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The Medicinal Cannabis Library

Ultimate Guide to Vaping Medicinal Cannabis, 2024

Vaporising (aka vaping) is just one of a number of delivery methods patients use to consume and reap the benefits of their cannabis treatments.


medically reviewed by



January 19, 2024

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What is vaping?

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.

How do you vaporise medical cannabis?

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.

Is it legal to vape medicinal cannabis in public?

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.

What are the benefits of vaping vs. smoking?

Vaping medicinal cannabis 

Some of the benefits of vaping medicinal cannabis flower, as opposed to smoking it, include:

  • Rapid onset and fast relief – first effects occur within 90 seconds and reach a maximum after 15 to 30 minutes before wearing off after 2–4 hours. Useful for symptoms and conditions where immediate relief is required.
  • Higher concentrations of active ingredients – vaporising heats the cannabis without burning it,2 which maintains the concentrations and quality of the active ingredients like cannabinoids and terpenes.3
  • Temperature control – patients can control the temperature of their vaporiser to achieve desired benefits based on the boiling points of their cannabis medicine’s ingredients, including cannabinoids and terpenes.
  • Potential reduction in overall consumption – because of the enhanced cannabinoid and terpene uptake, reduced cravings due to no tobacco, and the ability to easily pick up and put down the vaporiser as needed, patients are more likely to stay within their therapeutic window and achieve maximum therapeutic benefits with less cannabis flower than they would need to use when smoking. This reduces the amount of medication needed and saves the patient money over time.
  • Less carcinogens and safer than smoking
  • Legal in public smoking areas with a prescription
  • More discreet than smoking

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.

Smoking medicinal cannabis

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:

  • At least 40% of the THC dose in cannabis is lost in side stream/combustion when smoked,2 making it difficult to estimate the amount of THC a patient is receiving.
  • Cannabis smoking, like smoking cigarettes, is associated with increased risk of cancer, lung damage, and poor pregnancy outcomes.4 It can also inflame and irritate your lungs.
  • If you are combining cannabis and tobacco for smoking, you are increasing your risk of many health conditions and diseases including cancer, heart disease and chronic respiratory conditions.5
  • Not supported by the TGA.
  • Less discreet than vaping, and is not supported as a delivery method in public smoking areas – even with a valid prescription.
  • Smoking cannabis with tobacco is more likely to lead to addiction and dependence, which can cause patients to use more cannabis than required. This is primarily due to nicotine – the addictive substance found in tobacco – and not the cannabis itself. 
  • You may need to use more of your cannabis treatment to achieve the same results as you would with vaporising, due to cannabinoids and active ingredients being lost in combustion. This increases the costs of your medication over time

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.

Is vaping safe?

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.

What are the ideal cannabis vape temperatures?

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

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 ain the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) (ARTG Identifier 319028) and are available for purchase at Shop Polln.

The MIGHTY MEDIC and MIGHTY+ MEDIC are intended to be used with dried cannabis flower. They are battery-operated and portable, allowing for dose administration at home and on the go.

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.

The bottom line

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.

If you are interested in talking to a doctor about medical cannabis, we recommend speaking to a professional who is an expert in medicinal cannabis treatments so they can help determine which, if any, medicinal cannabis treatment(s) may be right for you while guiding you in the use of any required devices, such as a medical vaporiser.

  1. Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) 2021, https://www.tga.gov.au/medicinal-cannabis-special-access-scheme-category-b-data
  2. Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) 2017, https://www.tga.gov.au/resources/publication/publications/guidance-use-medicinal-cannabis-australia-overview
  3.  Lanz C, Mattsson J, Soydaner U, Brenneisen R. Medicinal Cannabis: In Vitro Validation of Vaporizers for the Smoke-Free Inhalation of Cannabis. PLoS One. 2016 Jan 19;11(1):e0147286. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0147286. PMID: 26784441; PMCID: PMC4718604.
  4.  Mack A, Joy J. Marijuana as Medicine? The Science Beyond the Controversy. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2000. 3, HOW HARMFUL IS MARIJUANA? Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK224396/
  5.  Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care 2020, What are the effects of smoking and tobacco? Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/smoking-and-tobacco/about-smoking-and-tobacco/what-are-the-effects-of-smoking-and-tobacco
  6.  Meehan-Atrash J, Luo W, McWhirter KJ, Strongin RM. Aerosol Gas-Phase Components from Cannabis E-Cigarettes and Dabbing: Mechanistic Insight and Quantitative Risk Analysis. ACS Omega. 2019 Sep 16;4(14):16111-16120. doi: 10.1021/acsomega.9b02301. PMID: 31592479; PMCID: PMC6777088.
  7.  Chadi N, Minato C, Stanwick R. Cannabis vaping: Understanding the health risks of a rapidly emerging trend. Paediatr Child Health. 2020 Jun;25(Suppl 1):S16-S20. doi: 10.1093/pch/pxaa016. Epub 2020 Jun 15. PMID: 33390752; PMCID: PMC7757764.
  8.  Lanz C, Mattsson J, Soydaner U, Brenneisen R. Medicinal Cannabis: In Vitro Validation of Vaporizers for the Smoke-Free Inhalation of Cannabis. PLoS One. 2016 Jan 19;11(1):e0147286. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0147286. PMID: 26784441; PMCID: PMC4718604.

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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Get 20% discount on your first consultation
Ready to start feeling better, naturally?

Our caring doctors are here to help every step of the way.

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Patient Education

How Long Do Medicinal Cannabis Edibles Take to Expire?

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How Long Do Medicinal Cannabis Edibles Take to Expire?

As with any medication or consumable product, edibles do have a shelf-life that can be affected by a range of external factors. It’s important to be aware of these factors, as they can have a direct impact on the efficacy and potency of your medication. 

While edibles do expire, how long they take to expire will depend on several factors, such as ingredients, how they’re produced, and how they’re stored.  

Let’s get started. 

What are Medicinal Cannabis Edibles? 

Edibles (sometimes known as gummies or pastilles) are a format of medicinal cannabis that are consumed orally via the ingestion method. They’ll often look and feel like candy-like gummies or vitamin gummies. They are an effective alternative for individuals looking for a slow-release medication, or those who prefer ingesting their medication as opposed to inhaling it. 

When medicinal cannabis is ingested, the cannabinoids are absorbed through the body’s digestive system and gastrointestinal tract before it finally metabolises in the liver. While the onset of effects is slower when consumed orally, they are also reported to last longer when compared to inhalation methods.

Pros of Ingesting Medicinal Cannabis 

  • Ability to manage dosage in precise measurements 
  • Can be consumed discreetly 
  • No risk to lungs or lung health 
  • Longer lasting effects (4 – 12 hours) 
  • Ease of administration which can be helpful for patients with mobility issues

Cons of Ingesting Medicinal Cannabis 

  • Longer onset to feel the full effects 
  • May be difficult for patients who experience difficulties with swallowing 

A 2022 study found that 72% of medicinal cannabis patients in Australia prefer oral consumption, making it the most common method for medicinal cannabis consumption. Despite this, there are limited edible medicinal cannabis treatments currently available in Australia at the time this article was posted.  

If you’re interested in exploring edibles as a potential option in your treatment plan, we recommend booking an appointment with a medicinal cannabis clinic or speaking with your doctor to assess your condition. 

