What if I told you that streaking was not only good for your general health, it actually helps manage, improve, and increase survival rates for many serious health conditions?
Yet all your life, your parents and grandparents’
life too, chucking a nudie in public was considered a criminal offence – even
though it didn’t seem to hurt anyone. This is kind of where we are now with
cannabis – but your doctor needs to be in on the action.
In February 2019, The World Health Organization (WHO) called for the removal of whole-plant marijuana and cannabis resin from Schedule IV – the most restrictive category of a 1961 drug convention signed by countries from around the world. This was seen as a quiet nod to acknowledge that for decades, governments might have overestimated the risks of cannabis and undersold the medical benefits.
Hemp, cannabis, marijuana – they all come from the
same plant, the different words just refer to different uses. Hemp is usually
associated with industrial use (e.g. for making cloth, or seed oil). Marijuana
often refers to cannabis
plants that contains higher levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the stuff
that creates a high. Cannabis is the botanical name of the plant genus, but
it’s also the term used for health and medical use because the plant contains
at least 113 cannabinoids – chemical compounds that act directly
and indirectly on our body’s endocannabinoid
system, which help the body maintain stability and health.
Healthy, high, or both?
The Big Two cannabinoids in medical treatment are
cannabidiol (CBD) and, to a lesser extent, THC. CBD is not psychoactive – there
is no ‘high’, you will remain firmly on your tits.
In 2003, a patent by the US Department of Health and Human Services Department declared
that cannabinoids were antioxidants and neuroprotectants. It said that CBD is
useful for treating age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases,
neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and limiting
neurological damage after strokes and heart attacks. The patent also identified
what is now termed the ‘entourage effect’, which has nothing to do with
Vince Chase or Ari Gold and everything to do with how non-psychoactive compounds such
as CBD curb the high and avoid the
toxicity that comes with psychoactive
cannabinoids at high doses.
In 2018, the WHO also declared that pure CBD
carries no public health risks or abuse potential.
THC also has many medical benefits. Its action to
relieve pain, stimulate appetite, reduce vomiting and nausea, and suppress
muscle spasms are well-established. It is also used to slow cancer cell growth
and manage PTSD anxiety. However, THC is not without its adverse effects,
including sleepiness, a decline in short-term memory and ability to think
straight, anxiety and paranoia. At high doses, there can be hallucinations and
psychotic reactions that could last hours, even days.
While studies and guidelines indicate that THC will
not cause schizophrenia, it can bring on symptoms for people with a history of
schizophrenia or those at risk of the disease.
Other commonly used cannibinoids include
cannabichromene (CBC) and cannibinol (CBN). CBC is a non-psychoactive
cannabinoid that has been shown to be 10 times as powerful as CBD for reducing
anxiety and stress, while CBN is a milder psychoactive than THC, but it is the
strongest cannabinoid for sleep and works well for pain.
For medical use, cannabinoids are often combined.
Dr Ben Jansen, director of
Cannabis Doctors Australia, presents on medical cannabis to GPs at national
conferences in Australia and New Zealand. He developed a dosing “matrix” to
demonstrate the relative combinations of CBD to THC for various conditions, in
which a low dose of THC indicates just happy, but no other real effects of the
THC, and high meaning “euphoric”. However, Dr Jansen emphasises that in
medical treatment with cannabis, “there’s no need to get the patient high”.
Getting medical cannabis in Australia
Victoria was the first Australian state to legalise
cannabis for medical use in 2017, and the other states quickly followed.
However, Australia’s relationship with medical cannabis is complicated. In most
other countries where medical cannabis is legal, the medicines are available as
registered prescription medicines. Not here (with one exception – nabiximols –
brand name Sativex, a spray used for multiple sclerosis). This means that if
you are interested in cannabis medicines, you need to go to a GP who has
applied to the Special Access Scheme (SAS) for unregistered medicines. The
doctor then needs to send details of your assessment to the government, and it
can take 1–2 weeks for approval. Strictly speaking, the government approves
applications for 15 health conditions – notably chronic pain, epilepsy
(includes children), multiple sclerosis, inflammatory disease and palliative
care. However, Dr Jansen says the TGA will consider any chronic condition that
has lasted longer than three months and has not responded to conventional
treatments medicines or there are side effects.
It’s a cumbersome process that discourages both
patients and doctors, but it’s catching on – in May 2018 the TGA approved 132
SAS applications for unapproved medicinal cannabis products. In April 2019,
1110 applications were approved.
Eat, drink, inhale, smoke or sniff?
The way you ingest cannabinoids can change how
quickly they get into your system and the time it takes for them to wear off.
If you inhale
cannabinoids (smoke, bong, vape, spray), then it’s one to five minutes before
the first real effect, the maximal effect kicks in at 15 to 30 minutes, then it
wears off after about three to four hours. This is good for people who might
need pain relief quickly, plus it’s easy to check how much cannabis you
need – take a small inhalation and wait a few minutes and see what the effects
are before you take more.
