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Conditions that can be managed using medicinal cannabis

Much is still being researched about the benefits of medicinal cannabis. Here is what we do know, and the difference between prescription and over-the-counter options.

06 April 2022 | By Kendra Hunt

The cannabis plant contains more than 100 different cannabinoids (cannabis-specific chemicals), but two of the most important medicinal substances are Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). 

When THC enters the body it stimulates cannabinoid receptors which are found throughout the body affecting it in several ways – helping to reduce pain and inflammation, nausea and insomnia, and improve appetite. Because THC is psychoactive, it produces the "high" people feel when they take larger quantities in a short time span. CBD is non-psychoactive and does not produce a “high” feeling. 

How does medicinal cannabis work?

“The human body contains something called the endocannabinoid system which consists of millions of receptors called the CB1 and CB2 receptors. These receptors can be found in the brain, lungs, liver, kidneys and immune system,” says Dr Anton Janse van Rensburg, chief medical officer for IntroCann. “Our bodies also produce its own cannabinoids, and in that way the balance in our bodies is supported and maintained. In the same way we respond to cannabinoids from nature, when we ingest cannabinoids from the cannabis plant, they interact with the endocannabinoid system to induce a positive effect like pain relief.”

Dr Anton explains that THC and CBD both have their own unique characteristics and applications, and both act via the endocannabinoid system and have different effects on the body. Medicinal cannabis products have different actions depending on the ratio of THC to CBD they contain. When used in combination in the correct amounts, medical benefits can be achieved. CBD also prevents some of the adverse effects of THC, and patients are able to withstand higher doses of THC with a reduced risk of undesirable side effects.

Treating health conditions 

Although medical research is ongoing, Dr Anton says medicinal cannabis has impacted many people’s lives in SA over the past few years – particularly those suffering from a wide spectrum of pain-related conditions. Dr Anton reassuringly points out that chronic pain has been extensively studied and many medical journal articles have reported the positive effect of medicinal cannabis on reducing pain. 

“What is amazing about the cannabis plant is that when some chronic pain patients have become addicted to strong opioid pain medication, or they can’t live without anti-inflammatories which bring on side effects like stomach ulcers, we use cannabis as the ‘exit drug’ to get them off these medications and still reduce their pain,” confirms Dr Anton.

Dr Anton adds that another group of conditions he has success with are problems related to movement disorders, like in multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease; and treatment-resistant epilepsy has the potential to respond to medicinal cannabis with near miraculous effect in reducing seizure frequency. Then there are patients suffering from chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and in palliation to make their lives easier,” says Dr Anton.

Are there downsides to taking medicinal cannabis?

Side effects: Patients using medicinal cannabis should never have side effects. Products used are pure and dosages are small, so side effects usually stem from patients misunderstanding dosages or accidentally taking too much. 

Risks: “Treatment using medicinal cannabis is safe, but people who have had a psychotic episode or have bipolar with psychotic episodes should not take products containing high levels of THC. There are also one or two medications we need to be careful of, but doctors trained in the field of medicinal cannabis will advise accordingly,” suggests Dr Anton.

Addiction: According to scientific evidence the addictive potential of cannabis is extremely low.

Over the counter vs prescription

Over the counter CBD products – oils, topicals, gummies and capsules – are generally made from industrial hemp with less than 0,001% THC content. These products vary in cost and quality and are not medically regulated. They are also lacking essential cannabinoids and other medicinal constituents only found in prescription cannabis products.

Getting a prescription

Medicinal cannabis can only be prescribed by a doctor, who will determine your condition and prescribe the most appropriate medicinal cannabis medication for you. The prescribed product will take the form of either an oil, capsules, vaporiser liquid or flower. IntroCann will submit your doctor’s application to the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) through a process known as a Section 21 application. Once approved, you will be able to make payment to Clicks and Clicks Direct Medicines will deliver your script directly to you.

“We are very proud to be working alongside the Clicks Group as they move to implement the ‘direct to patient’ delivery programme in collaboration with cannabisclinics.co.za,” stated Craig Ludwig, chief strategy officer for Cannabis Clinics and IntroCann.