Factors That Affect the Shelf-Life of Medicinal Cannabis Edible Gummies 

When stored properly, medicinal cannabis edibles can last anywhere from 3 -12 months. In Australia, the individual medication will have an expiry date indicated on the packaging. This can be based on a variety of factors:


Even though studies have shown that medicinal cannabis has both antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, the other ingredients that are commonly found in medicinal cannabis edibles (such as oils, sugars, and flavourings) don’t always share these same properties. The quality and freshness of the food-grade ingredients can play a significant role in impacting and determining the shelf-life of edibles. 

As with food in the fridge and pantry, organic ingredients will typically have a shorter shelf-life when compared to preservatives and synthetic additives. Over time, the efficacy and potency of your medicinal cannabis can also be affected, so it’s important that you consume your medication within its recommended use-by date. 

Production and Manufacturing 

The production methods that are practised by the manufacturers can also play a significant role in the longevity of the edibles. 

Some manufacturing factors that can impact the overall quality and shelf-life of edibles include: 

  • Proper mixing techniques 
  • Temperature control 
  • Hygienic practices 

Packaging Procedures 

Similar to other foods and beverages, ensuring effective packaging and sealing is essential for preserving the freshness and potency of edibles. 

Blister packs and air-tight packaging are one way that manufacturers can help to prevent moisture absorption and exposure to oxygen – both of which are factors that can decrease the shelf-life of edibles. 

Additional Environmental Factors 

External factors such as humidity, exposure to sunlight, and drastic changes in temperature can also affect the shelf-life of edibles, so ensuring you practise proper storage methods is crucial (more on this below). 

Storing your edibles in a cool, dry, and dark place away from direct sunlight and moisture ensures that your medication maintains its quality and efficacy over time, allowing you to reap the greatest therapeutic benefits. 

How to Store Medicinal Cannabis Edibles

To ensure the maximum therapeutic benefits of your medication, we recommend taking the following factors into consideration when storing your edibles: 

Temperature-Controlled Environment 

As with any medication, we recommend storing your edibles in a cool, dry place, away from any direct sunlight or heat sources (such as stovetops, microwaves, or heaters). 

The optimal storage temperature for edibles ranges from 15 – 25°C. 

Heat and Light Exposure 

Exposure to both heat and light can degrade the efficacy of the medicinal cannabis extract and accelerate the breakdown of ingredients such as sugars and oils in the edibles. High levels of humidity can also promote the growth of mould and other bacteria, which can cause your edibles to lose their integrity. 

We recommend keeping your edibles in their original packaging unless transferring them to a light-proof container to minimise exposure to light, and storing them in a cupboard away from windows and other heat sources. 


Exposure to air and light can lead to the degradation of your edibles, so ensuring that your medication is packaged and stored securely is crucial for maintaining its freshness and efficacy. 

How to Tell if Gummies Have Expired 

If you’ve had your medication for a while or have accidentally left it exposed to the elements, you may be wondering if you can easily determine if it has expired or not. If you find yourself in this situation, we recommend taking note of the following: 

Expiration Date

If you’re unsure whether or not your medication has expired, we recommend first confirming the expiration date. When in doubt, always check the packaging for a best-before or expiration date. 

Efficacy of the Ingredients

Over time, all medications can lose their potency and efficacy – including medicinal cannabis. If you notice a decline in the potency of your medication, this could be an indication that the product is nearing expiration (even if it’s still within its use-by date). 

Physical Appearance 

Just like any other consumable product, medication also shows signs of ageing. Signs of expiration may include discolouration, mould, separation, crystallisation, or a change in the scent.  

If you suspect your medication has expired, you will need to book a follow-up appointment with your prescribing doctor. Your doctor can help to write you a new, valid prescription, or explore other natural therapy options. 

The Bottom Line 

Just like any other food or medication, edibles expire. While medicinal cannabis edibles can typically remain fresh anywhere from 3-12 months, the type of medication you have been prescribed, and the way you store it, can have a huge impact on the efficacy and shelf-life of the medication. 

By following proper storage recommendations and avoiding exposure to direct sunlight and air, you can help ensure that you get the most out of your medication’s shelf life. 

Edibles FAQ: 

How Long Do Edible Gummies Stay in Your System?  

While the effects of ingesting medicinal cannabis edibles can take anywhere from 30 - 90 minutes to kick in, research has found that these same effects can last for 6+ hours, with the strongest effects occurring approximately 3 hours after ingestion

It is important to note that even after the effects have worn off, THC and CBD may still be detected in your system. How long THC and CBD can be detected in your system is affected by the following two factors: 

  1. The dosage amount of medicinal cannabis 
  2. An individual’s metabolism 

Because everyone’s metabolism is different, and because dosage differs depending on the person, there is no one answer that determines how long cannabis will stay in your system. 

However, studies have found that frequent medicinal cannabis consumption and higher doses of medicinal cannabis can lead to longer detection times. In various drug tests (including saliva, urine, and blood), cannabis may be detected in an individual’s system for up to 90 days

At the time of writing, driving with any amount of THC in your system is illegal in all Australian states and territories, except Tasmania. Because of this, it’s important that you understand how long cannabis can be detected in your system if you’re a medicinal cannabis patient who plans on driving. 

For more information on how long cannabis stays in your system, read our article here

Can You Eat Edibles That Have Gone Bad? 

We strongly advise against consuming medicinal cannabis edibles that have expired. Consuming an expired edible means that your medication may no longer carry its desired therapeutic benefits. 

Edibles that have expired as a result of poor storage conditions and exposure to air and sun may also carry significant health risks, including food poisoning. 

If you’re unsure whether your edibles are still safe for consumption or not, we recommend booking an appointment with your doctor to discuss next steps.

Patient Education

Addiction Management: Medicinal Cannabis and Alcoholism

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Addiction Management: Medicinal Cannabis and Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a challenging condition that requires a lot of care, understanding, and treatment options.  In recent years, there has been growing interest in the potential link between medicinal cannabis and alcoholism management, sparking scientific exploration into whether natural therapies can offer support to people trying to recover from alcohol addiction.

Research suggests that medicinal cannabis may act as an effective harm-reduction strategy for some patients. It may help some people manage withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and serve as an alternative to alcohol in certain cases. However, its effectiveness varies from person to person and there may be associated risks, including the potential for developing cannabis use disorder.

Today, we'll explore the connection between medicinal cannabis and alcoholism, discuss the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis and highlight key considerations for those considering medicinal cannabis for alcoholism treatment. Let’s get started. 

What is Alcoholism: How Much is Too Much? 

Alcoholism, formally known as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), is a complex and challenging condition. It's not just about enjoying a social drink or two; it involves a persistent, compulsive need for alcohol, and heavy drinking to the detriment of a person's health and well-being.

According to the National Health and Medical Research Council (20200, men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.

However, alcoholism is characterised by an inability to control the amount you drink and also experiencing increased tolerance (needing more alcohol to achieve the same effect), withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, and spending a significant amount of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of alcohol.

For many, an inability to stop drinking leads to neglect of other responsibilities, strained relationships, and a strong desire to keep drinking, even when it's causing problems.

