What is Medicinal Cannabis?

Cannabis is a drug made from the dried flowering heads and leaves of the plant Cannabis sativa. Cannabis contains a complex mix of approximately 100 unique chemicals called cannabinoids and a range of other chemical compounds.

The two main cannabinoids are Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). These compounds provide relief to an array of symptoms including pain, nausea, anxiety, and inflammation. THC is mainly responsible for the effects of cannabis, but others – like CBD – may also influence the effectiveness of the drug. The chemical composition of the cannabis determines the effects and side effects. Cannabis dispensed by Green Dispensary Compounding complies with the strictest quality standards and is manufactured by South Australian pharmaceutical company, GD Pharma. It is intended for medicinal use only. Therefore, it is called medicinal cannabis.

Which medical disorders?

There is sufficient reason to believe that medicinal cannabis can help in cases of:

  • pain and muscle spasms or cramps associated with multiple sclerosis or spinal cord damage;
  • nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss and debilitation due to cancer or AIDS;
  • nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy or radiotherapy used in the treatment of cancer, hepatitis C or HIV infection and AIDS;
  • chronic pain (mainly pain associated with the nervous system, for example, that caused by a damaged nerve, phantom pain, facial neuralgia or chronic pain which remains after the recovery from shingles);
  • Gilles de la Tourette syndrome;
  • therapy-resistant glaucoma.

Patients and doctors have also reported positive effects on a range of other conditions, including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, epilepsy, itching, migraine, rheumatism, rheumatoid arthritis, ADD and brain trauma. These positive effects still need to be confirmed by scientific research.

At present, medicinal cannabis does not cure the disorders mentioned above, but it can relieve the symptoms associated with them. It may also enable other medication to be given at a lower dosage, and reduce their side effects. It is up to doctors to determine whether treatment with medicinal cannabis would benefit a patient, given his or her diagnosis and circumstances. In doing so, they are not limited to the list of conditions given above. A doctor will only prescribe medicinal cannabis if the standard treatments and registered medicines are not having the desired effect or are causing too many side effects.

Side Effects

Patients generally tolerate medicinal cannabis well. A low dosage often provides sufficient relief, so that side effects rarely occur. When they do, it is usually the result of a high dosage or combined use with a substance such as alcohol that intensifies the side effects.

Known side effects of medicinal cannabis are mood-altering effects, insomnia and heart palpitations. Other effects are: relaxation, fits of laughter, feeling hungry, heightened sensitivity to the perception of e.g. colour and music, lethargy and distorted temporal and spatial awareness. Your reaction time may also be slower, especially during the first hours after use.

If you take a large dose, you can get ‘high’. This is a feeling of euphoria which slowly subsides into feeling satisfied, peaceful and calm. The altered perception may cause you to feel confused. These effects usually disappear after a few hours. If you have a genetic predisposition to psychosis (like schizophrenia) or other mental health problems, please consult your specialist before using medicinal cannabis. You should also consult your doctor if you are a cardiac patient.

Continuous use of cannabis during pregnancy can affect the foetus. Also, certain components of cannabis – like THC – end up in breast milk. That is why the use of medicinal cannabis is not advisable during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. For more information, consult your doctor or pharmacist.


Addiction is unlikely with cannabis used as a medicine. The recommended dose is usually lower than that for recreational use. You should take particular care, however, if you have been addicted in the past. High dosages of medicinal cannabis taken over a longer period may lead to addiction. Quitting may then cause withdrawal symptoms, such as mild forms of restlessness, irritability, insomnia and nausea.

Using Medicinal Cannabis

Your doctor will determine, in consultation with you:

  • What dosage you need
  • How to take the medicinal cannabis

You will probably start with a low dosage. If the effect is insufficient, your doctor will gradually increase the dosage. No maximum dose has been determined. Your doctor can keep increasing the amounts of cannabis you take until an effective result is achieved and stop when you start feeling side effects.

Accessing Medical Cannabis

In South Australia, medicinal cannabis can be prescribed by a specialist medical practitioner or general practitioner through the Commonwealth Special Assess Scheme or Authorised Prescriber Schemes. Below is the process of accessing medicinal cannabis in South Australia:

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     Clinical decision to prescribe a medicinal cannabis product made by a medical practitioner with the patient.
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    Identify a suitable medicinal cannabis medicine product for the condition to be treated.
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    Doctor seeks approvals to prescribe medicinal cannabis from the Commonwealth.
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    Prescription, supply and dispensing of medicinal cannabis at Green Dispensary Compounding Pharmacy.
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