read this article and are still feeling overwhelmed or confused – breathe. It might be daunting to begin this process, but there are guides you can follow and support you can access to help you along the way. To break this all down into simple steps:
Read up on facts and reliable information so you can make informed decisions. Learn about what medicinal cannabis is and how it can help you.
Check your eligibility.
Consider which option is best for you – GPs, Authorised Prescribers, or clinical trials.
Prepare to reach out. Once you’ve done your research and chosen your access pathway, it’s time to reach out to a doctor, Authorised Prescriber or an organisation running clinical trials for medicinal cannabis. To chat with an expert prescriber, you can sign up as a Polln patient or reach out to our Care Team who can provide additional support and guidance.
As the industry has expanded, we've seen and continue to see the following positive changes in the medical cannabis industry:
At Polln, our biggest mission is to make natural alternatives like medicinal cannabis more accessible to the patients who need them. That's why all of our services are designed to be as accessible as possible, with no hidden costs or surprises down the track. Access video consultations, expert advice from Authorised Prescribers, treatment delivery services and ongoing care from wherever you are. All online and Australia-wide. Learn more or sign up as a patient today.
Humans have turned to plants to feed, fuel and heal our bodies for as long as we have existed. In many communities, traditional and plant-based medicine remains the primary healthcare system, with over 60% of the world’s population depending directly on medicinal plants for their medical purposes.
Despite this, many in the West still view plant-based medicine as ‘alternative’ to or less effective than their synthetic counterparts. While modern medicine and pharmaceutical drugs have been vital in the treatment and prevention of countless diseases, it’s important to remember just how much our modern healthcare systems owes to plants. And to acknowledge the many benefits that safe, evidence-based use of plants can have in therapeutic and medicinal contexts.
Here, we take a look at five things you may not know about plant medicines and their uses today:
Early written records and even earlier physical evidence suggests that humans have known about and used plants for their medicinal properties for tens of thousands of years, with archaeological excavations indicating that the practice dates back at least as far as 60,000 years ago. Over time, established understandings of plants and their medicinal purposes have been developed amongst cultures and communities all over the world through trial and error, and the passing down of knowledge and experience. The first modern pharmaceutical medicines were derived from plants that humans had already been using to treat and prevent illness for centuries.
Some of the most common drugs prescribed to patients today continue to be derived from plants, fungi, bacteria and other living species that were widely used by humans in traditional medicine for centuries prior. Of the 120 active compounds currently isolated from higher plants and used in modern medicine today, about 80% indicate a positive correlation between their modern therapeutic use and the traditional use of the plants from which they were derived.
Many assume that because plants are more natural or wholesome than their synthetic counterparts, that they don’t come with the same level of risks and side effects. Just like any medicine that produces an effect on the body, plant medicines are capable of producing adverse effects like allergic reactions, rashes, asthma, headaches or even more severe effects. Plant medicines should always be taken in safe doses as directed by a healthcare professional, and any effects should be monitored closely.
Affordability, accessibility and enduring traditional beliefs and knowledge about plants and their uses has meant that traditional medicine, much of which relies on plants, has endured as the primary healthcare system for much of the world’s population. 60% of the world’s population and about 80% in developing countries depends on plants for medicinal purposes. This is in spite of conventional medicine’s history of challenging and suppressing herbal medicine as a viable and effective practise, but is also categorised by the lack of access to essential medicines faced by millions in developing countries.
Growing dissatisfaction with conventional, chemical drugs – including their side effects, over-prescription and associated risks of dependency – has led many to turn to plants as both a complementary or alternative treatment. While this increasing use comes with its own issues – including overexploitation of traditional plants and limited monitoring of the safety and quality of products on the market – their benefits when sourced and used responsibly are abundant. There is much established and ongoing research to support the use of plants in the treatment of numerous ailments, from minor to severe. Conventional medical practitioners are increasingly recommending plant medicines to their patients, and patients are increasingly seeking out holistic practitioners who will support them in their search for natural alternatives to conventional medicine. Doing proper research, engaging a reputable health professional and always using plant-based products as advised are just some of the ways you can ensure you get the greatest benefits from your plant-based treatments.
Before there was medicine, there was plant medicine.
For as long as humans have existed, we have turned to plants to nourish, heal and fuel our bodies. For much of human history, possessing knowledge of plants and their healing properties – or having access to someone with this knowledge – could often mean the difference between life and death. Much like other animals, humankind’s initial interactions with medicinal plants were based solely on instinct and experience as people sought relief from their injuries and illnesses. In time, this allowed for more established understandings of plants – including their medicinal uses and benefits – to emerge. Much of this knowledge has been passed down through generations in the form of oral and written records, healing traditions and cultural practises – often in the face of great hardship. Forced migration, colonisation, invasions and Euro-centric ideas about what defined ‘medicine’ and who should practise it led to the erasure, suppression and exploitation of healing practitioners and herbal medicines across the world – some of which endures today.