Many Australians may be at risk for an AUD. 1 in 4 Australians aged 14 and over drink at a risky level (more than 4 standard drinks on any one occasion) at least monthly. Continuing to drink above recommended levels may put your health at risk.

Is There a Safe Level of Alcohol Consumption?

A recent report from The Lancet Public Health highlights a clear message from the World Health Organization: there's no safe amount of alcohol that won't affect your health. Studies show that even light drinking is linked to a higher risk of alcohol-related cancers, and there's no specific level where these harmful effects begin.

It’s hard to pinpoint a safe amount of alcohol when it comes to preventing cancer and maintaining overall health. While some studies suggest a small protective effect of light drinking on certain heart and diabetes risks, this finding isn't consistent across all research.

What is Alcoholism: Am I at Risk? 

To be diagnosed with an Alcohol Use disorder, your doctor or healthcare professional will assess your symptoms against the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5)  criteria. They’ll also be able to determine the severity of your AUD, as alcohol use disorders can be categorised as mild (2–3 criteria), moderate (4–5 criteria), or severe (6 or more criteria).

The official criteria for AUD is:

A maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by 2 or more of the following, occurring at any time in the same 12-month period:

  • Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects.
  • Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol.
  • Recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfil major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  • Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol.
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.
  • Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  • Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol.
  • A need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect.
  • A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.
  • Alcohol (or a closely related substance, such as a benzodiazepine) is taken to relieve or avoid alcohol withdrawal symptoms

If you believe that you may be at risk of an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), it's important to reach out for help and seek support from healthcare professionals, addiction specialists, or support groups.

The Physical and Mental Health Effects of Alcoholism

The impact of alcoholism on physical and mental health can be profound. Excessive and chronic alcohol use can lead to liver disease, and damage the heart and brain. It can also increase the risk of various types of cancer, contribute to digestive issues, and weaken the immune system.

Mentally, alcoholism can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. The relationship between alcohol and mental health is complex, often creating a cycle where alcohol is used to cope with emotional distress, which, in turn, exacerbates the problem. This can result in a dual diagnosis of alcoholism and a co-occurring mental health condition.

How Common is Alcoholism?

If you struggle with alcohol usage, you’re not alone. Alcohol addiction is a widespread issue — which is understandable considering how interlinked regular alcohol use is within many cultures.

In Australia, 6.5% adults meet the criteria for an alcohol-use disorder. While men have a higher risk than women of developing alcohol use disorders, alcoholism can affect anyone — it doesn’t discriminate against class, gender, or social standing.

Although anyone can be affected by an alcohol use disorder, there are some risk factors that may increase your chances of developing a problem with drinking These include: 

  • Starting drinking at a young age: People who began drinking before age 15 are more likely to report having AUD than those who waited until age 21 or later to start drinking.
  • Having a family history of disordered drinking: Genetics and a parent’s drinking patterns may play a role in whether someone develops an AUD.
  • Having mental health conditions or childhood trauma: Many mental health conditions (including depression, PTSD, and ADHD) are often linked to an increased risk of AUD.

Remember, while these risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), it’s not set in stone. Many people with these risk factors do not develop AUD, just like how some people without these risk factors may still develop a problematic relationship with alcohol.

What is Medicinal Cannabis?

Medicinal cannabis (historically known as medical marijuana or medical weed, learn more about the importance of language here) is the cannabis plant used for medical purposes.

The therapeutic compounds within medical cannabis are called cannabinoids, the most well-known of which are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). These compounds interact with our body's endocannabinoid system, which plays a crucial role in regulating various physiological functions, including pain, mood, and appetite.

Medicinal cannabis is available in different forms, including dried flower, oils, capsules, and edibles. Each form may have unique properties, and their effects can vary based on the specific cannabinoid and terpene composition.

Potential Therapeutic Effects of Medicinal Cannabis on Alcoholism

Research suggests that medicinal cannabis may help some patients address certain challenges associated with alcoholism. While it's important to note that individual responses can vary, here are some potential benefits:

If you’re thinking about exploring natural therapies, make an appointment with an experienced doctor. They can help you assess your conditions, connect with your regular GP, and create a personalised treatment plan to help you overcome your addiction to alcohol.  

Potential Risks of Medicinal Cannabis for Alcohol Use Disorder

While some studies suggest that medical cannabis may have the potential to help individuals with alcohol use disorder, there are also potential risks. It’s also important to remember that the effectiveness of medical cannabis for alcohol use disorder may vary from person to person, and that more research is needed to fully understand its potential benefits and drawbacks. 

Here are some of the risks associated with using medical cannabis for AUD:

  • Potential for addiction or dependence: Medicinal cannabis itself can be addictive for some patients, and so some individuals with alcohol use disorder may be at risk of developing a dependence on both alcohol and medical cannabis. Using one substance to replace another may not address the underlying issues related to addiction.

  • Psychiatric side effects: Medicinal cannabis may have unwanted psychoactive effects in some patients, including anxiety, paranoia, and impaired cognitive function. Individuals with alcohol use disorder may be more vulnerable to these effects, which could complicate their recovery efforts.

  • Interaction with medications: If a person with alcohol use disorder is taking medications to manage their condition or related health issues, there may be potential drug interactions between medical cannabis and their prescribed medications. This could lead to adverse effects or reduced medication efficacy.

  • Individual variability: People with AUD have diverse needs and experiences, and what works for one person may not work for another. Medical cannabis may be more effective for some individuals and less so for others.

  • Potential to increase alcoholism: Because your chance of developing alcohol dependence is higher in people with current cannabis dependence, it’s possible that hazardous alcohol use may increase cannabis usage. Additionally, studies indicate that the patterns of cannabis and alcohol use tend to be connected.

It's important for people considering medical cannabis as a treatment for AUD to consult with medical professionals who can provide personalised guidance and monitor their progress — trying to treat an AUD by yourself with recreationally sourced cannabis can be risky for people with addiction.

You may want to also explore other alternative treatments for alcoholism, such as behavioural therapy, support groups ((like alcoholics anonymous), and medications. These can all be considered as part of a comprehensive treatment plan outside of pharmaceutical options.

Remember, medicinal cannabis is not a first-line treatment in Australia. To qualify for access to medicinal cannabis, 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 effects. 

Creating a safe alcoholism treatment plan

While exploring the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis as a treatment for alcoholism, the goal should never be to swap one addiction for another or to continue using medical cannabis alongside alcohol. Instead, the aim should be to find a balanced and personalised approach to recovery where your physical and mental health needs are met.

Here are some steps to follow if you’re thinking about trying medicinal cannabis to manage an alcohol use disorder. 

  • Seek professional advice: Before considering the use of medicinal cannabis, individuals facing alcoholism should consult with a healthcare professional, preferably one experienced in addiction medicine. An addiction specialist can assess your unique situation, including the severity of your alcoholism, co-occurring conditions, and treatment history. This assessment will help determine whether medicinal cannabis might be a suitable component of the treatment plan.
  • Link in with your regular GP: Collaboration with one's regular General Practitioner (GP) is also essential. GPs can offer continuity of care and ensure that any potential use of medicinal cannabis aligns with the patient's overall health and wellness. They can monitor progress, address potential side effects or complications, and provide comprehensive support.
  • Avoid unsupervised use: Unsupervised use of medicinal cannabis can pose risks. Self-medicating or obtaining cannabis from non-regulated sources may undermine your recovery process. A regulated and controlled approach, guided by healthcare professionals, is the safest and most effective way to explore the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis.
  • Book a consultation with a doctor: For personalised advice on using medicinal cannabis as part of an alcoholism treatment plan, individuals can consider booking a consultation with a healthcare provider experienced in medical cannabis.

