The Medicinal Cannabis Library

Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Autoimmune Conditions

Explore autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, and the current research around medicinal cannabis including potential risks.

Author

medically reviewed by

Dr. Joel Wren

FRACGP, MMBS, ASLM

Published

October 3, 2023

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Living with autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and other debilitating disorders can be an uphill battle. Autoimmune conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), differ from chronic issues like osteoarthritis, as they involve the immune system mistakenly attacking the body's own tissues, leading to chronic inflammation and potential damage to joints and other organs.

Some common autoimmune disorders include rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, Graves' disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), celiac disease, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and Sjögren's syndrome, just to name a few. These conditions can affect any part of your body — from your brain to your toes, among others.

Conventional treatments for both inflammation and autoimmune disorders often rely on steroids and other immune-suppressing medications, but these solutions can cause unwanted side effects and can potentially weaken the immune system.

In recent years, medicinal cannabis (historically known as medical weed or medical marijuana, learn more about the importance of language here), has garnered increased attention within the medical community and among patients for its potential to alleviate the symptoms of autoimmune conditions and inflammatory disorders through a more natural approach.

Read on to explore how medical cannabis may offer relief for autoimmune conditions in some patients, understand the risks of natural medicine and learn about your options for accessing medicinal cannabis treatments in Australia.

What are autoimmune disorders?

Autoimmune disorders, also called autoimmune diseases, are a group of medical conditions in which the immune system, which is designed to protect the body from harmful invaders like bacteria and viruses, mistakenly targets and attacks the body's own healthy tissues and cells.  

This immune system dysfunction results in chronic inflammation and tissue damage. Autoimmune disorders can affect virtually any organ or tissue in the body, leading to a wide variety of symptoms. Some people experience only mild symptoms, while others can have severe, life-altering, and sometimes permanent effects.

Autoimmune disorders are up to four times more likely in women than in men. While the reasons for this are uncertain, it's thought that hormones, environmental factors, or our microbiome might contribute. 

Most autoimmune disorders are chronic, meaning they persist over a long period of time. Managing symptoms and preventing complications often requires ongoing treatment, active monitoring, and positive lifestyle adjustments.

Thankfully, research into autoimmune disorders has led to significant advancements in treatment options, including more selective immunosuppressive drugs, targeted biologic therapies, and tailored medicinal cannabis options that help modulate the immune system's response.

What causes autoimmune disorders?

While certain autoimmune conditions, such as Type 1 diabetes (predominantly genetic) or multiple sclerosis (potentially triggered by factors like the Epstein-Barr virus), have defined causes, it's not known why many other autoimmune diseases occur.

While the causes are not fully understood for some conditions, it’s generally believed that they may arise from a combination of genetic predisposition, environmental influences, and hormonal factors.

Autoimmune disorders may be caused by:

  • Genetic Predisposition: There is often a genetic component to autoimmune diseases, meaning they tend to run in families. Specific genes may increase the susceptibility to developing autoimmune conditions.
  • Environmental Triggers: Environmental factors such as infections, exposure to certain chemicals or pollutants, and even dietary factors may trigger or exacerbate autoimmune responses in genetically predisposed individuals.
  • Hormonal Factors: Hormonal changes, particularly in women, can influence the development and severity of autoimmune disorders. For example, some autoimmune conditions may worsen during pregnancy or as a result of hormonal fluctuations.
  • Immune System Dysregulation: These dysfunctions can lead to the immune system mistakenly identifying the body's own tissues as foreign invaders, initiating an autoimmune response.
  • Complex Interactions: The development of autoimmune disorders is often the result of complex interactions between genetic, environmental, and hormonal factors. The exact mechanisms by which these factors interact to trigger autoimmunity are still an active area of research.
  • Idiopathic: In some cases, the cause of autoimmune disorders remains idiopathic, meaning it is unknown or not yet fully understood. Despite significant advancements in autoimmune research, there are instances where the precise trigger for the development of these conditions cannot be identified

It's important to note that while these factors are associated with the development of autoimmune disorders, the precise cause can vary from person to person and from one autoimmune condition to another. Our immune system is constantly protecting us from a variety of risks, so there are a lot of steps and processes that can go wrong. Understanding these factors is crucial for advancing our knowledge of autoimmune diseases and improving treatment and prevention strategies.

Challenges of Conventional Treatments for Autoimmune Disorders

Traditional medications have proven beneficial in managing symptoms and preventing complications linked to autoimmune disorders, however,  they can also come with some drawbacks, including health risks, limitations, and varying efficacy levels.

One common, initial, symptom-based treatment approach involves nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or aspirin. These can effectively reduce pain and inflammation but may also lead to side effects like gastrointestinal issues and bleeding. Prolonged NSAID use can even result in more serious complications such as gastric ulcers and cardiovascular problems.

Corticosteroids, potent anti-inflammatory drugs, are another option. While effective at suppressing inflammation, they can bring about unwelcome effects like weight gain, mood swings, and immune system suppression with prolonged usage. This is why corticosteroids are commonly prescribed in 'burst' to reduce side effects.

Other immunosuppressive medications, often prescribed for autoimmune disorders, can help reduce inflammation but may affect the body's ability to fend off certain types of infections.

Given these challenges, there's a growing interest in exploring complementary and natural therapies like medicinal cannabis, dietary adjustments, herbal supplements, or other lifestyle changes as complementary therapies for managing symptoms of autoimmune disorders while minimising potential risks associated with conventional treatments.

Medicinal Cannabis and Autoimmune Conditions

Medicinal cannabis is gaining attention as a natural alternative for symptoms of autoimmune disorders, with increasing interest in its ability to modulate the immune system's inflammatory responses, reduce symptoms, and enhance the quality of life for those living with autoimmune conditions marked by chronic inflammation.

Here are some autoimmune disorders where medicinal cannabis may offer therapeutic benefits for some patients:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune inflammatory ailment primarily impacting joints, results in pain, swelling, and joint damage. Medicinal cannabis, CBD (cannabidiol), applied to the skin or ingested/inhaled may offer rheumatoid arthritis relief by reducing pain and joint inflammation.
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): Conditions such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, both forms of IBD, cause inflammation in the digestive tract, leading to symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and weight loss. Medical cannabis, notably cannabinoids CBD and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), shows promise in managing IBD symptoms for some patients.
  • Psoriasis: Psoriasis is characterised by thick, red, scaly skin patches due to inflammation. Patients may find relief from topical medical cannabis-based products, such as creams or ointments containing CBD or THC, which may be able to help reduce skin inflammation.
  • Other Dermatological Conditions: Skin conditions like eczema (atopic dermatitis) and hidradenitis suppurativa involve chronic inflammation. Topical medical cannabis-based products, particularly those with CBD, may play a role in alleviating skin inflammation and improving symptoms.
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS): Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune neuroinflammatory disease affecting the central nervous system. Medicinal cannabis, particularly oral medications containing THC and CBD, has been explored for its potential in managing symptoms. These medications may help manage MS symptoms such as pain, muscle spasms, and spasticity in some patients.
  • Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, SLE): Some research has explored the potential of medical cannabis to manage symptoms associated with lupus, such as pain, inflammation, and joint stiffness. However, more research is needed to determine the safety and effectiveness of cannabis in managing SLE.