While herbal medicine has largely been surpassed by pharmaceutical drugs (a significant number of which are derived from plants) in modern medicine, there is a vast amount of established and ongoing research that supports existing Indigenous, traditional and folk knowledge about the use of plants for therapeutic and medicinal purposes.
While written records of plant medicines like poppy, thyme, caraway and cannabis can be traced back as far as the emergence of the earliest known form of writing by the Sumerians in 3000 BCE, archaeological excavations indicate that the practise of herbal medicine dates back at least as far as 60,000 years ago. Remains of opium poppies, ephedra, cannabis and other plants known to have medicinal properties found in Palaeolithic burial sites indicate early understandings of plant medicines among humans in this period, which were likely inherited from earlier generations and passed down to inform subsequent herbalism practises over time.
Few other plants can claim a history as enduring and closely tied to the human condition as the cannabis plant. Used as a herbal remedy, food and resource with greatly documented influence in medicine, ceremony and religion among civilisations throughout human history – cannabis is one of the oldest medicines on record.
Since its earliest known usage, the cannabis plant’s cultivation and use for medicinal purposes has been recorded in ancient and modern societies across Asia, Europe, the Middle East and beyond. Now scientifically-backed for its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory abilities as well as its effectiveness in relieving the symptoms of various conditions like epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and depression – the cannabis plant is slowly shedding its stigma and making its way into the mainstream medicine conversation.
Today, medicinal cannabis refers to the range of legal, approved and quality assured preparations of the cannabis plant and its cannabinoids for therapeutic use.
It is estimated today that at least 80% of the world’s population is using or relying upon herbs for basic healthcare needs. This is in spite of conventional medicine’s history of challenging and suppressing herbal medicine as a viable and effective practise. A resurgence of the mainstream use of herbs as medicine seems to have occurred in recent years out of growing dissatisfaction with chemical drugs and their side effects, with scientific research increasingly supporting existing understandings of the healing benefits of plants. It is no longer uncommon for a conventional health practitioner to suggest herbal and plant-based medicines as part of a treatment plan, nor is it unusual to seek out holistic or natural alternatives to conventional treatments for minor ailments. While increasing use of plant-based medicines comes with its own issues – such as overexploitation of traditional plants and medicines – their benefits when sourced responsibly and prescribed by a licensed practitioner can be expansive. To learn more about natural alternatives visit our blog post.
When it comes to supporting our body’s innate ability to heal itself, natural alternatives such as products, treatments and lifestyle changes can be used in place of conventional medicines and treatments for a more holistic healing process. When these therapies are used in conjunction with conventional medicine, they are typically referred to as complementary therapies.
Natural alternatives are regarded by many as cleaner, more balanced versions of their synthetic counterparts – meaning they can work in unison with our body’s natural healing process. Natural alternatives go hand-in-hand with holistic medicine, in that they support healing of the whole person and help to balance every aspect of a person’s health, rather than just treat individual symptoms.
Natural alternatives can include, but are not limited to:
Many of these therapies have been developed slowly over time to work alongside more conventional modern treatments and have been used by various cultures throughout human history.
Everyone is different, and has different preferences when it comes to what works for them and their health. Many people turn to natural alternatives out of dissatisfaction with more conventional or synthetic treatments they’ve tried, others are simply looking for a more natural way to support their health alongside their existing treatment plan. Here are some of the most common reasons you might want to try a natural alternative:
As with any treatment or medication, conducting proper research and speaking with your doctor before commencing an alternative treatment is advised.
Exploring the world of natural alternatives can be an exciting and empowering part of your journey towards better health. But before you commence a natural alternative or treatment plan, it’s important to do your research. Ensure you’re only working with qualified, registered practitioners and seek a referral from your doctor if necessary. Your practitioner should take all of your medical history, health, allergies and any conditions into consideration before prescribing any products and you should always consult with your doctor before abandoning any of your existing conventional treatments. Most reputable and licensed natural healthcare practitioners will be constantly updating their knowledge of health and medical advancements to be able to provide you with the best care possible.
Learn more about how natural alternatives can support your holistic wellbeing by exploring our Medicinal Cannabis Library.
Holistic health is the overarching philosophy of looking at a person’s health from every aspect – be it physical, emotional, social, spiritual or mental – and observing how imbalances in one or more of these areas can bring about unwanted symptoms in others.
While modern-day Western medicine has provided us with a long list of essential, life-saving medical advancements, it has also wired us to look at our health in terms of individual symptoms and treatments, rather than looking at the person – and all our parts – as a whole.
By considering how these interdependent parts of our personhood work together to either heal or bring about illness, holistic health provides an alternative or complementary approach to mainstream medicine that goes beyond treating symptoms as they arise. Instead, holistic health practises can support healing by tending to the vast array of factors that impact our wellbeing on a daily basis.