Ultimately, the goal of incorporating medicinal cannabis into alcoholism treatment is to enhance the overall quality of life and facilitate the recovery journey. By combining medicinal cannabis and conventional treatment methods, guided by medical professionals, patients may be able to achieve a  holistic approach to recovery.

The Wrap Up

Alcoholism is a complex and challenging condition that requires comprehensive care and treatment options. Medical cannabis may act as an effective harm-reduction strategy for some patients due to its potential to reduce cravings, manage anxiety and depression, alleviate pain, improve sleep, and stimulate appetite.

However, current research presents conflicting results, and the effectiveness of medical cannabis as a harm-reduction strategy for alcoholism is still a topic of ongoing investigation and debate in the scientific community.

The key to a successful approach to medicinal cannabis in alcoholism treatment lies in seeking professional advice, collaborating with one's regular General Practitioner, avoiding unsupervised use, and considering a consultation with a healthcare provider experienced in medical cannabis and addiction medicine.

Patient Education

Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Mental Health

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Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Mental Health

Anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are complex, and sometimes interconnected, mental health conditions that can significantly impact your emotional well-being, daily functioning, and overall quality of life.

Anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be caused by a variety of factors, including our genetic predisposition, environmental stressors, traumatic experiences, and neurochemical imbalances in the brain. Additionally, societal pressures, childhood upbringing, and personal coping mechanisms also play a role in the development and manifestation of these conditions.

While conventional pharmacological treatments, like antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, can be beneficial for many people, alternative mental health therapies may provide support with reduced risk of side effects or addiction for some patients. Medical cannabis, in particular, has been growing in popularity as a natural treatment option for managing the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

With the right support and treatment, people with anxiety, depression, or PTSD can achieve better mental health. Read on to find out how medical cannabis helps people improve their mental health and whether medicinal cannabis could be the right for you.

Understanding Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD:

Anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are three common mental health conditions that can significantly impact your well-being and daily life.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed before an important event; it's a persistent and often overwhelming sense of unease that can interfere with daily activities. Symptoms may include excessive worry, restlessness, rapid heartbeat, and difficulty concentrating. 

If you think you might be dealing with anxiety, you’re not alone. Around 1 in 3 people will have an anxiety disorder during their lifetime. Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder are common subtypes of anxiety. The physical and emotional toll of anxiety can be overwhelming, often leading to a cycle of fear and avoidance behaviours that further worsen symptoms.

People living with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) experience persistent and excessive worry about various aspects of life, even when there's no apparent reason for concern.

Social anxiety disorder, on the other hand, brings about intense fear and discomfort in social situations, with individuals often worrying about being judged or embarrassed.

Panic disorder is characterised by sudden and recurrent panic attacks, which are intense episodes of fear accompanied by physical sensations like a racing heart, shortness of breath, and dizziness.

Anxiety symptoms can be felt in the body too. Physically, anxiety can manifest as tension headaches, muscle pain, digestive issues, and even cardiovascular problems over time. Sleep disturbances, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating are also common. 

What is Depression?

Depression is a complex and debilitating mental health condition that affects around 1 in 10 people. While everyone experiences occasional moments of sadness, depression goes beyond normal fluctuations in mood.

Common symptoms of depression include a persistent low mood, fatigue, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating, and a lack of motivation. People with depression may experience a sense of worthlessness or excessive guilt, which can further contribute to their emotional distress.

Depression can vary in its intensity and duration. Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a specific subtype of depression characterised by the presence of depressive symptoms for at least two weeks. Other types of depression include seasonal affective disorder (SAD),  a type of depression that occurs in the autumn and winter months, and Dysthymia, also known as Persistent Depressive Disorder, which involves a more chronic but less severe form of depression lasting for at least two years

Emotionally, depression can lead to a long term feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and emotional numbness. It can distort one's perception of themselves and the world around them, making it challenging to see a way out of their struggles. This emotional pain can also manifest as physical symptoms such as aches, pains, and a general feeling of being unwell.

What is PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)?

PTSD extends far beyond a normal stress response to a distressing event; it's a multifaceted and profound mental health condition that affects many aspects of your life. Unlike short-term feelings of anxiety or unease, PTSD involves persistent and distressing symptoms triggered by exposure to a traumatic experience. This experience may involve incidents like accidents, violence, abuse, or other life-threatening events.

C-PTSD, known as complex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD), is a similar condition to PTSD that can develop in response to repeated or intense trauma (such as growing up with childhood abuse). C-PTSD symptoms are similar to those of PTSD, but include an ongoing sense of emptiness or a distorted self-image.

The hallmark of PTSD lies in its diverse range of symptoms, which can be broadly categorised into four groups: intrusive thoughts, avoidance behaviours, negative alterations in mood and cognition, and heightened arousal.

Intrusive thoughts encompass vivid and distressing memories of the traumatic event, often accompanied by flashbacks and nightmares. Avoidance behaviours involve efforts to steer clear of reminders associated with the trauma, which can lead to detachment from activities and situations that were once enjoyed.

Negative alterations in mood and cognition involve a shift in one's emotional landscape, leading to feelings of guilt, blame, and a distorted sense of self-worth. These changes can also translate into difficulties in maintaining relationships and a sense of detachment from the world. Heightened arousal is shown as an enhanced state of vigilance, marked by irritability, difficulty concentrating, and an exaggerated startle response.

The impact of PTSD is profound and far-reaching, often affecting various facets of life. Physically, it can also cause headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances, and cardiovascular issues. Sleep disturbances and chronic fatigue are also common, contributing to an overall sense of poor well-being. 

Challenges of Traditional Anxiety, Depression and PTSD Treatments

While traditional pharmaceutically-based treatments for anxiety, depression, and PTSD are often effective in managing various mental health symptoms, they are not without some drawbacks. 

While antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs can help reduce mental health symptoms, they often also come with unwanted side effects that can include drowsiness, weight gain, nausea, sexual dysfunction, or even an emotional “numbing”.

The process of finding the right medication can be challenging too. Not all mental health medications work the same way for everyone, and so finding effective treatment for you can involve a lot of trial and error. This can be frustrating and disheartening for people who are already dealing with depression or anxiety.

Pharmaceutically-based treatments for anxiety, depression or PTSD can also come with a higher risk of addiction or withdrawal problems. Some people can become dependent on their medications, while discontinuing medications can lead to withdrawal symptoms that are severely uncomfortable or even dangerous. 

For example, if someone were to suddenly stop taking higher doses of benzodiazepines (such as valium for anxiety) they could have serious withdrawal symptoms, including seizures and psychotic reactions.

It's important to engage in open and honest conversations with healthcare providers to discuss the benefits and risks of different medications for mental health conditions and explore alternative or complementary approaches to treatment.

