Aussies have been using cannabis recreationally and to self-medicate for decades. For eligible patients with a chronic condition who can access medical cannabis via a prescription, there are some serious benefits to switching from street-sourced alternatives. Getting your head around the contrasts between medical and illicit cannabis is crucial for patients, healthcare providers, and policymakers as we navigate the future of cannabis use in Australia.
High-quality production and consistency
Medical cannabis in Australia is grown in a carefully monitored and meticulously regulated environment. Lighting, soil, fertilisers and water are diligently controlled to produce the highest quality product possible. Strict production guidelines mean that medical cannabis offers impressive consistency for a natural product – the potency, taste, and texture remain stable from one plant or harvest to the next. This means you can expect the same quality every time it arrives on your doorstep. You never really know what you’re getting on the street because it is not subject to the same level of scrutiny and may not meet the same health and safety standards that medicinal cannabis adheres to.
Rigorous testing for contaminants and cannabinoids
Medical cannabis in Australia goes through rigorous and thorough testing before it reaches the patient. After being carefully cultivated and monitored as it grows, medical cannabis is then tested for mould, mildew, yeast and other diseases, as an extra layer of safety. Growers also test for cannabinoids (chemical compounds that help regulate the body’s endocannabinoid system) to make sure these are consistent across each harvest.
Cannabis contains over 100 cannabinoids. These chemical compounds interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system to help regulate metabolism, sleep, mood and more. You’ve probably heard of these two cannabinoids already; tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC gives the high that cannabis is known for, while CBD is used more for its potential therapeutic benefits. Some cannabis medicines contain percentages of both CBD and THC, while others isolate CBD so they don’t alter a person’s state of mind. Medical cannabis products contain consistent, precise percentages of THC and CBD, meaning there are no surprises. With guidance from a prescriber, you can be sure you’re getting the THC and CBD levels listed on the label and they will help you understand which medication and what dose is appropriate for your condition.
In contrast, illegal cannabis is typically high in THC, though THC and CBD levels can vary greatly from plant to plant. Home growers aren’t bound by quality or safety regulations, so their supply could also contain pesticides, moulds, or other harmful chemicals.
Comprehensive patient support
On the street, your interaction is limited to a money exchange for the product, without any quality guarantee, and you’re left to manage any potential adverse reactions on your own. Medical cannabis is prescribed by an authorised and knowledgeable healthcare provider, who supports you to get the dose right. It’s consumed in specific, low risk ways, as directed by your doctor, to treat medical conditions.
Like any other medicine, cannabis may have side effects for some patients, and it’s essential to understand how it may interact with any other medications you may be taking. With a medical cannabis prescription, your doctor supports you every step of the way. If something isn’t working, you can chat with your doctor and they can refine your treatment plan to make sure you’re getting the most appropriate medicine and dosage to help treat your condition.
While recreational cannabis (any use of cannabis without a valid prescription) is illegal in all Australian states and territories except ACT, medical cannabis is legal in every state in Australia. Like other medications, oral medical cannabis products such as oils or capsules can be taken in public. There are also no laws against vaping medical cannabis in public smoking areas.
People can carry prescribed medical cannabis with them when they travel between all states and territories in Australia. It is advised to keep medication in its original packaging with the pharmacy label attached and carry photo ID that matches the name on the label. It’s also a good idea to have your script handy.
Is medical cannabis right for you?
Explore whether medical cannabis is the right choice for you by discussing it with your local doctor or scheduling an online doctor consult.
This article is intended as general information and is not a substitute for medical advice from your treating doctor. You must always speak with your doctor about the appropriate treatment for you based on your individual health circumstances.