Remember: the efficacy of medicinal cannabis in addressing symptoms of autoimmune disorders can vary from person to person. Before starting on any natural therapies, it's important to talk to a knowledgeable healthcare professional to weigh the risks and benefits of medicinal cannabis for your condition and health needs. 

How Can Medicinal Cannabis Impact Autoimmune Conditions?

Medicinal cannabis, specifically its active compounds such as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), interacts with the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS), which plays an important role in regulating various bodily processes, including the immune system. 

Although exactly how medicinal cannabis helps treat autoimmune disorders is not fully understood, it is thought to potentially help manage symptoms due to: 

  • Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Both CBD and THC have demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties. In immune disorders characterised by chronic inflammation, such as autoimmune diseases, this anti-inflammatory action can help reduce the immune system's overactive response, which is often responsible for tissue damage and symptoms.
  • Immunomodulation: Medicinal cannabis compounds can modulate the immune system, meaning they have the ability to either enhance or suppress immune responses. In autoimmune disorders where the immune system is attacking healthy tissues, the immunosuppressive properties of certain cannabinoids may help reduce this harmful immune activity.
  • Pain Management: Many individuals with autoimmune disorders experience pain as a prominent symptom. Medical cannabis, particularly THC, can provide pain relief by acting on pain receptors in the brain and nervous system. By reducing pain perception, it can improve the quality of life for individuals with autoimmune conditions.
  • Neuroprotection: In some autoimmune disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, the immune system attacks the central nervous system. Medicinal cannabis compounds, particularly THC and CBD, have been studied for their potential neuroprotective effects. It may help preserve nerve function and reduce symptoms like muscle spasms and spasticity (as a secondary treatment).

While medicinal cannabis may offer therapeutic benefits for some people, it may also have side effects and interactions with other medications. As such, it should be used under medical supervision and guidance.

Possible Risks of Medical Cannabis for Autoimmune Disorders

While not everyone will experience adverse effects, it's important to be aware of potential risks associated with medical cannabis for autoimmune disorders:

  • Cognitive Effects: Depending on the compounds present and their concentrations, medical cannabis might lead to cognitive effects, including impaired memory and concentration.
  • Interactions and Side Effects: Just like any medication, medical cannabis could interact with other medications you're taking. Side effects, though side effects are generally uncommon, still warrant careful consideration.
  • Psychoactive Effects of THC: The intoxicating nature of THC may not be appropriate for people with certain mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. 

A comprehensive discussion with an expert medical professional can help you navigate possible risks and make an informed decision about whether medical cannabis could be right for you. 

The Wrap Up


Living with autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, presents persistent challenges that require effective, long-term management. While conventional treatments, like NSAIDs, corticosteroids, and biologics can provide relief, they can still come with side effects like peptic ulcers, weight gain and mood swings. There is a need for complementary therapies, such as medicinal cannabis, to help manage autoimmune symptoms. 

Autoimmune Conditions, FAQs:

Does rheumatoid arthritis make you tired?

Yes, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can often lead to fatigue. The chronic inflammation and pain associated with RA can be physically and mentally draining, causing persistent tiredness and a lack of energy. Additionally, the immune system's overactivity in RA can contribute to feelings of fatigue.

Some RA medications, such as methotrexate, which is commonly prescribed, can also cause fatigue as a side effect. In some cases, individuals with RA may explore alternative treatments like medicinal cannabis to manage pain and fatigue, as it has shown potential in alleviating these symptoms in some patients.

Is methotrexate the best treatment for rheumatoid arthritis?

Methotrexate is commonly used as a first-line treatment for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and is often considered one of the most effective disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) for RA. However, whether it is the "best" treatment for a particular individual with RA depends on various factors, including the severity of the disease, the individual's medical history, their response to the medication, and any potential side effects.

RA is a complex condition, and treatment plans are typically tailored to each patient's specific needs. Some individuals with RA may not respond well to methotrexate alone or may experience severe side effects. In such cases, rheumatologists may explore other DMARDs, medicinal cannabis, or biologic medications, often in combination with methotrexate or as alternatives.

Ultimately, the choice of the "best" treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is a decision made by a healthcare provider in consultation with the patient, taking into consideration the individual's unique circumstances and preferences.

References
  • Ahmed W, Katz S. Therapeutic Use of Cannabis in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2016;12(11):668-679.
  • Bindu S, Mazumder S, Bandyopadhyay U. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and organ damage: A current perspective. Biochem Pharmacol. 2020;180:114147. doi:10.1016/j.bcp.2020.114147
  • Fernández-Ruiz J, Sagredo O, Pazos MR, et al. Cannabidiol for neurodegenerative disorders: important new clinical applications for this phytocannabinoid?. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2013;75(2):323-333. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04341.x
  • Frane N, Stapleton E, Iturriaga C, Ganz M, Rasquinha V, Duarte R. Cannabidiol as a treatment for arthritis and joint pain: an exploratory cross-sectional study. J Cannabis Res. 2022;4(1):47. Published 2022 Aug 24. doi:10.1186/s42238-022-00154-9
  • Haddad F, Dokmak G, Karaman R. The Efficacy of Cannabis on Multiple Sclerosis-Related Symptoms. Life (Basel). 2022;12(5):682. Published 2022 May 5. doi:10.3390/life12050682
  • Kronzer VL, Bridges SL Jr, Davis JM 3rd. Why women have more autoimmune diseases than men: An evolutionary perspective. Evol Appl. 2020;14(3):629-633. Published 2020 Dec 1. doi:10.1111/eva.13167
  • Li X, Diviant JP, Stith SS, et al. The Effects of Consuming Cannabis Flower for Treatment of Fatigue. Med Cannabis Cannabinoids. 2022;5(1):76-84. Published 2022 Apr 13. doi:10.1159/000524057
  • Mack A, Joy J. Marijuana as Medicine? The Science Beyond the Controversy. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2000. 4, MARIJUANA AND PAIN. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK224384/
  • Martins AM, Gomes AL, Vilas Boas I, Marto J, Ribeiro HM. Cannabis-Based Products for the Treatment of Skin Inflammatory Diseases: A Timely Review [published correction appears in Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2022 Jul 11;15(7):]. Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2022;15(2):210. Published 2022 Feb 9. doi:10.3390/ph1502021
  • Nagarkatti P, Pandey R, Rieder SA, Hegde VL, Nagarkatti M. Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs. Future Med Chem. 2009;1(7):1333-1349. doi:10.4155/fmc.09.93
  • National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Committee on the Health Effects of Marijuana: An Evidence Review and Research Agenda. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2017 Jan 12. 8, Immunity. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK425755/
  • National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Autoimmune Diseases. Accessed September 10, 2023. Available at: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/autoimmune/index.cfm.
  • Rodríguez Mesa XM, Moreno Vergara AF, Contreras Bolaños LA, Guevara Moriones N, Mejía Piñeros AL, Santander González SP. Therapeutic Prospects of Cannabinoids in the Immunomodulation of Prevalent Autoimmune Diseases. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2021;6(3):196-210. doi:10.1089/can.2020.0183
  • Yasir M, Goyal A, Sonthalia S. Corticosteroid Adverse Effects. [Updated 2023 Jul 3]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK531462/