Medicinal Cannabis and Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD

While research into medicinal cannabis for anxiety, depression, and PTSD is ongoing, current studies and anecdotal evidence suggest its potential as a natural therapeutic for some patients.

Research shows that specific natural compounds within medicinal cannabis, including CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), may help improve the symptoms of some mental health conditions by positively affecting the brain's neurochemical pathways.

  • Anxiety: Research suggests that CBD may have anti-anxiety effects, potentially reducing symptoms of anxiety by interacting with the brain's receptors that regulate stress responses. While higher doses of THC may increase anxiety, lower doses may have a positive impact on anxiety disorders in some patients.
  • Depression: Research into the antidepressant properties of cannabinoids, particularly CBD, shows promise in influencing mood-related neurotransmitters. CBD's potential to regulate serotonin levels in the brain, a neurotransmitter associated with mood regulation, may help some people manage depressive symptoms.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Medical cannabis, particularly with a balanced CBD-to-THC ratio, may be a potential treatment option for PTSD. CBD's impact on fear-related memories and its ability to modulate stress responses may contribute to its efficacy in mitigating PTSD symptoms for some patients. However, further clinical trials are necessary to further establish its effectiveness.

How Medical Cannabis May Impact Mental Health

The potential role of medical cannabis in potentially supporting mental health has gained increasing attention, particularly in relation to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Understanding how medical cannabis interacts with the body can shed light on its potential therapeutic effects.

Medicinal cannabis may help support mental health in some patients with its:

  • Neurotransmitter Regulation: Medical cannabis compounds, notably CBD and THC, interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex network of receptors and neurotransmitters in the brain and body. CBD, for example, may influence serotonin receptors, which play a crucial role in mood regulation. By modulating serotonin levels, CBD may offer relief from symptoms of anxiety and depression for some patients.
  • Stress Response Modulation: Both CBD and THC may impact the body's stress response. CBD's calming properties have the potential to reduce stress and anxiety by influencing the body's physiological reactions to stressors in some patients. THC, on the other hand, may help induce a sense of relaxation by binding to specific receptors in the brain. However, it's important to note that higher THC levels could also exacerbate anxiety in some individuals.
  • Memory and Emotion Regulation: CBD's interaction with brain regions responsible for memory and emotional processing holds promise for managing conditions like PTSD in some patients. By influencing the consolidation of fear-based memories and promoting emotional regulation, CBD may help alleviate some distressing symptoms associated with traumatic experiences.
  • Inflammation and Immune Response: Chronic inflammation has been linked to mental health conditions. CBD's anti-inflammatory properties may contribute to its potential benefits for anxiety and depression in some patients by reducing overall inflammation levels in the body. By modulating the immune response, CBD could help mitigate the physiological effects of stress on mental well-being.

It's important to remember that the effects of medical cannabis on mental health can vary from person to person. Factors such as dosage, cannabinoid ratios, and an individual's unique response to the medication will play a role in determining the outcome. 

Possible Risks of Medical Cannabis for Mental Health

When deciding on any kind of medication, it's also essential to acknowledge any possible risks. A comprehensive discussion with a caring medical professional can help you make an informed decision about whether medical cannabis is the right option for you and your health.

While medical cannabis is a natural treatment option, some potential risks of medicinal cannabis include: 

  • Cognitive Effects: Depending on the compounds present and their concentrations, medical cannabis can sometimes lead to cognitive changes, including impaired memory and concentration.
  • Interactions and Side Effects: Just like any medication, medical cannabis could interact with other medications you're taking. Although side effects are fewer than with traditional medications, it’s still worth talking them over with your doctor. 
  • 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. 

The Wrap Up

Medical cannabis is becoming a more widely studied natural treatment for anxiety, depression, and PTSD. While traditional therapies have many benefits, they also come with their share of challenges too.

Medical cannabis may help some patients address the complex nature of mental health conditions with fewer side effects than traditional pharmacological drugs. Its potential to improve mental health may also help some people who have not found relief in other medication or management plans. 

If you’re thinking about exploring natural therapies, then it’s important to approach it as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, guided by healthcare professionals who can access individual risks and benefits.

Medical Cannabis and Mental Health: FAQs
Is medical cannabis good for anxiety?

The effects of medicinal cannabis on anxiety can vary widely from person to person. While some individuals might experience temporary relief from anxiety symptoms due to the relaxing properties of certain compounds like CBD, others may find that medical cannabis increases their anxiety or induces feelings of paranoia.

Medical cannabis, specifically formulations with higher CBD content and lower THC levels, has shown potential in alleviating anxiety for some individuals. However, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional before using any form of medicinal cannabis to address anxiety, as individual reactions can differ and potential risks need to be carefully considered.

Can PTSD be overcome?

Yes, PTSD can be overcome with the right treatment and support. Effective medications and therapies, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), along with support from mental health professionals and a strong social network, can help individuals manage and eventually relieve the symptoms of PTSD.

Additionally, emerging research suggests that medical cannabis, particularly with balanced CBD-to-THC ratios, may hold promise in mitigating PTSD symptoms by impacting fear-related memories and stress responses, although further clinical trials are necessary to establish its safety and effectiveness as a potential treatment option.

Is medicinal cannabis a depressant?

Medical cannabis (historically known as medical weed or medical marijuana, learn more about the importance of language here), contains compounds like THC and CBD, producing a mix of effects. It's not a straightforward depressant but can have varying properties including depressive, stimulant, and hallucinogenic effects.

While some individuals may feel temporary mood enhancement or relief from depression after using medical cannabis, its impact on mental health is complex. While certain compounds like CBD show potential, more study is needed for a clear understanding of its effects, dosages, and safety.

Patient Education

The Caregiver's Guide to Medicinal Cannabis

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The Caregiver's Guide to Medicinal Cannabis

Welcome to the Caregivers’ Guide to Medicinal Cannabis. As a caregiver, we understand that ensuring the well-being of your loved one during an illness can be challenging. Whether you’re looking after elderly parents, taking care of elderly family members, or caring for someone else important in your life – caregiving is a big responsibility. That’s why we’re dedicated to helping caregivers and providing them with the knowledge and support they need to care for themselves and their loved ones.

Medicinal cannabis has been shown to help people with a variety of physical and mental health issues. From glaucoma to chronic pain, chemotherapy and even sleep problems, medicinal cannabis has the potential to help some chronically or terminally ill people, including ageing parents, to manage symptoms, enhance their comfort, and improve quality of life.

This guide has been created for caregivers just like you, so that they can better understand the fundamentals of medicinal cannabis, explore the science behind medicinal cannabis, and find out how to potentially integrate medicinal cannabis into your loved one's care routine. 

Understanding Medicinal Cannabis as a Caregiver

If you’re thinking about medicinal cannabis for an elderly parent or loved one, a good first step is to get to know the medicinal cannabis basics, including its therapeutic effects, potential risks, administration methods, how medicinal cannabis differs from recreational use, and the legalities of medicinal cannabis in Australia. Let’s get started. 

What is a caregiver?

A caregiver is someone who provides care and support to another person who may be unable to fully take care of themselves due to age, illness, disability, or other challenges.

