Research into the safety and efficacy of cannabis for medical use has traditionally been very difficult. This difficulty has been exacerbated by the factors that made the drug illegal in the first place. Today, thousands of Australians are using medical cannabis to treat chronic pain and anorexia. Advocates of medical cannabis use say the drug is an effective and safe way to treat certain conditions, critics say fear there isn’t enough evidence to support the use of medical cannabis in most cases.

The science

Most of the difficulty arises when the complex chemical structure of cannabis is explored. Cannabis contains more than 400 bioactive molecules, 100 of which are cannabinoids – a group of natural chemicals that bind to the body’s endocannabinoid receptor to produce certain effects.

The two main cannabinoids are THC and CBD. THC and CBD levels can significantly fluctuate between different strains of cannabis. This makes it difficult to tell whether the cannabinoids are working with or against each other therefore determining which (cannabis) product to choose for treatment of an illness is too inaccurate. For this same reason, clinical studies have varied so much leading to the common debate we now often hear.

THC – tetrahydrocannabinol

THC is known for its psychoactive effects — it’s what makes a person ‘high’, and is why people use marijuana recreationally. 

CBD – cannabidiol

CBD, on the other hand, is not psychoactive and is thought to moderate the ‘high’ caused by THC.


Australia has had numerous stories which have had a deep impact on the cannabis debate. One of the most influential was the story of Dan Haslam, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2010, with the head of the drugs squad for NSW police as a father, eventually found relief from his chemo in medical cannabis. Back in June this year BBC published an article detailing the whole story. It is sad to think that such tangible and tragic circumstance have to occur before progression is made.

Our endocannabinoid system

The endocannabinoid system is a unique communications system found in the brain and body that affects many important functions. It is made up of natural molecules known as cannabinoids, and the pathways they interact with. Together, these parts work to regulate a number of activities, including mood, memory, sleep and appetite.