The ACT Legislative Assembly has passed a private member’s bill to allow Australian residents over the age of 18 to possess and grow cannabis– the first state or territory to do so.

Limited to up to 50 grams and two plants per person (maximum of four per household), people living in our nation’s capital must keep said cannabis out of reach of children, and it must not be used the presence of minors. Driving whilst under the influence remains a criminal offence, and it must not be grown in community areas.

Whilst cannabis for medical purposes has been the subject of numerous debates over the years – and the legality of which varies from state to state – this is undoubtedly a huge step forward for those campaigning for greater freedoms for medicinal marijuana use. In light of this, Team Med explores the origins of medicinal cannabis and how it is and can be used today.

How long has cannabis been around?

Cannabis use by humans has been happening for so long that it’s hard to actually date it. Researchers suggest that it was likely used for herbal medicine by ancient cultures in Asia around 500BC. Originating in Central Asia, the cannabis, or hemp plant was then introduced to other continents, and hemp became a valuable fibre used to produce everyday items like rope, clothing, paper, and sails for boats. To this day, hemp is considered one of the most sustainable materials on earth, however regulations imposed on cannabis has resulted in the plant not being utilised to its full potential.

When was it first used for medical purposes?

One of the earliest recordings of cannabis being used in medical treatments is in the 1830s. An Irish doctor based in India, Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, found that cannabis extracts worked to alleviate stomach pain and vomiting in patients suffering cholera. It was commonly sold in pharmacies and doctors offices throughout the late 1800s to treat stomach pains and discomfort. In an 1862 edition of Vanity Fair, ‘hasheesh’ candies are advertised as ‘Medicinal Agent[s]’ that aid in the cure of nervousness, melancholy, and confused thoughts. According to the ad, it is a ‘pleasurable and harmless stimulant’.

How is it used medically today?

Nowadays, medicinal cannabis is used across the world to treat a variety of different conditions and illnesses. Primarily used as a treatment for pain, cannabis is often prescribed to alleviate discomfort stemming from conditions and diseases like migraines, cancer, glaucoma, and nerve pain. There is also some evidence to support that medical cannabis can have success in reducing the frequency and severity of epileptic seizures in children.

There are side effects, as with most prescribed medications, that have resulted in restricted access to cannabis as a medical treatment. This can include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, depression, delusions, hallucinations, and psychosis. It’s worth noting that these effects vary from patient to patient.

Where is it legalised?

In Australia, each state and territory has its own regulations and restrictions when it comes to medicinal cannabis. In Victoria, it is legal for children who suffer severe, treatment-resistant epilepsy. Other states such as Northern Territory, Western Australia, and South Australia is contingent on the conditions the patient has been diagnosed with, regardless of age. In NSW it is restricted to adults who have terminal illnesses. To find out more, look into your own state’s laws regarding medical cannabis.

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