The information on this website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Polln is not promoting the use of medicinal cannabis. Medicinal cannabis in Australia is scheduled medication and regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Details about medicinal cannabis as a scheduled drug can be found on their website. If you would like to explore medicinal cannabis for your chronic condition, please consult with a doctor.

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Related articles
Medical Conditions

Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Epilepsy

5
min read
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Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a complex neurological condition that affects millions of people worldwide. This disorder disrupts the normal electrical activity in the brain, causing recurrent seizures of differing intensities and frequencies. The impact of epilepsy goes beyond just physical symptoms and can affect cognitive abilities and emotional well-being too.

The seizures and their aftermath can be both physically debilitating and emotionally distressing, which is why it’s so important for doctors to tailor treatment plans to meet the physical and emotional needs of epilepsy patients.

While conventional antiepileptic medications have been a major advancement in epilepsy management, they are not always entirely effective and can be associated with undesirable side effects. This has prompted both patients and the medical community to explore alternative approaches, such as medicinal cannabis, which can be used as a complementary therapy or a stand-alone treatment.

Medicinal cannabis, commonly referred to as medical marijuana, has gained recognition for its potential to alleviate epilepsy symptoms for some patients naturally. The compounds found in medical cannabis, particularly cannabidiol (CBD), have shown promise in reducing the frequency and severity of seizures in certain individuals with epilepsy. These positive findings have encouraged further research into how cannabinoids interact with the nervous system to help reduce the intensity or frequency of seizures.

Read on to find out how medical cannabis may help some patients manage epilepsy.

What is epilepsy? 

Epilepsy is a spectrum of neurological disorders characterised by abnormal brain activity, resulting in recurrent seizures. These seizures can vary widely in their manifestations and severity, and can impact people differently. Because of epilepsy's diverse nature can diagnosis and treatment can be complicated 

Seizures associated with epilepsy can range from subtle moments of altered consciousness or brief staring spells to more intense convulsions. The type of seizure someone experiences depends on the part of the brain affected and the pattern of abnormal activity it generates.

There are different types of epilepsy, and each has its distinct set of challenges. Some people may experience focal onset seizures, which originate in a specific area of the brain, while others may have generalised onset seizures that involve widespread brain networks. Additionally, there are epilepsy syndromes that tend to manifest in specific age groups and are characterised by specific seizure types and patterns.

Managing epilepsy effectively requires accurate diagnosis and personalised treatment plans. Antiepileptic medications are commonly prescribed to control seizure activity, but their effectiveness can vary depending on the type of epilepsy and individual response. In some cases, surgery may be considered to remove or isolate the epileptic focus (the part of the brain where the seizure originates).

If you or a loved one are living with epilepsy and want to explore natural treatment support, medical professionals can help you make an informed decision about your treatment options.

Challenges of Traditional Epilepsy Treatments

Managing epilepsy involves a multifaceted approach that often relies on antiepileptic medications (also known as “anti-seizure medications”). These medications have greatly improved the lives of many people by helping them control seizures and achieve a better quality of life. However, while traditional epilepsy medications are effective for many, they are not without potential challenges.

One of the notable benefits of modern epilepsy medications is their ability to significantly reduce the frequency and severity of seizures for many people with epilepsy. These medical advancements have revolutionised epilepsy management, allowing people to regain a sense of control and stability in their lives.

However, there has been growing interest in the potential therapeutic benefits of medicinal cannabis as an adjunct therapy for epilepsy. While not always a suitable replacement for modern epilepsy medications, some individuals find that incorporating medicinal cannabis into their treatment plan may provide additional relief or help them avoid common side effects like dizziness, fatigue, weight gain, and mood changes.

Cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound found in medical cannabis, has shown promise in reducing certain types of seizures, particularly in cases where traditional medications may not be fully effective. However, it's important to note that medicinal cannabis is not suitable for everyone, and its use should be discussed with healthcare providers, like an authorised prescriber or doctor. Remember: When making decisions about epilepsy treatment options (whether that involves traditional medications, adjunct therapies like medicinal cannabis, or a combination of both) it’s important to make these decisions with the help of a trusted doctor.

How Medical Cannabis May Impact Patients with Epilepsy

The potential therapeutic role of medical cannabis in managing epilepsy has garnered increasing interest, shedding light on its possible therapeutic benefits for some individuals living with seizure disorders. Exploring the interaction between medical cannabis and the neurological system can provide insights into its potential efficacy in mitigating the challenges posed by epilepsy.

  • Neurological Regulation: Medical cannabis compounds, including CBD and THC, interact with the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex network of receptors and signalling molecules involved in maintaining neurological balance.

CBD, for instance, has shown promise in influencing GABA receptors, which play a critical role in inhibiting excessive neuronal activity. By modulating these receptors, CBD may help regulate abnormal brain activity associated with seizures in some patients.

  • Seizure Threshold Modulation: Both CBD and THC have been studied for their effects on altering the seizure threshold, which is the point at which an individual is more susceptible to experiencing a seizure.

CBD's anticonvulsant properties show potential in raising the seizure threshold, thereby reducing the frequency and intensity of seizures. However, the influence of THC on seizures requires careful consideration due to its potential to lower the seizure threshold in some cases.

  • Neuroprotective Effects: CBD's neuroprotective properties have gained attention for their potential in safeguarding brain cells from damage caused by seizures. Research suggests that CBD's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions may help mitigate the neurodegenerative effects associated with epilepsy, providing a multifaceted approach to managing the condition for some patients.