The downside of heating
or burning cannabis is that it can change its effect. For example, the
cannabinoid THCA is not psychoactive, but it turns into THC when heated up to
120°C (e.g. via smoking or bong). Heating also alters THC’s
ability to be therapeutic, so higher doses are needed, increasing the risk of
Eating or drinking cannabis has a slower, longer-lasting
effect, especially when used in butters or oils and put into food. It could
take 45-60 minutes to kick in, a higher dose might take 2-2.5 hours to peak,
and eight hours to start wearing off. Cannabis tinctures (a liquid form of
cannabis with alcohol or glycerine as a base) can act a little faster. One
issue with eating or drinking cannabis is that people can have too much and
then feel unwanted side effects, so it’s recommended to start with a small
amount and then wait 45-60 minutes and see how your body reacts.
Juicing cannabis or eating it raw in salads,
sprinkled on foods or blended into a butter or oil is the best way to preserve its
antioxidant powers, which are claimed to be effective for removing damaged
cells and improving cell efficiency for wellbeing and anti-ageing.
The catch is that juicing takes a lot of weed – 20-30
big shade leaves or 2-3 raw buds per day.
Worth dodging the Doc?
If you see CBD oils for sale direct-to-consumer in
Australia, they are either illegal or they fall within the legal limit of 0.02%
cannabinoids – that is, a level medicos such as Dr Jansen consider too low for
treating any health condition. You would need to drink litres of the stuff to
get to the 2.5-20 mg of CBD dosage indicated for chronic pain, yet alone the
200-600 mg guideline to treat epilepsy.
Some products may contain higher levels of CBD, but
don’t indicate this on the label.
“Often you won’t even see CBD on the label, it just says hemp extract,” says Dr
Todd Cooperman, the president and founder of ConsumerLab.com.
“Hemp extract is kind of
a code word for CBD [so they can go over 0.02%].
“Some products mention
phytocannabinoids, and some of that is likely to be CBD, but not all of it.”
“If you just see hemp
oil, that may just be a carrier or base oil they use, but hemp oil is made from
the seeds of the plant, which have virtually no CBD in them.”
Hemp seeds and related
products (oil, protein) are legal in Australia.
The internet may be a wonderland for drugs and supplements, but when you hit up Amazon or the Dark Web for a substance that’s prohibited in Australia, the law sees it as no different to buying from the guy with face tatts hussling ice behind Maccas.
Currently, the only way to bring any cannabis products into
Australia is if you have a license or permit. All cannabis products are excluded from the Personal
For the record, hemp
seeds and their oil and protein are great for nutrition and have already caught
on in sports supplements – just don’t expect them to fix illnesses and serious
Hemp protein is a rare plant protein that is
“complete” – it contains all nine essential amino acids. Hemp oil is also a
good alternative to fish oil for omega-3 fats.
Hemp seeds are very rich
in magnesium and thiamine (vitamin B1), and 25g has more than 200% of the daily
recommended intake of riboflavin (B2). They’re a great add-on to your diet for
endurance sports, as a 2017 placebo-controlled trial with
ultramarathon runners found that riboflavin supplementation before and during
prolonged running might reduce muscle pain and soreness during and after
exercise, and help runners get back up to speed sooner after a tough event.
Weed-killers – bad news for regular tokers
The news is not good for the
regular recreational marijuana user, especially if you smoke it or use bongs.
Cannabis advocates often say there is not one
single death attributable to cannabis – a line from a 1971 Harvard study – but
the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reports that in 2016,
cannabis was the second most common drug type identified in accidental deaths.
However, it’s common for recreational cannabis users to also use tobacco, alcohol
and other drugs, so measuring the health risks of a cannabis habit alone is
Yet even cannabis advocates such as Dr Jansen warn
that for chronic, heavy cannabis smoking is not recommended as there is
evidence of a decrease in IQ, although the risk of airway cancer appears
“equivocal”. The American Dental Association says cannabis smoking is
definitely associated with gum and mouth disease, and increased risk of mouth
and neck cancers.
An Australian Medical Association (AMA)
spokesperson said that the specific health risks from smoking or bong use
might be lessened by eating or vaping cannabis instead, but warned that
the long-term effects of vaping cannabis are not well-known. The AMA also has
concerns about the impact of increasingly stronger cannabis on the mental
health of users, as AIHW figures show that the rate of ‘psychological distress’
reported by cannabis users is rising.
As Australia’s peak
medical body, the AMA has huge influence on Australia’s access to
medicines, and although it supports decriminalisation of cannabis, it’s not
going to support legalisation any time soon. The AMA position is, “Cannabis
should not be used for regular health use or considered
as a medical treatment for a health condition unless
prescribed by an authorised prescribing doctor.”
While the Turnbull-Morrison government took steps
to support medical cannabis use and a medical cannabis industry in Australia,
in April 2018 Health Minister Greg Hunt shot down a proposal by Greens leader
Senator Di Natale for legalisation under a government-regulated system. Hunt called
the policy “open slather for a highly addictive and dangerous drug”.
So far, very few nations have legal recreational cannabis. Even in the Netherlands, cannabis is decriminalised – not legal – but “tolerated” in coffeeshops that sell cannabis under strict government controls. Cannabis is legal for recreational use in Canada, South Africa and 10 US states. New Zealand will hold a referendum on the legalisation in 2020. It’s only two years since hemp seeds became legal in Australia (2017), despite the fact that it is impossible to get high from them. For now, legal recreational cannabis use seems a long way away.
This article first appeared in Men’s Fitness Australia.