Caregivers help with daily tasks, offer emotional support, and ensure the well-being of those they care for. You may be looking after elderly parents, taking care of elderly family members, or caring for a child or a friend.

What Is Medicinal Cannabis? 

Medicinal cannabis is a type of natural therapy with therapeutic chemical compounds, most notably tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) that have been shown to provide a range of health benefits and manage various conditions.

These chemical compounds engage with the body's endocannabinoid system (a network of receptors that control numerous bodily functions) to help people manage short-term, chronic, and end-of-life conditions.

Cannabis plants contain a wide variety of cannabinoids, each with its own potential effects and properties. Some of the most well-known and studied cannabinoids found in cannabis plants include:

Just like there are different types of common medications, there are different types of medical cannabis treatments. Treatments vary in terms of the format they come in (e.g. oils, dry herb flower that is vaporised, topicals, wafers and more), the cannabinoid and terpene content and potency.

Caring for Elderly Parents: How Medicinal Cannabis May Help

Caring for elderly parents comes with its own unique set of challenges but medicinal cannabis can support you in providing ageing parents with additional pain relief and comfort. In Australia, medicinal cannabis is becoming recognized for its wide-ranging therapeutic benefits for age-related conditions.

From providing chronic pain and arthritis relief to tackling sleep disorders and glaucoma in some patients, medicinal cannabis has the potential to offer a multifaceted approach to enhancing the well-being of seniors.

What are Cannabinoids and What Do They Do?

Cannabinoids are a group of naturally occurring chemical compounds that interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). In medicinal cannabis, there are several types of cannabinoids that work in the body in different ways.

  • Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC:) This is one of the main cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. THC is commonly known as a psychoactive cannabinoid as it gives people a ‘high’ euphoric sensation that many people associate with cannabis use. THC modulates the ECS by binding with CB1 receptors in the brain. In addition to creating a high THC has many therapeutic applications, including reducing pain, alleviating nausea, and boosting appetite.

  • Cannabidiol (CBD): This is another common cannabinoid found in medicinal cannabis. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive and doesn’t create a ‘high’ sensation as CBD does not bind with the CB1 receptor responsible for the euphoric feeling.
    Instead, CBD interacts indirectly with our endocannabinoid system to modulate our opioid, dopamine, and serotonin receptors, which may help reduce anxiety, reduce inflammation, and regulate our mood and emotions

There is also increasing evidence for the therapeutic potential of minor cannabinoids:

  • Cannabinol (CBN): This cannabinoid is being researched for its anticonvulsant, and sedative potential. 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.

    While CBN is technically a psychoactive compound, it doesn’t produce a significant ‘high’. This is because CBN primarily modulates CB2 receptors that are associated with immune system regulation.
  • Cannabigerol (CBG): CBG is considered a precursor to other cannabinoids, as it is converted into THC, CBD, and other compounds as the plant matures. It is present in lower concentrations compared to THC and CBD. CBG may have potential as an anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective agent.
  • Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV): THCV is a cannabinoid that is structurally similar to THC, but it produces different effects. It is found in trace amounts in most cannabis strains, but some strains are bred to have higher THCV content. THCV may have appetite-suppressing and potential antiepileptic properties.

  • Cannabichromene (CBC): CBC is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is being studied for its potential anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. It is found in relatively low concentrations in medicinal cannabis.

  • Cannabidivarin (CBDV): CBDV is structurally similar to CBD and is being investigated for its potential anti-epileptic properties. It is found in minor amounts in medicinal cannabis. 
  • Delta-8-Tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-8-THC): Similar to Delta-9-THC, Delta-8-THC has psychoactive effects, albeit typically milder. It is found in very low concentrations in medicinal cannabis.

The cannabinoid profile of a medicinal cannabis treatment can vary significantly based on factors such as genetics, growing conditions, and processing methods. Researchers are continuing to study these cannabinoids to better understand their individual effects and potential therapeutic applications.

What are Medicinal Cannabis Terpenes and What Do They Do? 

Terpenes (pronounced tur-peens) are the organic, aromatic compounds found in plants, including cannabis. Until recently, much of the cannabis industry has been focused almost solely on the therapeutic qualities of cannabinoids like THC and CBD.

However, as our knowledge of terpenes continues to grow and cannabis science expands, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that these aromatic compounds are medicinal powerhouses in their own right.

Within different strains, you’ll find specific terpenes. Again, just like with wine or other plants, terpenes are aromatic compounds that contribute to the plant's distinct smell and flavour. They also interact with cannabinoids and may influence the effects of medicinal cannabis consumption

There are more than 100 different terpenes identified in cannabis plants, each with its own unique aroma, flavour, and potential therapeutic properties, however, some common terpenes include:

  • Myrcene: This is one of the most abundant terpenes in medicinal cannabis. It has an earthy, herbal, and slightly fruity aroma. Myrcene is also found in hops or basil or even earthy Merlots.
  • Limonene: As the name suggests, limonene has a citrusy aroma. It's associated with elevated mood and stress relief. 
  • Pinene: There are two types of pinene: alpha-pinene and beta-pinene. Alpha-pinene has a piney aroma, while beta-pinene has a spicier scent. It's also found in pine trees and rosemary.
  • Caryophyllene: This terpene has a spicy, peppery aroma. It's thought to have anti-inflammatory properties. Caryophyllene is also found in black pepper and cloves.
  • Linalool: Linalool has a floral, lavender-like scent. It's often associated with relaxation and stress relief. Linalool is found in many flowers and herbs, including lavender.
  • Humulene: With an earthy, woody aroma, humulene is also found in hops and has potential anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Terpinolene: This has a complex aroma that can be floral, piney, and even a bit herbal. It's thought to have sedative effects and is also found in nutmeg and cumin.
  • Ocimene: Ocimene has a sweet, herbal, and sometimes fruity scent. It's thought to have antiviral and antifungal properties.
  • Borneol: Borneol has a menthol-like scent and is often associated with calming effects. It's also found in herbs like mint and camphor.
  • Eucalyptol: This has a fresh, minty aroma. It's commonly found in eucalyptus trees and has the potential for respiratory benefits.

Each medicinal cannabis treatment will vary in cannabinoid and terpene content and each patient has unique needs so it’s important to work with experienced medical cannabis clinics or an experienced doctor to determine the best treatment plan for your loved one.

How to Administer Medicinal Cannabis

As a caregiver, you might wonder how your loved one or your ageing parents would take medicinal cannabis. Many people unfamiliar with this medication may only know of the inhalation method for medicinal cannabis (smoking/vaping) but there are actually many administration methods for medicinal cannabis that can be personalised to your loved one’s preferences and needs.

Common administration methods include:

  • Sublingual:  This involves placing the treatment under the tongue, a method which allows active ingredients to be absorbed directly into the blood vessels of your tongue, bypassing the digestive system and therefore making it suitable for elderly people seeking quick relief. Treatments taken sublingually can come in the form of oils, tinctures, wafers, sprays and more.
  • Ingestion: Ingestion methods of cannabis consumption include any cannabis treatment that is consumed orally – such as cannabis edibles, tinctures, oils, capsules and extracts. While the effects of cannabinoid medicines will take longer to kick in when taken orally, they will also last longer. This method can be particularly appealing to people who prefer something familiar and convenient.
  • Topical: These are infused creams, balms, or patches that are applied directly to the skin, providing targeted relief for localised discomfort. This non-intrusive method can be helpful for targeting specific areas.
  • Inhalation: Vaporising medicinal cannabis provides fast relief, but this method might not be suitable for individuals with respiratory problems. Learn more about vaporising in the next section. Smoking is not a recommended administration method.

