Queensland’s first medicinal cannabis farm in the Sunshine Coast hinterland has opened for business, with the blessing of the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt.

Medifarm’s facility currently houses 1,000 marijuana plants which can produce 1.2 tonnes of medicinal cannabis a year, with hopes to increase to seven tonnes a year. Only a few thousand Australians have been prescribed medicinal cannabis treatment by a doctor despite it being legalised by the federal government in February 2016, and they rely largely on
imported products.

The cannabis oil produced from the plants at the farm will be used to help Australians with conditions like epilepsy, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis or those needing paediatric care. “The office of drug control has
responsibility for that and they are very, very assiduous and one of the things everybody would want is for us to operate in an efficient way but in a safe way,” said Mr Hunt. “It is a highly regulated sector and we make no apologies for that, but it’s about ensuring that if the doctors determine the
medicine should be available, it can be available.”

The founding director of Medifarm, Adam Benjamin said he established the company when he observed the suffering of family friend, eight-year-old Sam Martin, whose parents, Mark and Tanya, fought to have their son put on  medicinal cannabis to ease the pain of late-stage aggressive cancer. Mark Martin said it was a big leap forward for patients. “We’ve seen first-hand as a family what a massive benefit medicinal cannabis can have for patients in terms of pain management,” he said. “When we started to give Sam
medicinal cannabis in 2014 in the last phase of his life his general wellbeing improved massively.”

What is medicinal cannabis?

According to the definition by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, medicinal cannabis is cannabis prescribed to relieve the symptoms of a medical condition. For some people suffering from chronic or terminal illnesses, conventional medicines do not work, or do not work as effectively as
medicinal cannabis. Also, for some patients, conventional medicines may work but cause debilitating side effects that cannabis can
help to relieve.

What are cannabinoids? 

The main psychoactive ingredient of cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC),
which acts on specific receptors in the brain. Research has found that the cannabis plant produces between 80 and 100 cannabinoids and about 300 non-cannabinoid chemicals. The main difference between the two
cannabinoids is that THC has strong psychoactive effects, meaning it makes
a person ‘high’, whereas CBD is thought to have an anti-psychoactive effect that controls or moderates the ‘high’ caused by the THC. CBD is also thought to reduce some of the other negative effects that people can
experience from THC, such as anxiety. The psychoactive effects of THC, such as euphoria and feeling relaxed or sleepy, are well known, but THC has also been found to have analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as well as being able to prevent and reduce vomiting.

Types and forms of medicinal cannabis 

There are three main forms of cannabis that can be used medicinally:
Pharmaceutical cannabis products that are approved by an organisation such as the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), including nabiximols (Sativex®) and synthetic cannabinoids such as Dronabinol®.
Sativex, which comes as a nasal or oral spray, has been approved in over 24 countries for treating spasticity due to multiple sclerosis. Controlled and standardised herbal cannabis (plant products), such as the products produced in the Netherlands. Unregulated and illegal herbal cannabis (plant products), which contains unknown concentrations of cannabinoids and potentially harmful impurities such as bacteria and mould (USA only).

Why smoking cannabis for medical purposes is not recommended

It is understood that smoked cannabis will not be prescribed in Australia because smoked plant products will not satisfy governmental requirements that enable it to be classed as a therapeutic good. There are two major concerns regarding this type of cannabis and this method of administration. Firstly, smoking is a particularly harmful way of taking cannabis, mainly because carcinogenic substances are inhaled directly into the lungs. Smoking
cannabis is not recommended by health authorities, as the smoked form contains at least 50 of the same carcinogens as tobacco. Secondly, the majority of medicines used in Australia are produced under strict conditions: that way, doctors who are prescribing them (as well as people who are using them) know exactly what is in them. It is important that doctors know that
medicines have been tested and that each dose is the same. This means doctors can monitor the effects of the drug and doses can be adjusted according to a patient’s needs.

More at qld.gov.au and adf.org.au