  • Dosage and Personalized Treatment: It's important to note that the effects of medical cannabis on epilepsy can vary widely based on factors such as dosage, cannabinoid ratios, and an individual's specific response. Working closely with medical professionals to establish appropriate dosing and monitoring is crucial to achieving optimal outcomes.

  • Improved Quality of Life: Patients who experience fewer seizures often report an improved quality of life. Reduced seizure frequency can lead to better cognitive function, improved mood, and enhanced social interactions.

  • Reduced Medication Dependency: Some individuals with epilepsy may be able to reduce their reliance on traditional antiepileptic medications when using medicinal cannabis, which can be beneficial, especially if they experience adverse side effects from these medications.


While further research is needed to fully understand its mechanisms and effects, medical cannabis offers hope for some people wanting additional options for epilepsy care to address the challenges posed by this complex neurological condition.

Possible Risks of Medicinal Cannabis for Epilepsy

Before starting on a course of medicinal cannabis treatment for epilepsy, it is important to carefully evaluate any potential risks to make informed decisions about your medical treatment.

  • Side Effects: While CBD is generally considered safe and well-tolerated, THC and other prominent compounds in cannabis can cause side effects such as dizziness, increased heart rate, and cognitive impairment. These side effects may be particularly concerning for vulnerable populations, such as children or the elderly.

  • Drug Interactions: Medicinal cannabis can interact with other medications, potentially affecting their effectiveness or causing adverse reactions. It is crucial for patients to inform their healthcare providers about their cannabis use to manage potential drug interactions properly.

  • Long-Term Safety: The long-term safety of medicinal cannabis for epilepsy requires further clinical trials. Concerns about potential adverse effects on brain development in children and adolescents and the risk of addiction need to be carefully considered.

  • Individual Variation: Responses to medicinal cannabis can vary significantly among individuals. What works for one person may not work for another, making it challenging to predict outcomes and customise treatment effectively.

Ongoing research and increased understanding of medicinal cannabis treatments  are critical for maximising the therapeutic benefits and minimising the risks associated with its use in epilepsy management.

The Wrap Up

Epilepsy is a complex disorder that disrupts the normal electrical activity in the brain and causes recurrent seizures. While traditional medications have played an important role in managing this condition, medicinal cannabis, particularly CBD-rich formulations, shows promise as an alternative or complementary therapy, especially for some medication-resistant epilepsy.

Medical Cannabis and Epilepsy FAQs

Is cannabinoid oil for epilepsy?

Yes, cannabinoid oil, also known as CBD oil, has been studied and used as a potential treatment for epilepsy, particularly in cases where other treatments have not been effective. The TGA has approved a CBD-based medication called Epidiolex for specific forms of severe epilepsy. This medication was also the first and only medicinal cannabis medication to be listed on Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). However, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional before using CBD oil for epilepsy, as its effectiveness can vary from person to person, and other treatment options should also be considered.

How can I prevent seizures? 

To prevent seizures, especially while considering the use of medicinal cannabis, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a neurologist, epilepsy specialist, or an expert doctor, for personalised guidance. For many people, prescription medications are the primary means of seizure control, and adherence to the prescribed regimen is important. Lifestyle adjustments, like maintaining a regular sleep schedule, managing stress, and avoiding personal seizure triggers, can also be helpful. If appropriate, medicinal cannabis containing CBD or low levels of THC may be considered as part of the treatment plan, but it should be closely monitored by a qualified healthcare provider. Additionally, other options like Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS), Responsive Neurostimulation (RNS), or surgery may be explored in cases where seizures are not responsive to medications or other treatments.

Medical Conditions

Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Neurological Conditions

6
min read
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Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Neurological Conditions

Neurological conditions can pose significant challenges to individuals and their loved ones, affecting not only physical health but also mental and emotional well-being. These conditions often require long-term management and personalised treatments.

Neurological conditions include a wide range of disorders, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and neuropathic pain. These conditions can have a wide range of symptoms, from seizures and muscle spasms to cognitive impairment or chronic pain.

Traditional drugs for neurological conditions can be an important part of neurological condition management, but they can come with limitations, such as unwanted side effects, varying efficacy, and the potential for dependence. This has led many patients and healthcare professionals to explore alternative treatments for adjunct therapies like medical cannabis.

Medical cannabis, sometimes referred to as medical marijuana or medicinal weed, is gaining recognition for its potential to relieve symptoms associated with various neurological disorders in some patients. Cannabinoids, the active compounds in cannabis, may help modulate pain perception in the brain, reduce inflammation, and potentially improve overall neurological function.

Read on to find out how medical cannabis may help some patients with symptoms associated with neurological conditions and how to safely explore options for medicinal cannabis treatments. 

What are neurological conditions?

Neurological conditions, also referred to as neurological disorders or diseases, encompass a broad spectrum of medical conditions that affect the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. 

These conditions disrupt the normal functioning of the nervous system, leading to a wide range of symptoms and health challenges. Neurological conditions can be caused by factors, such as genetic factors, infections, injuries, autoimmune responses, and degenerative processes (ageing-related changes).

Diagnosis, treatment, and management of neurological disorders typically involve a multidisciplinary approach, with neurologists and other healthcare professionals working together to provide comprehensive care.

Neurologists specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of neurological conditions, employing a combination of clinical assessments, imaging studies, and laboratory tests to arrive at an accurate diagnosis. Once diagnosed, patients often receive tailored treatment plans that may include medications to manage symptoms, physical therapy to improve function, surgical interventions to address specific issues, and, in some cases, lifestyle modifications.

Lifestyle modifications can be particularly important in the management of certain neurological conditions. These modifications may involve dietary changes, exercise regimens, and adaptations to daily routines to optimise the patient's quality of life and overall well-being. The goal is to empower individuals affected by neurological conditions to lead as fulfilling and comfortable lives as possible, despite the challenges posed by their condition.

Types of Neurological Conditions

While neurological conditions share a common thread of affecting the nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nerves), neurological conditions cover many different kinds of disorders. Each neurological condition, like Parkinson’s or Epilepsy, has its own specific causes and symptoms, which makes the field of neurology quite complex.

Some common neurological conditions include:

  • Epilepsy
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Chronic Pain
  • Migraines
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Neuropathy (damage or dysfunction of the peripheral nerves)


Each neurological condition presents its unique challenges in terms of diagnosis and management. Treatment approaches vary, and they often involve a combination of medications, therapies, and lifestyle modifications tailored to the specific condition and individual needs.

Medicinal Cannabis and Neurological Conditions

Medicinal cannabis is gaining recognition as a potential treatment option to help manage the symptoms of various neurological conditions due to its ability to potentially alleviate symptoms such as pain, muscle spasticity, and seizures in some patients.

