Medicinal Cannabis For Insomnia

Over the past few years there has been increased interest from Australians in the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Commonwealth, state and territory governments have used existing laws or passed specific laws to allow the prescribing and dispensing of medicinal cannabis products, as well as cannabis cultivation and manufacture for medicinal purposes. 

Medical Cannabis interacts with your body’s natural endocannabinoid system

Cannabis has been used for thousands of years as a treatment for a variety of medical conditions. Today, it is filling an urgent need for a safe and effective treatment alternative, where conventional medications fail. The plant’s compounds (so called cannabinoids) interact with our body’s natural endocannabinoid system (ECS), which manages several functions, such as pain, mood, sleep and appetite. With the change in regulation across the world, we see an increasingly better understanding of medical cannabis and growing clinical and anecdotal evidence that show the positive impact it can have in managing chronic conditions. 

How Does Medical Cannabis Work?

Medical cannabis (or medical marijuana as it is also known) is derived from the cannabis plant and bred to specifically use the plant’s therapeutic properties to treat a number of chronic conditions. The plant contains over 100 compounds that are called cannabinoids and mimic the naturally occurring cannabinoids found within the human body. The most common and abundant cannabinoids are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). There is increasing research and clinical evidence indicating that these compounds can help to relieve the symptoms of many conditions, such as chronic pain, anxiety, epilepsy, back pain, cancer symptoms, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and insomnia. The therapeutic and pain-relieving properties of medical cannabis are the reason why increasing numbers of people consider it as an alternative treatment for their ailments.

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)

Medical cannabis contains over 100 different cannabinoids, which interact with the body’s natural endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a complex cell-signalling system in the human body which helps to regulate functions such as sleep, pain, mood, and appetite. It’s primary function is to ensure your body stays in homeostasis or balance. If the stability of your internal environment is thrown off by injury or fever for example, this will lead to your ECS responding to help your body to return to its natural balance. The ECS involves three core components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. Endocannabinoids are molecules made by our bodies and help keep certain bodily functions running smoothly. They bind to receptors that are found throughout your whole body to signal that the ECS needs to act. And enzymes break down endocannabinoids once they’ve carried out their function. The two main endocannabinoid receptors are CB1 (found in the central nervous system) and CB2 found in the peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells. Endocannabinoids might target CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain, while others might bind to a CB2 receptor in your immune cells to signal that your body’s experiencing inflammation, a common sign of autoimmune disorders. The plant cannabinoids found in cannabis can interact with the ECS and therefore have the potential to impact bodily functions that the ECS controls, including appetite, metabolism, nerve function, pain, inflammation, mood, brain function and cardiovascular system function. While evidence and research of the interaction between the ECS and medical cannabis is growing, most doctors are not yet considering it as a valid alternative treatment possibility for chronic conditions. We are here to bridge this gap and can mediate the conversation with your doctor.

Is Medicinal Cannabis Right For Me?

Just like any other medication, medicinal cannabis products can have side effects that affect people differently. These may include fatigue and sedation, vertigo, nausea and vomiting, fever, confusion, appetite increase or decrease, dry mouth and cognitive distortion (hallucinations and untrue thoughts). 

Generally, people with an active or previous psychotic or active mood or anxiety disorder, women who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or breastfeeding and people with unstable cardiovascular disease are generally not recommended to begin treatment with medicinal cannabis.

Can I drive while using medicinal cannabis?

If taking Cannabinoid therapy (CBD with THC), you should not drive or operate heavy machinery if tired or sleepy. 

There is no legal issue regarding purified CBD only products.

If taking THC during the day you may become impaired and therefore should not drive. If taking at night time only, the amount of THC in your body system is dependent on how much you are taking. Medicinal Cannabis with THC has a much lower level of THC compared to taking recreational cannabis, generally the THC is out of the body system by the next day morning, but if you are concerned, it is suggested that it may be worth checking levels of THC in your urine through an authorised Pathology Lab. Lullaby Sleep is registered with Douglas Hanly Moir Pathogy and would be happy to arrange  a urine THC check. It is a good idea to keep a copy of the product information in your car to show authorites if randomly stopped and questioned. 

It is illegal to drive with THC present in your body system.

How do I access medicinal cannabis in Australia?

Your doctor and you will need to follow a special process to give you access to medicinal cannabis. Generally, the following steps are involved:

  1.  If you are suffering from Insomnia. Get a referral by your GP or Specialist to the Lullaby Insomnia clinic
  2. Have a specialist consultation with Dr Dev Banerjee and conduct a sleep test to rule out common causes of sleep disturbance such as sleep apnoea, and measure how severe your insomnia is.
  3. Discuss the correct insomnia solution including the role of Clinical Psychology, and therapies for common causes of insomnia such as treatment for sleep apnoea, restless legs, circadian rhythm disorder, and also the role of Medicinal Cannabis such as Cannabidiol CBD and Tetrahydrocannabinol THC. (if applicable)
  4. Please note, currently there are no PBS subsidised medicinal cannabis products.
  5. You will be required to undergo regular reviews by Dr Banerjee and his Team.

The difference to street and home-grown products

Unfortunately, misperception and lack of knowledge still leads many patients to source cannabis illicitly from the black market or to grow their own. It is therefore important to understand the differences between medical cannabis and street or home-grown cannabis. The main differentiations relate to composition of the product, its level of purity and delivery method.

Composition

The cannabis plant has over 100 different cannabinoids which include cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahdrocannabinol (THC). Medical cannabis is grown in a controlled environment which regulates, soil, water, light, and nutrients of the plants to increase the amount of the most useful cannabinoids and reduce less effective or harmful chemicals. Moreover, it provides stability and consistency of output, meaning that every batch will have the same composition of cannabinoids and therefore the same effect and dosing can be maintained for patients.  

With street or home-grown cannabis, we can’t be sure of the strength, the mix of chemicals it contains and therefore suitability for a specific condition. Street cannabis is typically bred with a recreational focus in mind, hence being stronger in the psychoactive ingredient THC, while in a medical context CBD is the more relevant component for most conditions.

Contamination

The strict conditions under which medical cannabis is produced and regulated further ensure that it does not include harmful impurities such as bacteria, heavy metals, mould or pesticides. Each batch is being lab-tested against a long list of potentially harmful substances before it can be approved for distribution. Unlike street-sourced cannabis which may have been diluted or have microbial contamination since the growing conditions are unknown and unregulated.

Delivery method

Medical cannabis is predominantly consumed orally as oil, spray or capsules, which leads to a longer and more gradual relief of symptoms throughout the day, suitable for most chronic conditions. The extraction process that is required to transform cannabis into liquids is complex and not relevant to illicit cannabis which is typically provided in dried form to be smoked. But not only does smoking provide a shorter relief period, it also makes it particularly harmful because at least 50 of the same carcinogenic substances as tobacco are being inhaled directly into the lungs.

Besides the product specific differences, most importantly medical cannabis is legal and therefore available through your trusted doctor. This means the product type, strength and dose that are prescribed take into account your medical history and individual situation. It further allows for close monitoring of the effects and gradual adjustments until your optimal dose has been identified. While currently not PBS subsidised, the cost of medical cannabis (monthly average AU$150-300) are in most cases below the average amount patients pay for illicit cannabis. If you are considering medical cannabis for the treatment of your condition, please make the first step and initiate the conversation with your doctor.

Need more information?

Is it recommended that patients do some research before considering medicinal cannabis. Some useful resources include:

The Therapeutics Goods Administration Website

The NSW Health Department Website

If you still have questions, please feel free to contact our team. We have extensive experience dealing with medicinal cannabis and can help to answer any of your questions.

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