How Does Medicinal Cannabis Differ from Recreational Cannabis?

As a caregiver, you may not have a lot of knowledge about medicinal cannabis or you may have only heard of recreational cannabis before. If that’s the case — don’t worry! We’re here to help.

Medicinal cannabis (historically known as medical weed or medical marijuana, learn more about the importance of language here), is quite different from recreational cannabis. It involves the controlled and therapeutic use of cannabis plants to alleviate symptoms or manage specific medical conditions by modulating the body’s endocannabinoid system.

Unlike recreational use, which focuses on the THC component of the cannabis plant (sometimes known as a cannabis ‘high’), medicinal cannabis focuses on providing therapeutic relief. This may be achieved by using a medication that is not psychoactive, such as those containing CBD only, and/or by using a THC-containing medicine but at a lower dose than that required to produce a significant cannabis ‘high’.

Medicinal cannabis is prescribed by healthcare professionals who specialise in natural therapies. Like any medication, dosages, strains, and compositions will be carefully selected to cater to specific medical needs. Similarly, medicinal cannabis is highly regulated, requiring prescriptions and quality adherence to medical standards.

Is Medicinal Cannabis Legal in Australia?

Yes. Medicinal cannabis (also known as medical cannabis prescriptions) is legal in Australia and has been so since 2016. It’s recognised for its therapeutic benefits and can be accessed with a doctor's prescription. To ensure high-quality medication and treatment, it’s a good idea to go with a specialised medicinal cannabis clinic.

What Conditions May Be Supported with Medicinal Cannabis?

There is no predetermined list of conditions for which medicinal cannabis can be prescribed — instead a doctor will work with a patient to determine whether or not medicinal cannabis could help depending on the symptoms someone is experiencing.

However, some medical conditions where medicinal cannabis may offer potential therapeutic benefits, include: 

As many of these conditions affect older adults or ageing parents, natural treatment options, like medical cannabis, can be a good option to be used alone or in conjunction with other medications to relieve symptoms without significant side effects.

However, the effects of medicinal cannabis can vary from person to person. Caregivers should prioritise communication with medical experts when considering medicinal cannabis as part of their loved one's care plan.

What Are Some Potential Therapeutic Benefits of Medicinal Cannabis

Medicinal cannabis products have shown promise in providing various therapeutic effects and can potentially improve a range of symptoms and overall quality of life in some chronically ill or even terminally ill people.

Some ways your loved one may benefit from medicinal cannabis include:

  • Pain Management: Chronic pain is a common issue, often stemming from conditions such as arthritis, neuropathy, and musculoskeletal disorders. Medicinal cannabis, particularly with a balanced ratio of THC and CBD, has been reported to alleviate pain and improve mobility. By interacting with the endocannabinoid system, medicinal cannabis compounds may even help reduce inflammation to provide pain relief.
  • Anxiety Reduction: Anxiety and stress can significantly impact the mental well-being of people living with a chronic or life-limiting illness. CBD, a non-psychoactive compound found in medicinal cannabis, has shown potential in reducing anxiety symptoms. It may have a calming effect on the nervous system without the ‘high’ effects of THC.
  • Appetite Stimulation:  Many people living with severe illnesses (such as cancer) may experience an associated loss of appetite, leading to nutritional deficiencies and weight loss. Certain strains of medicinal cannabis, particularly those high in THC, have been known to increase appetite and improve food intake. This can be particularly helpful when caring for people undergoing chemotherapy.

  • Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Cannabinoids, especially CBD, have shown anti-inflammatory effects, which could be beneficial for conditions characterised by inflammation, such as autoimmune disorders and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
  • Neurological Condition Management: Some research suggests that medicinal cannabis might have neuroprotective properties and could be investigated for its potential in managing neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and epilepsy.
  • Muscle Spasm and Tremor Management: Medicinal cannabis is being explored for its muscle relaxant properties, which may benefit individuals with conditions causing muscle spasms, tremors, or spasticity.
  • Eye Health: Medicinal cannabis may help reduce intraocular pressure, which could potentially benefit individuals with glaucoma.

  • Bone Health: Some research has suggested that cannabinoids might play a role in promoting bone health and even aiding in the healing of fractures.

Remember: individual responses to medicinal cannabis can vary greatly and what works well for one person may not work the same way for someone else.  As a caregiver, it’s important to talk with a healthcare professional, like a doctor who has experience in the prescription of natural therapies, before incorporating medicinal cannabis into your loved one’s care plan.

How to Access Medicinal Cannabis as a Caregiver

As a caregiver, exploring alternative treatment options like medicinal cannabis may be a new and unfamiliar territory, but we’re here to guide you through the process of helping your loved one access this potentially beneficial treatment. By understanding the steps involved, you can ensure an informed journey towards integrating medicinal cannabis into their care plan.

Check their eligibility for medicinal cannabis

To see if a loved one might be eligible for medicinal cannabis in Australia, ask yourself the following questions:

1) Do they have a chronic medical condition? Have they been experiencing symptoms for over three months? 

2) Have they tried other treatments prior to medicinal cannabis?

3) Have these other treatments failed to alleviate their symptoms, have they had adverse effects, or are you or your loved one concerned about the side effects?

If you said yes to the above, then their doctor could consider them a candidate for medicinal cannabis.

Start by Educating Your Loved One About Medicinal Cannabis

Take the time to talk to your loved one about medicinal cannabis and how it could potentially benefit them. Medicinal cannabis can sometimes be confusing for older patients, as it may have connotations of recreational cannabis or unconscious biases attached to it.

Talk to them about how medicinal cannabis works, explain the risks and benefits, and reassure them that medicinal cannabis is prescribed and monitored by qualified doctors.

Find the Right Medical Partner for You

Once you and your loved one feel on the same page about a potential course of medicinal cannabis, the next step is to consult with your regular healthcare professionals and medicinal cannabis specialists who have experience working with elderly patients.

Work with Your Healthcare Team to Develop a Care Plan

Once you find the right healthcare team, you can work closely with them to create a personalised care plan. By having a knowledgeable medicinal cannabis expert to guide you, you can make informed decisions about your loved one’s care and ensure that the plan aligns with their overall health goals and existing treatment regimen.

Their doctor will determine the appropriate starting dosage and strain of medicinal cannabis based on your loved one’s medical history and health condition. 

Access Your Loved One’s Prescriptions

Depending on the doctor or clinic you choose, your loved one will be able to access their medication in several ways. Some doctors will provide a prescription that can be picked up at a limited number of specialist pharmacies. Not every pharmacy will stock medicinal cannabis, or stock the medication that your loved one has been prescribed. In this case, make sure you do your research first to save time. 

Other medicinal cannabis clinics can arrange for medications to be sent express to your loved one's home or care facility. This can be particularly helpful to fit in with caregivers' busy lives and reduce the wait time between appointments and treatment. 

