Many of us have heard about weed, joints and hash but how much do we actually know about cannabis and its effect on our bodies? As the world’s perception of cannabis shifts, and the drug becomes more readily available for both medical and recreational use, it’s important that we remain educated so we can make the best decisions for ourselves and/or loved ones.


What is cannabis?

In its most basic form, cannabis refers to three species of plants - cannabis sativa, cannabis indica and cannabis ruderalis, all of which contain chemicals with psychoactive properties. When the plant’s flowers and leaves are dried, they can be smoked, vaporised or consumed in order to induce a ‘high,’ resulting in the drug that’s commonly known as weed, marijuana or hash. Cannabis has been used for centuries both recreationally and as a medicinal therapy, being used to treat a variety of conditions or symptoms such as chronic pain, seizures and sleep disorders. 

Although the flowers and leaves seem to get the most attention, Cannabis seeds (also known as hemp seeds) are also used in a variety of health foods as they’re rich in omega 3 and omega 6, and are also high protein. 

How does cannabis affect the body?

Cannabis is a depressant drug, meaning it slows down the central nervous system’s communication with the rest of the body. This happens as a result of the chemical components of the plant reacting with the human endocannabinoid system - a cell-signalling system that plays a role in regulating sleep, mood and appetite. Cannabis plants contain over 120 components, two of which (CBD and THC) have been studied at length for their effects on the human mind and body.

In a nutshell, cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are both psychoactive chemicals that slow down the body’s central nervous system, however only THC produces the ‘high’ commonly associated with cannabis use. Both CBD and THC have an extremely similar chemical composition, so they actually share a lot of benefits. Both CBD and THC have been linked to:

  • easing pain 
  • reducing nausea 
  • lessening symptoms of anxiety

However, they do ultimately affect the body and brain in different ways, and therefore CBD and THC are usually used to treat different problems. CBD specifically helps with:

  • Inflammation
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) 
  • Psychosis

Whereas THC assists users suffering from:

  • Glaucoma
  • Muscle spasticity 
  • insomnia

If you’d like to know more about the difference between CBD and THC, check out our article “What’s the difference between CBD and THC?” It should, however, be acknowledged that as with any drug, cannabis can have adverse side effects including:

  • Coordination issues
  • Anxiety 
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Paranoia


Is medicinal cannabis different to recreational cannabis?

Medicinal cannabis is generally prescribed to relieve the symptoms of chronic medical conditions, to alleviate pain associated with terminal illnesses or minimise the harmful effects of other prescribed medications. Unlike recreational cannabis (which is illegal in all states and territories except for ACT), medicinal cannabis is highly regulated and quality controlled. Cannabis obtained illegally could be exposed to mould, pesticides or could be laced with other drugs in order to compound its effects. 


Although smoking is a common way to use cannabis recreationally, it is generally not recommended due to the harmful effects it may have on the user’s respiratory system. Studies have shown that smoked cannabis shares 50 of the same carcinogens as tobacco, and is the most harmful way to consume cannabis. Smoking cannabis medicinally also makes it difficult to monitor dosage. As the cannabis is being used medicinally, it’s important that the dosage always remains the same so doctors can adjust the recommended dose according to the patient’s needs.  

Takeaway

Everyone is different, and everyone will react differently to cannabis - both with or without the THC component. There are many benefits associated with cannabis use, but there are also potential side effects and risks that should be considered.

If you are considering using medicinal cannabis, or are interested in medicinal cannabis for a friend or family member, it’s best to seek advice from a doctor to determine whether it’s the right option for you (which can be done on our website here). It’s also important to remember that cannabis laws differ according to the state, so ensure you check your state’s relevant legislation. Information on every state’s cannabis legislation is available to view here