Medicinal cannabis may help some patients manage the symptoms of the following neurological conditions:

The first ever medicinal cannabis product on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)  was listed in 2021. Epidyolex® a prescription cannabidiol (CBD) oil that is used to treat seizures associated with Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome in patients 2 years of age and older.

  • Parkinson's Disease: Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that leads to motor impairments, including tremors and rigidity. Medicinal cannabis may help reduce these symptoms and improve the overall quality of life for some individuals with Parkinson's.
  • Neuropathic Pain: Neuropathic pain conditions, such as diabetic neuropathy and trigeminal neuralgia, involve chronic pain resulting from nerve dysfunction. Medical cannabis treatments, with their analgesic properties, have been shown to help some people manage neuropathic pain.
  • Migraines: Migraines are characterised by severe headaches and associated symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and in some cases, visual disturbances or auras. Research shows that medicinal cannabis may help  reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines in some patients. Additionally, medicinal cannabis may help some patients manage associated symptoms of migraine, such as nausea and vomiting.

Remember: the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in managing neurological conditions can vary from person to person. Additionally, the use of medicinal cannabis should be approached cautiously, and consultation with an experienced healthcare professional.

How Medicinal Cannabis May Affect  Neurological Conditions

Medicinal cannabis, and medicinal cannabis products, containing cannabinoids like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), may help some people manage some of the complex symptoms of neurological disorders.

While ongoing research is still uncovering exactly how medicinal cannabis interacts with neurological conditions, here are a few ways it might affect some patients: :

  • Managing Neuroinflammation: THC and CBD, the main compounds in medical cannabis, have anti-inflammatory effects. They interact with the body's endocannabinoid system, which regulates immune responses and inflammation.

It has been suggested that Medicinal cannabis may help slow down the progression of conditions like multiple sclerosis in some patients by reducing neuroinflammation, as inflammation is a key factor in nerve damage.

  • Immune System Modulation: Medicinal cannabis compounds may affect how the immune system responds in some patients, especially in neuroinflammatory autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's. 

Medicinal cannabis may control the release of cytokines and other immune signalling molecules, which helps in calming down an overactive immune response. This is significant for conditions like Guillain-Barré syndrome and lupus, where an overly active immune system is a characteristic feature.

  • Pain Alleviation: Neurological conditions often bring persistent pain that can seriously affect a person's life. Medical cannabis may help manage pain symptoms in some patients due to its pain-relieving properties. This can be especially helpful for people with conditions like diabetic neuropathy, which causes nerve pain due to diabetes, or trigeminal neuralgia, a condition causing severe facial pain.
  • Seizure Control: Medicinal cannabis, particularly the cannabinoid CBD, may aid in the management of seizure disorders such as epilepsy. Although we don't fully understand exactly how it helps, it seems that CBD's capacity to regulate nerve cell activity and the release of signalling chemicals in the brain plays a crucial role in decreasing the frequency and intensity of seizures.

Remember: The efficacy of medicinal cannabis can vary from person to person and can depend on many factors, including your condition, the specific medical cannabis treatment  used, and the dosing regimen.

As with any medical treatment, medicinal cannabis carries potential side effects and interactions with other medications. If you’re interested in learning more about medicinal cannabis treatments,to weigh the risks and benefits. 

Possible Risks of Medical Cannabis for Neurological Conditions

While not everyone will experience adverse effects, it's important to be aware of potential risks associated with medical cannabis for inflammatory conditions:

  • Cognitive Effects: Depending on the compounds present and their concentrations, medical cannabis might lead to cognitive effects, including impaired memory and concentration.
  • Interactions and Side Effects: Just like any medication, medical cannabis could interact with other medications you're taking. Side effects, though potentially fewer than with traditional medications, still warrant careful consideration.
  • Psychoactive Effects of THC: The psychoactive nature of THC may not be appropriate for people with certain mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. 

A comprehensive discussion with a caring medical professional can help you navigate possible risks and make an informed decision about whether medical cannabis could be right for you. 

The Wrap Up

Living with a neurological condition can be a significant and long-lasting challenge. It requires a constant effort to manage symptoms, adapt to their limitations, and seek comfort and function despite ongoing neurological issues. Medical cannabis may provide hope for those dealing with conditions like epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and neuropathic pain when other treatments have failed to provide relief.

Medicinal cannabis, under the guidance of experienced healthcare professionals, can offer people new possibilities for people with neurological conditions to improve their quality of life and manage symptoms.

Remember: to qualify for access to medicinal cannabis in Australia, you must have experienced a chronic condition for over three months and have tried other treatments that were either ineffective or resulted in unwanted side effect

Neurological Conditions: FAQ

Can multiple sclerosis be cured?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune neurological condition with no known cure at present. While there is no cure for MS, various treatments aim to manage its symptoms, slow disease progression, and improve patients' quality of life. Medicinal cannabis, particularly formulations containing both THC and CBD, has shown promise in alleviating some MS symptoms, such as pain, muscle spasms, and spasticity in some patients.

However, it should be viewed as a complementary therapy rather than a cure. Research on the long-term effects and optimal use of medicinal cannabis for MS is ongoing, and its effectiveness can vary from person to person. Individuals with MS should work closely with healthcare professionals to develop comprehensive treatment plans tailored to their specific needs and conditions.

Do Parkinson's symptoms come and go? 

Parkinson's disease is characterised by both motor and non-motor symptoms, and their presentation can indeed fluctuate, with periods of symptom exacerbation (known as "on" periods) followed by relative relief (known as "off" periods). These fluctuations are often a result of the interplay between the disease progression and the effectiveness of Parkinson's medications, particularly levodopa.

Some people may experience the "wearing-off" phenomenon, where the medication's effects diminish before the next dose, leading to a return of symptoms. Medicinal cannabis, particularly formulations containing both THC and CBD, has been explored as a potential adjunct therapy to help manage Parkinson's symptoms during "off" periods, offering relief from issues like tremors, rigidity, and bradykinesia in some patients. 


Medical Conditions

Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Sleep Disorders

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Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Sleep Disorders

Living with a sleep disorder, such as insomnia or restless legs syndrome, can be an exhausting and frustrating experience. These conditions disrupt our natural sleep rhythms, meaning we not only don’t get enough sleep — but the sleep we do get tends to be poor quality too. The effects of bad sleep go beyond just feeling tired. Sleep disorders can cause difficulties concentrating, mood swings, lowered immune function, and a higher risk of illnesses.

Insomnia treatment can be challenging too due to the many reasons why sleep problems happen. Stress, poor sleep hygiene habits, and medical and psychological conditions can all cause sleep issues. The duration and severity of your sleep disorders also play a role in how to manage them, with chronic cases often requiring more comprehensive or holistic treatment options.