Help Administer Medicinal Cannabis to Your Loved One

Depending on your loved ones’ capabilities, you can either teach them how to use a medication administration method (such as vaping) or administer the medication to them each day.

There are many ways your loved one can consume medicinal cannabis — including ingestion (edibles), capsules, sublingual (under-the-tongue), and topicals. A doctor specialising in the prescription of medicinal cannabis will talk you through the application or consumption of whichever your loved one needs so that you can provide the medication to them.

If your loved one can take their own medications, it can be helpful to set up a pill box (i.e., for gummies, capsules or other edibles) or medication reminders, to ensure they are getting the correct dosage at the right times. 

Set Up Regular Doctor Check-Ins

Once your loved one has started a course of medicinal cannabis, you and your loved one’s doctor can schedule regular check-ins to assess their response to medicinal cannabis. At these appointments, the doctor can review changes in their symptoms, mood, sleep patterns, and overall well-being, and adjust their dosage of medication frequency if required. 

By following these step-by-step guidelines and working closely with healthcare experts, you can provide effective support and contribute to a positive experience for your loved one in exploring medicinal cannabis as a treatment option.

How to Monitor Your Loved One’s Medicinal Cannabis Treatment

As a caregiver, closely monitoring your loved one’s response to medicinal cannabis is an important part of ensuring their well-being and optimising their treatment's effectiveness. After they first start their course of medication, get a notebook or online document, to record the following:

  • Track Your Loved One’s Baseline:
    Before they are treated, document your loved one’s baseline symptoms — how do they feel? Track details such as pain levels, sleep patterns, mood, appetite, and any adverse effects. This baseline will serve as a reference point for assessing the impact of medicinal cannabis.

  • Track Any Symptom Changes:
    After your loved one begins their medicinal cannabis treatment, keep a daily or weekly journal to record any improvements or worsened or new symptoms, such as alterations in sleep quality, changes in mood, and overall comfort. By keeping these records you and your loved one’s doctor can evaluate the treatment's efficacy.

  • Make Note of Any Dosage Adjustments:
    Your doctor will typically start your loved one on a low dose of medicinal cannabis and gradually increase it if needed. See how they respond to any adjustment in dosage and monitor for changes, symptoms, or side effects.

  • Be Aware of Potential Tolerance:
    As with many other medications, some individuals may develop a tolerance to the effects after prolonged use. If you notice that there is a decrease in the efficacy of the medication over time, make an appointment with your loved one’s healthcare team for guidance on adjusting dosages or taking a tolerance break.

  • Book Follow-Up Appointments:
    It can be helpful to pre-book follow-up appointments so that you and your loved one can regularly check-in with their healthcare team and update them on your observations, seek guidance, and adjust the medication treatment plan as necessary.

    Remember: if something seems off, you don’t have to wait until your next appointment for help.

Understanding Potential Risks of Medicinal Cannabis as a Caregiver

While medicinal cannabis can offer significant benefits for many people with chronic or life-limiting conditions, as a caregiver, it’s still important to be aware of potential risks so that you can make well-informed healthcare decisions for your loved one.

  • Impaired Motor Skills: Like many sedating medications, medicinal cannabis can sometimes impair motor skills and coordination. Take precautions to prevent falls or accidents, especially in elderly people, and remind your loved one to not drive after taking medicinal cannabis.

  • Potential Addiction: While the risk of addiction to medicinal cannabis is lower than with opioids, dependency is possible. Make sure your loved one only takes medicinal cannabis only as prescribed and keep an eye out for signs of dependency.
  • Drug Interactions: Medicinal cannabis can interact with certain medications. Always check in with your loved one’s healthcare team to avoid any potentially dangerous interactions with other prescribed medications.
  • Cardiovascular Health: Medicinal cannabis use may lead to changes in heart rate and blood pressure. Caregivers should be cautious, especially if the patient has a history of heart conditions. Regular monitoring and communication with the healthcare provider are crucial.

By being proactive, well-informed, and attentive to potential risks, you can minimise the chances of adverse effects and help your loved one undergo a safer course of medicinal cannabis treatment. 

Remembering Caregiver Self-Care

Let’s take a moment to appreciate all you do as a caregiver! Caregiving is such an important and inspiring experience — but it can be emotionally and physically exhausting too.

We understand that as a caregiver, you might feel guilty about taking time for your needs.  But remember that caring for yourself doesn't mean you’re neglecting your loved one! In fact, prioritising self-care will help continue to care for your loved one without burning out.

Here are some tips for ensuring you don’t put your needs last. 

  • Set Boundaries: You don’t have to do it all. Establish clear boundaries between your caregiving responsibilities and personal life.

  • Seek Support: Whether you’re reaching out to your healthcare team, a support group, friends, or family members, connecting with others can help you manage the stress of caregiving responsibilities.
  • Maintain Your Health: When you're caring for someone who’s unwell, it can be easy to forget about your own physical health. Take regular exercise, eat a balanced diet, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. 
  • Schedule Breaks: Even caregivers need a break! Don’t be afraid to organise caregiving breaks where another family member or friend can step in for a few days so you can unwind and come back refreshed.  

The Wrap Up

This Caregiver's Guide to Medicinal Cannabis can help you understand the ins and outs of medicinal cannabis so that you can make informed choices for your loved one’s care. Caregiving is a deeply rewarding yet challenging role that requires significant support from medical communities to ensure that caregivers have the education and resources they need to help their loved ones.

Medicinal cannabis has shown significant potential in helping with a range of physical and mental health issues — from chronic pain management to sleep improvement, anxiety reduction, and appetite stimulation. By following the step-by-step guides included above, caregivers can navigate getting their loved one started with medicinal cannabis, help monitor and adjust treatments, and be aware of any potential risks

Glossary of Medicinal Cannabis-Related Terms

Cannabinoids: These are the active chemical compounds found in cannabis plants, each with its own potential therapeutic effects. Two well-known cannabinoids are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), both of which interact with receptors in the body's endocannabinoid system.

Endocannabinoid System (ECS): A remarkable biological system within the human body that plays a crucial role in maintaining balance (homeostasis). The ECS consists of receptors, enzymes, and endocannabinoids, and it regulates processes such as mood, appetite, sleep, pain perception, and immune response.

Terpenes: These are natural aromatic compounds found in medicinal cannabis, as well as in many other plants. Terpenes contribute to the distinct scent and flavour of different strains and may also have therapeutic properties. 

Tincture: A tincture is a liquid medicinal cannabis extract that is typically placed under the tongue (sublingually) for rapid absorption. Tinctures offer a discreet and efficient way to administer medicinal cannabis, allowing for precise dosing and control over the effects.

Edibles: Edibles are food products infused with medicinal cannabis extracts. These products provide an alternative method of consumption by ingesting medicinal cannabis, which is metabolised through the digestive system. 

Vaping: As a caregiver, one of the common methods for administering medicinal cannabis to a loved one is through a vaporizer. Vaporisation can help ensure fast onset of the active ingredients and is considered a safer option than smoking cannabis due to reduced exposure to harmful combustion byproducts. Smoking medicinal cannabis is not recommended. 

Dosing: Dosing refers to determining and administering the appropriate amount of medicinal cannabis for therapeutic purposes.