What is Medical Cannabis?

“Medical cannabis or medical marijuana” is a broad term for any sort of cannabis-based medicine used to relieve symptoms.

Some cannabis-based products are available on prescription as medicinal cannabis. At present these are only likely to benefit a very small number of patients – but things are changing. Medical Cannabis can be made a number of ways – here is the difference between dried flowers, oils and tinctures…

Dried Cannabis Flowers

This refers to the buds of a plant which are connected by the stems. These flowers / buds are then cured and dried. Dried cannabis flowers can be used medicinally, people can consume by smoking, vaporising, using it to create their own edibles, oils and tinctures. Smoking dried cannabis flowers may not carry the same carcinogenic risks as smoking tobacco, but smoking anything will contain potentially harmful by-products. For people who need to feel the effects of cannabis quickly they can vaporise the dried flowers. When vaporising, the effects come on within 15 minutes but won’t last as long as consuming oils, edibles and tinctures.

Cannabis Oil

Is extracted from the plant and is very versatile as it can be consumed in multiple ways. The oil can be made by infusing dried cannabis flowers with other oils such as peanut oil. It can be later used in cooking, vaporised, or just directly consumed by dropping 1-3 drops underneath the tongue. However, cannabis oil can be prescribed medicinally like dried cannabis flowers. The strength, length and overall onset of cannabis oil will be different depending on consumption. Vaporising it will cause the effects to have a quick response compared to digesting the oil. However, digesting the oils with allow the effects to last longer.

Cannabis tinctures

Are alcohol-based cannabis extracts – cannabis infused alcohol. Tinctures are produced by a 1:1 ratio of cannabis to alcohol. For example 7g of ground up dried flower mixed with 7oz of 190-proof alcohol. A user would consume 1ml per day to start with and accordingly increase their dosage by 1ml per day. This allows the user to slowly increase their dosage to a high they feel comfortable with. Onset of the effects is between 15-45 minutes and the peak is around 90 minutes. The effects of tinctures maybe longer lasting than smoking and vaporizing cannabis but shorter than consuming butter and oil based edibles.  

Tinctures are good alternatives to consuming cannabis edibles as they are low in calories with approximately 7caloires per 1ml, compared to a traditional cannabis brownies containing 112calories.

Epidiolex for children and adults with epilepsy

Epidiolex is a highly purified liquid containing CBD (cannabidiol). CBD is a chemical substance found in cannabis that has medical benefits.It won’t get you high, because it doesn’t contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical in cannabis that makes you high. Epidiolex is not yet licensed in the UK but is currently going through the licensing system. In the meantime, the unlicensed medication can be prescribed for patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome (both rare forms of epilepsy).

Nabilone for chemotherapy patients

Many people having chemotherapy will have periods where they feel sick or vomit.

Nabilone can be prescribed by a specialist to help relieve these symptoms, but only when other treatments haven’t helped or aren’t suitable.

Nabilone is a medicine, taken as a capsule, that has been developed to act in a similar way to THC (the chemical in cannabis that makes you high). You may have heard it described as a “manmade form of cannabis”.

The medicine has been licensed in the UK. This means it has passed strict quality and safety tests, and is proven to have medical benefit.

Nabiximols (Sativex) for MS

Nabiximols (Sativex) is a cannabis-based medicine that is sprayed into the mouth.

It is licensed in the UK for people with MS-related muscle spasticity that hasn’t got better with other treatments.

But its availability on the NHS is limited. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) does not recommend that NHS doctors prescribe Sativex, as it is not cost effective.

Read more from the MS Society on cannabis for MS.

What about products available to buy online?

Some cannabis-based products are available to buy over the internet without a prescription.

It’s likely that some of these products – even those called “CBD oils” – will be illegal to possess or supply. There’s a good chance they will contain THC and may not be safe to use. In the UK and Europe Cannabis Oils containing more than 0.2% THC are classed as Medicinal and are controlled drugs.

Some health stores sell certain types of “pure CBD”. However, there’s no guarantee these products will be of good quality.

They tend to contain very small amounts of CBD, say 2.5% or 5% and so it’s not clear what effect they would have for medicinal purposes.

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