Medicinal cannabis has shown promise as a potential natural and lower-risk option for some people with insomnia. The natural compounds found in cannabis plants, cannabinoids THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) plus terpenes, interact with the body's endocannabinoid system to help regulate sleep and other bodily functions.

Learn more about how medical cannabis may help with sleep disorders in some patients and discover options for accessing medicinal cannabis in Australia.

Understanding Sleep Disorders

Insomnia and other sleep disorders are conditions that disrupt normal sleep patterns, making it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, or achieve good quality sleep. Many factors, including stress, medical conditions, lifestyle habits, or even genetic factors can cause sleep disorders.

Some common sleep disorders include insomnia, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy.

People with insomnia face ongoing challenges in falling asleep or maintaining sleep, and are often accompanied by stress or anxiety.

Restless legs syndrome also causes disrupted sleep, however sleep difficulties are caused by uncomfortable leg sensations and uncontrollable urges to move the legs.

Instead of trouble sleeping at night, narcolepsy causes sudden, uncontrollable episodes of daytime sleepiness. Narcolepsy can also cause sudden muscle weakness or paralysis triggered by emotions, like laughter or surprise. Additionally, narcoleptics can experience vivid hallucinations  (also known as hypnopompic hallucinations) upon falling.

Effective management and treatment of sleep disorders requires accurate diagnosis and personalised treatment plans. Want to know more about sleep disorders? Talk to a doctor to receive a comprehensive assessment and achieve better sleep.

Why is Poor Sleep Such a Problem?

With how busy our daily lives can be, it’s easy to underestimate how important sleep is for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. 

During sleep, our bodies undergo essential processes that help repair tissue, strengthen our immune system, and regulate hormones. Additionally, sleep is vital for memory consolidation, learning, and problem-solving, allowing us to process and make sense of the information we encounter throughout the day.

Getting enough sleep also stabilises mood and emotional resilience. Ongoing sleep deprivation (like what you would experience with chronic insomnia) has been associated with heightened stress levels and an increased susceptibility to mental health disorders.

Poor sleep can even affect our physical health and increase our risk of chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Polln Doctor, Dr Melissa Catanzarite, MBBS believes that sleep is the single most significant component of our self care. “Sleep is the real miracle drug; it promotes healing, emotional stability and even weight loss. Without sleep we struggle to have meaningful interactions with those we love, our creativity is dampened or ceases altogether and we are at more risk for significant health disorders.

A person can take all of the medications, supplements and yoga classes in the world and their health will not improve until they prioritise sleep.”

Challenges of Traditional Sleep Disorder Treatments

Conventional treatments for sleep disorders that rely on pharmaceutical interventions (sometimes called “sleeping pills”) or behavioural therapies can be challenging for patients due to their possible side effects, dependency concerns, and varying levels of effectiveness.

While behavioural therapies, like cognitive behavioural therapy, can be effective drug-free insomnia treatment options, they require commitment and patience as they often involve making long-term changes to sleep habits and routines.

Prescription sleep aids, like benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepine hypnotics, on the other hand, help insomnia by boosting the calming effects of various brain chemicals. However, these medications are typically recommended for short-term use. 

Prolonged or excessive use of prescription sleep aids can lead to tolerance, where the effectiveness of the drug diminishes over time, or drug dependence. Additionally, when individuals stop using these medications after extended use, they may experience rebound insomnia, where their sleep problems worsen again.

Benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepine hypnotics can also lead to issues such as daytime drowsiness, cognitive impairment, and an increased likelihood of accidents or falls, particularly among older adults.

There is a significant need for natural sleep aids. Some alternatives include medical cannabis, relaxation exercises, and improved sleeping habits, such as taking daily exercises, reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, and making changes to your sleeping environment to promote better sleep hygiene.

Medicinal Cannabis and Insomnia, Restless Leg Syndrome, and Narcolepsy

Research has demonstrated the efficacy of medical cannabis in treating certain sleep disorders, including insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy in some patients. Studies have shown that the natural compounds found in cannabis, such as CBD and THC, can influence our sleep patterns to potentially provide us with a better night’s sleep.

CBD, or CBD oil, for instance, may act as a natural sleep medicine due to it’s calming properties and may help people with anxiety-related insomnia or restless leg syndrome.

Medicinal cannabis has been shown to help manage the following sleep disorders:

  • Insomnia: Insomnia is a common sleep disorder characterised by difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restful sleep.While treating insomnia can be complicated in some cases, research suggests that medical cannabis can help people with insomnia fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. 

In one study, 71% of patients using cannabis products for sleep reported improved sleep, with 39% reducing and/or discontinuing their prescription sleep medication.

  • Restless legs syndrome (RLS): Medical cannabis may help to reduce the symptoms of RLS, such as the urge to move the legs and relieve associated discomfort or pain.

A small 2017 study showed that medical cannabis was able to reduce symptoms of RLS. All participants noted an improvement in their sleep after treatment was completed. What’s more, the patients described medicinal cannabis products as the most effective sleep aid and the best-tolerated treatment.

  • Narcolepsy: Narcolepsy is characterised by sudden episodes of daytime sleepiness and can lead to sudden loss of muscle control (cataplexy), hallucinations, and sleep paralysis.

Medical cannabis may help to reduce the symptoms of narcolepsy, such as excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings.

How Medical Cannabis May Support as a Natural Sleep Aid

Medical cannabis may help treat sleep disorders due to its interaction with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS plays an important role in regulating various bodily functions, including sleep.

The ECS has been found to influence sleep-wake cycles, sleep duration, and sleep quality through its modulation of neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain. Cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, may influence the quality and duration of sleep in some patients by:

  • Reducing Anxiety: CBD as a sleep aid may provide insomnia relief for some patients. CBD has anti-anxiety (anxiolytic) properties that may help alleviate anxiety and stress, common contributors to sleep disorders like insomnia.
  • Promoting Relaxation: Both THC and CBD have muscle relaxant and sedative properties, potentially aiding in relaxation and promoting sleep onset.
  • Regulating REM Sleep: THC has been shown to suppress REM sleep, which could be beneficial for those with conditions like nightmares or REM sleep behaviour disorder. Interestingly, reduced REM sleep has been linked to early onset dementia and cognitive decline; however, CBD and THC together may allow for more REM, potentially protecting brain health for some people.

  • Pain Relief: Medical cannabis may alleviate pain in some patients, which is often a contributing factor to sleep disorders. By reducing pain, it may facilitate better sleep.

Therapeutic Effects of Medical Cannabis for Sleep

When considering medical cannabis for sleep, it's essential to consult a doctor before starting a treatment course. Your practitioner can help you assess the potential risks and benefits, and decide if medical cannabis aligns with your sleep disorder and overall health needs.

