Mythbusting: Medical Cannabis Always Causes a High

Alternaleaf Team
Written by
Alternaleaf Team
Feb 19, 2023
Last updated:
May 2, 2024

Myths about medical cannabis abound on the internet, and it can be hard to sort fact from fiction. For example, people trying CBD hemp oil in Australia often wonder whether these products count as medical cannabis — and whether they will make them high. So let’s dig into the truth about how medical cannabis does (or doesn’t) get you high.

Myth: Medical Cannabis Always Causes a High

Medical cannabis has only been available in Australia since 2016. And while today, there are countless medical-grade products available with a prescription, it wasn’t long ago that medical cannabis patients were reliant on unpredictable illicit sources. Most black market products were explicitly produced for the high rather than the medicinal effects.

So, it’s not surprising that most people still associate cannabis with the intoxication from smoking a joint or a bong. The stereotypical image of the stoner is everywhere in popular culture. And when smoking was the only way to consume cannabis, it was difficult to access its medical benefits.

But now, a whole range of medical cannabis products are available to patients through a doctor. Australians can now access products that contain THC and those that are essentially THC-free.

To bust this long-standing myth, it’s helpful to understand the cannabis plant. Cannabis sativa L. contains hundreds of different compounds that interact with our bodies, and the most important compounds are called cannabinoids.


THC vs CBD

Two cannabinoids, in particular, get the most attention: THC and CBD. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the cannabinoid that causes a high, and it’s psychoactive, causing effects like euphoria, confusion, and changes to cognitive function.

Cannabidiol (CBD), on the other hand, interacts with our nervous system differently. It can have an anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory effect, but it doesn’t alter our perception or behaviour as THC does. In short, it doesn’t cause a high.

There are other cannabinoids, too—more than a hundred of them. Each has its unique effects, and they interact with each other, too. Yet, none of these different compounds triggers the same intoxicating effects associated with THC.

But the most important thing to know is if there’s no THC in your medical cannabis product, it won’t cause a high. There are many medical cannabis products now available that will not have psychoactive effects.

High-CBD Medical Cannabis: What you need to know

For personal reasons, or perhaps following their doctor's recommendation, many medical cannabis patients choose to steer clear of the psychoactive effects of THC.

Perhaps they want to avoid impairment, but it could also be because the benefits of CBD are more suited to their condition and symptoms. The latest Cannabis as Medicine Survey found that 25% of approvals for cannabis prescriptions were for products containing more than 98% CBD.

These CBD-dominant medicines are most commonly used to treat chronic pain and anxiety. CBD oils, tinctures, solutions, and capsules are the most popular products among Australians, but topical products are available, too.

Technically, it’s legal to sell CBD products over the counter in Australia. But to date, no products have actually been approved for sale. So if you’d like to try CBD oil in Australia, you’ll still need to get a prescription from a doctor.

Are You Worried About the Side Effects of Medical Cannabis?

Like all medicines, there are possible side effects to using medical cannabis, and these can include nausea, fatigue, drowsiness, and changes in appetite. But as the CAMS survey demonstrates, side effects are commonly described as “mild and tolerable.”

This is especially true for CBD-dominant products. The TGA concludes that “at low doses [up to 60mg/day], CBD appears to have an acceptable safety and tolerability profile.” These low-dose CBD products don’t cause significant side effects and are generally accepted as safe.

Still, it’s always best to speak to a doctor about your condition and medical history before using CBD hemp oil. There’s always the potential for medicines to interacting, and CBD may not be suitable or effective for certain conditions.

Meanwhile, if you’re considering using a medicine containing THC, most doctors advise “starting low and going slow.” High doses of THC can have uncomfortable side effects like paranoia, especially if medical cannabis is new to you. Starting with a small dose and increasing it slowly will decrease the chance of an unpleasant experience.

Need More Cannabis Myths Busted?

So the truth is, medical cannabis doesn’t always cause a high. If you want to avoid the psychoactive effects of cannabis but still experience the medical benefits, you can. There are plenty of prescription products available that contain low or no THC and can be used to treat a range of conditions.

To get informed about medical cannabis and what could work for you, book a consultation with a doctor at a medical cannabis clinic or your local GP. They’ll help you sort through the misconceptions and decide whether you're eligible for a medical cannabis prescription.

There are a number of risks associated with the use of medical cannabis and your doctor will explain these to you before issuing a prescription. Medical cannabis affects everyone differently and may not help with your chronic condition.

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