Holistic health looks beyond just the physical body when addressing health issues and symptoms – even those that manifest physically such as pain, fatigue or illness. While a symptom may cause pain or discomfort in a physical sense, its underlying causes (and therefore its treatments) can be more rooted in our emotional, mental, spiritual and social wellbeing than we realise. Similarly, how we take care of ourselves physically can have ripple effects on our health in other areas, such as our mental state or emotional wellbeing. Here, we look at the five key aspects of holistic health and how they can work together to impact our overall wellbeing:
When we think about health, most of us tend to think about the physical health of our bodies and how optimally they are functioning. Pain, illness, fatigue and tension are all examples of physical symptoms that are easy to detect and monitor, making them obvious indicators of health issues and imbalances. In mainstream medicine, these physical symptoms are typically treated with medications, physical therapies and/or surgeries – all of which can be incredibly beneficial to the patient depending on their needs and situation. What some mainstream practises fail to do however, is look at the underlying causes of physical symptoms which can manifest as a result of any combination of emotional, social, spiritual, mental and other physical imbalances. This means that while patients may find temporary or even long-lasting relief from their symptoms through mainstream medicines, many may be unaware of how much their environment, lifestyle choices, relationships and other aspects of their lives could be contributing to their physical health and wellbeing. Likewise, imbalances in our physical health such as our sleep, diet, exercise and lifestyle choices can negatively impact our health in other areas. This is why things like getting more sleep, eating more nutrient-rich foods and moving our bodies each day can help regulate our mood, emotions and mental wellbeing.
In tending to a physical or other unwanted symptom, a holistic practitioner will look at every aspect of a person’s health to determine the best treatment/s for them. Examples of treatments could range anywhere from massage and natural alternatives to stress-reduction techniques and therapy.
Emotional health refers to a person’s ability to maintain perspective and control over their moods and emotions as they navigate daily life. An emotionally healthy person is not necessarily someone who is happy all the time or who does not experience setbacks, but rather someone who has the tools and self-awareness to be able to ‘cope’ in a wide range of situations and changing environments.
Tending to our emotional health through emotional regulation practises like mindfulness and meditation, counselling and therapy or journaling and listening to music can be equally as important as tending to our physical health. Especially when we consider the impact that emotional distress is known to have on our bodies’ immune system and susceptibility to physical illness. Good emotional health is key to our ability to manage stress and build resilience, foster high self-esteem and self-awareness and form deeper social connections with others.
Beyond the emotional health practises listed above, we can also tend to our emotional wellbeing through physical health practises like exercising and getting more sleep; social health practises like spending time with loved ones and spiritual health practises like spending time in nature.
Researchers have consistently shown links between our social relationships and health, with poor social health being linked to physical and mental health issues like high blood pressure, heart attacks, cancer, depression and anxiety. Loneliness has also been linked to chronic conditions like heart disease and inflammation due to its impact on our immune systems, with studies stating that a lonely person is 50% more likely to die prematurely than someone with good social health.
Healthy and meaningful social relationships are incredibly important to maintaining good health in all other areas – mental, physical, spiritual and emotional – and are key to our ability to manage stress and experience joy in our lives. It’s important to note that the quality of our social relationships is equally as important as the quantity, and that negative or ‘toxic’ social relationships can be as harmful to our health as a lack of social relationships.
Good social health practises can include things like engaging with your community, turning to family and friends for support, building meaningful relationships with others, creating healthy boundaries, communicating effectively and making time for in-person connection.
Spiritual health can mean different things to different people, making it harder to define than other aspects of holistic health. While spirituality is distinct from faith or religion, the two can overlap depending on your individual beliefs. Spirituality can be defined as our connection to the intangible or non-physical parts of life, such as the feeling we get when we do something we’re passionate about or the meaning we apply to certain places, groups and practises. While for many spirituality can imply a connection to faith, for others it is simply about connecting to themselves, their purpose or the world around them.
We can support our spiritual health through doing things we enjoy or that make us feel purposeful, spending time in nature, practising faith and engaging with our community. All of these practises will enhance not only our spiritual health, but all aspects of our health and wellbeing.
Mental health is distinct from emotional health in that it refers to our overall cognitive wellbeing and the way our brain functions, rather than just our day-to-day mood and emotions. There are many things that can impact a person’s mental health – ranging from biological factors and physical wellbeing to socioeconomic pressures and relationships – and good mental health plays a vital role in helping us foster wellness in all other areas of our lives.
Supporting your mental health holistically can take on many forms. A combination of self-directed activities like getting more sleep, managing stress and eating a nutrient-rich diet can complement treatments like psychotherapy, art therapy, natural alternatives and/or medication for more effective results when treating or preventing mental illnesses and their causes.
Holistic practitioners employ a variety of treatments, suggestions and techniques to support their patients’ health, with the goal of holistic medicine being to treat the person – not just their individual symptom/s – as a whole. Your holistic provider should empower you with the knowledge and incentive to make informed decisions about what works for you, your health and your goals by suggesting a range of tailored, evidence-backed therapies based on your needs. By looking at your health from every aspect, you and your holistic practitioner will be best-placed to detect, treat and prevent imbalances while monitoring the impact they have on other areas of your health. It is in this way that holistic health can promote profound, long-lasting healing and empower us to take greater care of our overall wellbeing.