Medical cannabis offers several therapeutic effects that may set it apart from other sleep medications:

  • Natural: Unlike many traditional sleep medications, medical cannabis is derived from the cannabis plant, making it a natural alternative that may appeal to those seeking a plant-based remedy without the side effects associated with some synthetic drugs.
  • Less Side Effects: Compared to some pharmaceutical interventions, medical cannabis may have fewer side effects for some patients, particularly when used responsibly and under medical supervision. This can be appealing for those concerned about adverse reactions and dependency associated with traditional sleep medications.

Risks of Medical Cannabis for Sleep

When deciding on any kind of  medication, it's important to acknowledge any possible risks alongside potential benefits.

Some risks of medicinal cannabis for sleep include potential side effects such as dizziness, dry mouth, and cognitive impairment, as well as the risk of developing tolerance, and dependence. Additionally, the psychoactive nature of THC, may not be suitable for people with mood disorders, like bipolar or schizophrenia.

A comprehensive discussion with a caring medical professional can help you navigate these risks and benefits to help you make an informed decision about whether medical cannabis is a safe and effective option for you.

The Wrap Up

Sleep disorders can have a profound impact on both our physical and mental well-being, disrupting our natural sleep patterns and significantly influencing our overall health and quality of life. Traditional treatments, though effective for some, can come with some challenging side effects like dependence or rebound insomnia, and might not but suitable for everything.

Medical cannabis provides a safer, natural, sleep aid option. By interacting with the endocannabinoid system, it can help improve sleep, reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, and even regulate REM sleep. Even though medicinal cannabis has fewer side effects than other sleep medications, it’s still important to consult with a healthcare professional to weigh the risks and benefits and decide if natural therapies are right for you.

Medicinal Cannabis and Sleep FAQ

What is the most effective natural sleep aid?

One natural sleep aid is medicinal cannabis. While the effectiveness and safety of medicinal cannabis as a sleep aid can vary from person to person, there is a growing body of research suggesting medical cannabis may improve sleep quality, reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, and increase the duration of deep and restorative sleep.

Medicinal cannabis contains compounds called cannabinoids, such as CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which interact with the body's endocannabinoid system. This system plays a role in regulating various physiological processes, including sleep. CBD, in particular, has been studied for its potential to promote relaxation and alleviate anxiety in some patients, both of which can contribute to better sleep.

Several studies have indicated that CBD may help some individuals with insomnia or other sleep disorders. It's believed to have a calming effect on the mind, helping to ease racing thoughts and create a more conducive environment for falling asleep. Additionally, some individuals have reported experiencing longer periods of deep sleep and improved sleep continuity when using CBD as a sleep aid.

It's worth noting that other natural sleep aids, such as meditation, hypnotherapy, and melatonin, are also recognised for their potential in promoting restful sleep. Different individuals may find varying degrees of effectiveness with these options, and it's advisable to explore what works best for your individual needs and preferences.

Can you become dependent on sleep aids?

Yes, it is possible to become dependent on sleep aids, including medicinal cannabis. Both over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids, as well as natural remedies like medicinal cannabis, can lead to physical and psychological dependence if used improperly or for an extended period.

  • Prescription Sleep Aids: Prescription medications like benzodiazepines and certain non-benzodiazepine drugs can effectively treat sleep disorders, but they carry the risk of dependence. Tolerance can develop over time, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effect. This can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the medication.

  • Over-the-Counter and Natural Sleep Aids: Even over-the-counter sleep aids, including herbal supplements, and natural options like medicinal cannabis can also lead to dependence. Using these aids regularly can create a psychological reliance on them to induce sleep.

  • Medicinal Cannabis: While medicinal cannabis  has shown potential for improving sleep, prolonged and indiscriminate use can also lead to dependence. Regular use might lead to the body adapting to its effects, potentially requiring higher doses to achieve the desired sleep benefits. Learn more
Medical Conditions

Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Chemotherapy Side Effects

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Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Chemotherapy Side Effects

Dealing with cancer is an incredibly challenging journey, not only for patients but for their loved ones too. Chemotherapy, while effective in targeting cancer cells, often brings along a slew of daunting side effects that can make treatment even more difficult. Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and rashes, or diarrhoea are just a few of the additional issues that chemotherapy patients face.

Chemotherapy-induced side effects are notoriously challenging to manage. Standard medications used to reduce them don’t always provide effective relief, and can even create additional complications. In recent years, studies have shown that medicinal cannabis (historically known as medical weed or medical marijuana, learn more about the importance of language here), has emerged as a promising alternative that holds potential in mitigating some of the adverse effects of chemotherapy.

This natural approach to symptom management has been gaining recognition within both the patient community and the medical field. Under the supervision of a medical professional, the therapeutic cannabinoids in medicinal cannabis may offer relief from nausea, vomiting, pain, and other debilitating symptoms associated with chemotherapy for some patients.

If you or a loved one are undergoing chemotherapy and have not found effective relief through conventional therapies, doctors who are experienced in the prescription of medicinal cannabis are here to guide you through this therapeutic option, ensuring that you receive the care and support you need throughout your journey towards better health and quality of life.

What are chemotherapy side effects?

Chemotherapy and immunotherapy are effective in targeting cancerous cells in many types of cancer, including breast cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, leukaemia, and many others. However, chemotherapy can also cause a range of short term and long term side effects due to its impact on healthy cells and tissues in the body.

These side effects can vary in severity from person to person and depend on the specific chemotherapy drugs used. Some common chemotherapy side effects include:

  • Nausea and Vomiting: Chemotherapy is often designed to be toxic to cancer cells, this can trigger nausea  nausea and vomiting. These symptoms can be acute (occurring shortly after treatment) or delayed (occurring days after treatment). Anti-nausea medications are often prescribed to manage these symptoms.

  • Fatigue: Chemotherapy-induced fatigue is a common side effect that can have a debilitating effect on a patient’s quality of life. It’s more than just “feeling tired”, Chemotherapy-induced fatigue  can feel mentally and physically exhausted. This fatigue can persist for weeks or even months after treatment.

  • Hair Loss: Many chemotherapy drugs can cause hair loss, including hair on the scalp, eyebrows, and eyelashes. Hair usually grows back after treatment ends.

  • Loss of Appetite and Weight Changes: Chemotherapy can affect the sense of taste and appetite, leading to weight loss or gain.

  • Mouth Sores: Chemotherapy can cause mouth sores and mucositis, making it painful to eat or drink.

  • Digestive Issues: Patients may experience diarrhoea, constipation, or other gastrointestinal problems during chemotherapy.

  • Skin Changes: Skin may become dry, itchy, or sensitive to sunlight. Some chemotherapy drugs can cause rashes or skin discolouration.

