The current demand for plant-based treatments is reaching new heights, however it’s a complicated area that is very much at the mercy of red tape. To bring some clarification to the topic, leading cannabis-centric healthcare innovator and Founder of Bod Australia, Jo Patterson, and the company’s Science Communications Manager, Dr. Dilara Bahceci, debunk common myths and emerging trends in the industry.
Myth: All medicinal cannabis products are the same.
Truth: “There are a lot of different medicinal cannabis products, and they will each have different actions,” says Dr Bahceci. “The two main therapeutic constituents of cannabis are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), and they have very different, sometimes opposing, effects.”
THC and CBD both have well-documented benefits, and have properties that make them suitable for different health conditions. The Therapeutic benefits of medicinal cannabis are due to the specific cannabinoids present in the medicine. Some cannabinoids, such as THC, are more likely to cause side effects to some people. CBD has relatively well-tolerated side-effects which makes it a more desirable therapeutically.
Trend: “Current medicinal cannabis trends are influenced by patients avoiding side effects, therefore the high CBD and other non-intoxicating cannabinoids products are being sought,” Patterson notes. “We’re also seeing new trends in format and formulation. A common way of taking medicinal cannabis at the moment is as an oil format, but we’re moving towards gummies, lotions, sprays, and other new methods to take CBD.”
Myth: The benefits of medicinal cannabis are not proven.
Truth: Studies have indicated that cannabis has been used medicinally for thousands of years. In fact, it was only during the 1900s that it became a controlled substance, which hindered the ability to research it.
Medicinal cannabis is continually being researched for its beneficial properties. There is substantial evidence that it can be beneficial for people who experience epilepsy, chronic pain, nausea during chemotherapy, and spasticity in Multiple Sclerosis. There is also promising but limited evidence for conditions such as anxiety disorders and sleep disorders.
Trend: “Conditions that are being researched more often include epilepsy, chronic pain, anxiety, and neurological conditions,” Patterson says. “We’re also noticing research emerging on arthritis and migraines. It will be interesting to see how this research develops.”
Myth: Medicinal cannabis is safe because it’s natural.
Truth: Dr Bahceci notes that although it is a very promising area of medicine, medicinal cannabis is not necessarily “safe” just because it’s a plant. It can’t cure everything, and it isn’t free from side effects.
Like all prescription medications, medicinal cannabis products can have side effects too. Medicinal cannabis users can experience minor but noticeable side effects including mouth dryness, increased appetite, drowsiness, eye irritation and lack of energy or fatigue. And as with other medical interventions, there are risks involved, and medicinal cannabis isn’t suitable for everyone.
Trend: Patterson founded Bod Australia with the goal to make medicinal cannabis more accessible for patients globally. If these products become more accessible and affordable in Australia, the more patients can benefit from the unique and significant health benefits that CBD and Cannabis provide.
Myth: There’s a ‘type’ of person who uses medicinal cannabis.
Truth: Currently, there are three ways to access medicinal cannabis through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA): authorised prescribers, special access schemes and clinical trials. This is because most cannabis-based medicines are not currently registered or listed by the TGA. Under the current regulatory framework, patients need to have tried available approved medicines first and found them unsuitable to be allowed to trial medicinal cannabis.
“Despite the stigma around medicinal cannabis, Australian research from 2018 revealed that the average medicinal cannabis user looks like a man in his forties with a university degree and full-time work,” Dr Bahceci explains. “But the path to access isn’t easy. Only 3% of respondents from that survey were accessing medicinal cannabis through prescription and reported difficulty with finding a supportive practitioner and cost of medicines to be some of the prohibiting factors.
Trend: Based on the TGA’s Special Access Scheme approvals for medicinal cannabis, the top five indications for which medicinal cannabis has been prescribed for in Australia are pain and chronic pain, anxiety disorders, cancer pain and symptom management, sleep disorders and epilepsy. Under Patterson’s leadership, Bod is pioneering cannabinoid applications with education, research and knowledge to make these products more accessible.
Myth: If medicinal cannabis was safe to use, it would already be approved by the TGA.
Truth: “No medicine is 100% safe and people will react differently” explains Dr Bahceci. “This is why we have the TGA to regulate safe supply of therapeutic goods.”
She adds, “Interestingly, in 2017, a detailed report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that CBD is safe and well-tolerated in humans with no risk of abuse or dependency. But although CBD seems relatively safe, we still need the research to determine where it has therapeutic applications.”
Dr Bahceci notes that because of the stigma around cannabis, there is hesitation in discussing and learning more about it, even in the medical community.
“The medical community want more research and education, and that is what we are trying to provide at Bod Australia.”
She adds that the research process involves many phases to ensure safety and quality results.
“First, we need to determine safety, then we can start investigating where medicinal cannabis help people,” Dr Bahceci says. “At Bod Australia, we’ve already established phase 1 safety, and we are currently running an Australia-wide study where we are monitoring how our cannabis medicines are being used by doctors and patients. We are following the trends to see what people are using it for, and what benefit they are getting from it. The next stage is to do specific, directed clinical trials on those specific indications.”
Trend: Researchers are regularly running clinical trials and research projects to help build knowledge and awareness around medicinal cannabis. To deliver on this, Patterson and her team continue partnering with world-leading health and research institutions from around the globe.
Connect with Jo Patterson to learn more about the work Bod Australia is pioneering in plant-based healthcare space through CBD and cannabis research and development.