October 2021

The Ins and Outs of Medicinal Cannabis

Medical cannabis is one of the fastest-growing and most promising developments in modern medicine, yet it is still shrouded in misunderstanding and confusion. What is medical cannabis? How does it work, what does it treat, and most importantly, what makes it different from the cannabis used recreationally.

While both medical and recreational cannabis products are derived from the cannabis plant and interact with the same system within the body, the endocannabinoid system, the two products are vastly different in terms of application, production, and consumption.

What is the endocannabinoid system and how does it work? To put it simply, the endocannabinoid system is a biological system composed of naturally occurring endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors that are expressed throughout both the central and peripheral nervous systems. The two main chemical components of cannabis that science has identified as interacting with this system are THC and CBD.

In short, the endocannabinoid system has an impact on everything from cognition to physical well-being. Though there is still a great deal of research to be done on the endocannabinoid system, and scientists are still developing a nuanced understanding of how it impacts our body, preliminary research has shown that this system is involved in regulating physiological and cognitive processes.

For a long time, our understanding of this system and the interaction cannabis has with it has been minimal, slowed by strict regulations worldwide on cannabis research and cultivation, but this veil is lifting. We now know that medical cannabis has the potential to treat a wide variety of conditions ranging from chronic pain to anxiety and depression. However, taking cannabis from a recreational product to a medical one is not as simple as discovering new uses for the plant.

Unlike recreational cannabis which requires minimal processing to reach standards of compliance in the countries where it is deregulated, medical cannabis products must meet much higher standards, such as EU GMP in Europe. Additionally, medical cannabis rarely takes the form of unprocessed plant matter, but rather takes the form of extracted oils, allowing for less harmful modes of ingestion such as oral ingestions, topical application, and even in pill form.

However, what makes medical cannabis truly different from recreational cannabis is its potential for specific pharmaceutical formulation to treat specific conditions. This is because the process of extraction allows for labs to extract the benefits of the full flower or to isolate the medical benefits of cannabis and produce products that provide the medical benefits of cannabinoids such as CBD at higher concentrations than are normally found in the plant itself. At the same time, this process allows for the minimization of THC and the cognitive impairment caused by it. The result is that medical cannabis products can provide treatment for patients without the "high" effect that most associate with cannabis use. Additionally, the extraction process lends itself to creating a product that can be prescribed at specific doses and levels of concentration depending on the patient and their specific needs.

What all of this means is that medicinal cannabis has come a long way from being regarded as homeopathic medicine. Cannabis can now be formulated into products that meet the same certifications and requirements of safety and efficacy as synthetic pharmaceuticals. This is promising for both patients and doctors as it opens the door to naturally derived treatment options in the form of medicinal cannabis pharmaceuticals, which in many cases come without the adverse side effects of other generic pharmaceutical options.