  • Cognitive Changes: Some people undergoing chemotherapy report cognitive changes often referred to as "chemo brain." This can involve memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and mental fogginess./

  • Peripheral Neuropathy: Some chemotherapy drugs can damage peripheral nerves, causing symptoms like tingling, numbness, or pain in the hands and feet.

  • Emotional and Psychological Effects: Coping with cancer and its treatment can lead to emotional distress, stress and anxiety, depression, and changes in mood.

How Can Medical cannabis Potentially Help Manage Chemotherapy Side Effects?

Medical cannabis has shown promise in alleviating several chemotherapy-induced side effects. The potential benefits of medical cannabis in managing these side effects are mostly attributed to its active compounds called cannabinoids, primarily delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), which interact with the body's endocannabinoid system. 

Here's how medical cannabis may help some patients with chemotherapy side effects:

  • Pain Management: Medical cannabis has analgesic (pain-relieving) properties and may be effective in managing chemotherapy-related pain for some patients, including nerve pain (neuropathy) and bone pain.

  • Anxiety and Stress: Chemotherapy can cause anxiety and emotional distress. CBD, a non-psychoactive component of medicinal cannabis, has anxiolytic properties and may help reduce anxiety and improve mood for some patients.

  • Sleep Improvement: Medical cannabis may aid in improving sleep quality for some patients experiencing insomnia or sleep disturbances due to chemotherapy.

  • Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Medical cannabis has anti-inflammatory properties that may potentially reduce inflammation for some patients and alleviate symptoms related to chemotherapy-induced mucositis and skin issues.

  • Neuropathy Relief: Some patients develop peripheral neuropathy as a side effect of chemotherapy. Medicinal cannabis may help manage neuropathic pain and discomfort.

  • Anti-Spasticity: In cases where chemotherapy-related muscle spasms or spasticity occur, medical cannabis may provide relief. By relaxing muscle contractions and reducing the intensity and frequency of spasms, medical cannabis may improve comfort and mobility for some individuals undergoing cancer treatment.

  • Combination Therapy: Medical cannabis may be used in conjunction with other medications to manage side effects. This can lead to a more well-rounded and personalised treatment approach.

Remember: the use of medical cannabis in cancer care is a topic of ongoing research, and its effectiveness and potential risks and side effects can vary from person to person. Medicinal cannabis is not a primary treatment for cancer and cannot cure cancer.

Additionally, the choice of cannabis products, dosages, and administration methods should be carefully considered and discussed with a healthcare provider experienced in medical cannabis use to ensure safety and optimal results.

Possible Risks of Medical Cannabis for Chemotherapy Side- Effects

While medical cannabis shows promise in managing some chemotherapy side effects, it is important to understand potential risks and side effects associated with its use.

The impact of medical cannabis can vary depending on individual factors, the specific cannabis products employed, and the method of consumption. Here are some possible risks to consider when using medical cannabis for chemotherapy side effects:

  • Psychological Effects: Medicinal cannabis products with high levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the intoxicating compound in cannabis, can induce psychological side effects. These may include anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, and impaired cognitive function. Individuals with a history of mental health conditions, such as anxiety or schizophrenia, may be at greater risk of experiencing these side effects.

  • Dependency and Withdrawal: Long-term, consistent use of medical cannabis, particularly those with high THC content, can lead to dependence. Attempting to reduce or cease medical cannabis use may result in withdrawal symptoms, including irritability, mood swings, insomnia, and loss of appetite.

  • Impaired Cognitive Function: Medical cannabis can impair cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and decision-making. This may raise concerns, particularly for individuals needing mental sharpness for tasks like driving or operating heavy machinery.

  • Interaction with Medications: Medical cannabis has the potential to interact with certain medications, either by enhancing or diminishing their efficacy. Individuals using medications should consult healthcare professionals to assess potential interactions before incorporating medical cannabis into their regimen.

  • Potential Adverse Effects on Chemotherapy Side Effects: While medical cannabis may offer relief to some chemotherapy patients, it may not be suitable for everyone. In some cases, it might exacerbate side effects such as nausea, vomiting, or underlying digestive issues.

When considering medical cannabis as a complementary therapy for chemotherapy side effects, remember to talk to a about the risks and benefits before starting a course of treatment.

A specialty practitioner can provide guidance on whether medical cannabis is an appropriate option, assist in selecting the right dosage and strain, and closely monitor for potential side effects or interactions with existing medications.

The Wrap Up

Cancer treatment, especially chemotherapy, can be incredibly challenging and is often accompanied by many distressing side effects that can affect patients and their loved ones. Nausea, vomiting, pain, and the many other issues that come with chemotherapy can be overwhelming. Conventional treatments may not always provide sufficient relief and can even introduce new complications.

While there is still much more research to be done, medicinal cannabis may provide some people with a natural alternative for chemotherapy side-effect management. By harnessing cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, medicinal cannabis may offer relief from a wide range of symptoms, helping make cancer treatment more bearable for some patients.

If you or a loved one is navigating chemotherapy, expert doctors are available to help you, discussing the potential benefits of this therapeutic option.

Chemotherapy Side Effects FAQ

How to minimise chemotherapy side effects? 

There are many ways to minimise chemotherapy side effects. Firstly, open communication with your treatment team and oncologist is essential, as they can tailor your treatment plan and prescribe different natural and conventional medications to manage symptoms effectively.

In recent years, medicinal cannabis has emerged as a promising addition to potentially help alleviate various chemotherapy side effects, including nausea, vomiting, pain, and loss of appetite. Consulting with a healthcare provider experienced in medical cannabis can help you explore its potential benefits while ensuring safe and effective use alongside traditional treatments.

Maintaining a balanced diet, staying hydrated, managing pain, and incorporating supportive therapies like exercise, psychological support, and complementary therapies can further enhance your ability to cope with chemotherapy side effects. 

How to help chemo nausea?

Managing chemotherapy-induced nausea can be a challenging aspect of cancer treatment, but there are several strategies to help alleviate this discomfort. Your treatment team and oncologist can prescribe anti-nausea medications (antiemetics) tailored to your specific needs.

Additionally, you may want to consider discussing the use of medicinal cannabis with a healthcare provider experienced in its administration. Some patients find that cannabis, particularly formulations with THC, can be helpful in reducing nausea. However, it's essential to ensure legal and safe access and consult a healthcare professional for guidance.

Incorporating complementary approaches like acupressure wristbands, ginger, dietary adjustments, and mind-body techniques can also provide relief. These methods, combined with staying hydrated, avoiding triggers, and staying informed about your treatment plan, can help you cope with nausea and improve your overall quality of life.