Medicinal applications of the cannabis plant

Cannabis is popularly known for its mind-altering properties. But this controversial plant boasts abundant secret delights that are now (re)emerging following its prohibition.

The Australia China Nutrition and Health Association recently showcased medicinal cannabis and hemp products in a forum with professional guest speakers at the Pullman Hotel in Melbourne.

‘Tsunami of change’

Attendee Nikki was impressed that cannabis had so many different uses, including clothing, textiles, construction and a “myriad of health benefits.”

Presenter John Easterling, founder and president of Amazon Herb Company USA (and husband to Olivia Newton-John), says cannabis has been used for food, medicine and shelter for at least 10,000 years.

Easterling forecasts that after 17 years of battling to legalise hemp in food products, we are facing a “tsunami of change in the world of cannabis and hemp.”

Unravelling cannabis


Oil derived from the nutritious hemp seed is rich in healthy fats including omega-3. The trichomes (oils) at the end of the cannabis flowers contain the plant’s active properties: at least 113 cannabinoids – compounds that have receptors in the body and brain.

Two primary cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is responsible for the ‘high’ and other side effects that are induced by smoking or ingesting marijuana cooked in foods.

Marijuana is grown to produce high quantities of THC. But industrial hemp varieties of cannabis contain CBD and very little, if any, of the psychoactive THC.

Importantly, CBD does not produce a high – in fact it dampens it. In 2017 the World Health Organisation announced that CBD is safe for humans, with no adverse health effects.

Health and medicinal benefits

There are reports of CBD’s anticonvulsive, anti-epileptic and antimicrobial properties.

While THC has been associated with anxiety and risk of schizophrenia in susceptible individuals, CBD could help reduce anxiety and symptoms associated with neuropsychiatric disorders like epilepsy and schizophrenia.

It has even been studied for potential applications in cancer, type 1 diabetes, acne and Alzheimer’s disease.

Speaker Professor Ian Brighthope referred to a case in which a NSW father, out of desperation, treated his two daughters’ Crohn’s disease with juice from the hemp plant. Despite their vastly improved symptoms, he is currently facing imprisonment.

One of Brighthope’s friends tried cannabis for Parkinson’s. He reported that after four days she regained her sense of smell. Travelling overseas, she forgot her medication and used medicinal cannabis. Over nine days she noticed reduced tremors.

In January 2017, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a review of the evidence for cannabis’s health benefits. The report concluded that “There is conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective:

  • For the treatment for chronic pain in adults
  • Antiemetics in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
  • For improving patient-reported multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms”

They reported moderate evidence for its ability to improve short-term sleep in people with sleep disturbance related to chronic conditions like fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis. More evidence is needed to support other medical applications.

Chronic pain in aged care

An estimated five million Australians suffer chronic pain. And older adults are most afflicted.

Estimates of chronic pain prevalence in community-dwelling older adults are 25-50%, and up to 70% for nursing home residents. It is typically managed using opiates and other painkillers, all of which can have serious side effects and adverse interactions with other medications.

Dementia and aged care consultant Leah Bisiani says 73% of people in aged care facilities are not having their pain managed effectively, and will continue to deteriorate on opioids. Baby boomers are demanding alternative approaches like medical cannabis with less unwanted side effects.

Bisiani contends that we “need to look at medicinal cannabis as a humane philosophy of care.” She argued that access to effective pain relief is “a basic human right” that “cannot be ignored.”


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