Medical cannabis is one of the most promising new treatment forms in Australia – already more than a million Australians have been issued a prescription for medical cannabis to help them manage a range of common chronic conditions, from chronic pain to anxiety, insomnia, PTSD, cancer symptoms and more.
But as a new form of treatment, it isn't always clear what to expect as a patient at the start of your medical cannabis journey. Here are five ways to help ensure you make the most of your cannabis treatment plan.
Tip 1: Do Your Research
When talking to your doctor, it can be helpful to understand the kind of cannabis medications that are available in Australia, what they’re usually prescribed for and how they’re used.
For instance, the vast majority of medical cannabis prescriptions in Australia are for oral oils, but many people assume that they’re more likely to be prescribed dried flower. Others might come in expecting to be prescribed an edible, not knowing that these aren’t readily available in Australia. Also, did you know that vaporising is the only TGA-approved way to consume dried flower? It’s healthier, more effective and economical than smoking a joint.
There are heaps of articles on the Knowledge Hub that can help you get prepared, but here are a few to start you off:
Tip 2: Know What To Expect
Talking to a doctor about a medical cannabis prescription is a little different to talking to them about other medications. Once they've established that medical cannabis could be a good treatment option for you, they'll want to know about your experience with cannabis, either medically or recreationally, so that they can tailor their treatment recommendations to your personal level of comfort.
While this should be a two-way conversation – not comfortable using dried flower? Let them know! Have a particular strain in mind? Tell them about it! – at the end of the day your doctor will prescribe you the medication that they believe has the best chance of improving your health outcomes.
Tip 3: Start Low, Go Slow
This is as close to a commandment as you’ll find in the medical cannabis community. Most of the unpleasant side effects we associate with cannabis – paranoia, anxiety, nausea – are a result of improper dosing or, to put it another way, taking way too much.
Your doctor will establish a dosing regime with you during your appointment. This will suggest a starting dose, along with a schedule for increasing (or “titrating up”) the dose. If you’re new to cannabis, or even a particular type of cannabis – you may not have used oil before, for example – it’s important to keep to this schedule and to only up your dose by the amounts suggested, at the intervals suggested.
Tip 4: Keep A Journal
Medical cannabis is different from, say, a prescription painkiller, in that the sheer variety of cannabis formats, strains, cannabinoid balances, terpene profiles and dosage schedules – along with your own particular biochemistry – means everyone’s treatment will work slightly differently.
As a result, it can be useful, especially early on in your treatment, to keep a journal of your experiences. There are no hard and fast rules as to what you should include in a cannabis journal, but jotting down the type of medication, along with the dose, cultivar/cannabinoid balance and a few notes on what you felt and how effectively it alleviated your symptoms is a good start.
A journal not only helps you keep track of your own experiences, but also means that you have a common reference point when you have your next follow-up appointment with your doctor. You can use a paper journal, or else there are apps like Releaf that help you keep track of your treatment progress.
Tip 5: Be A Patient Patient
By definition, people are trying medical cannabis as a second, third or even tenth treatment option. Expectations can be high and patience low. If the treatment doesn’t provide immediate relief, patients might notch it up as yet another failed experiment.
However, we know from experience that it can take time to find the ideal medical cannabis treatment plan for a person’s particular set of symptoms, physiology and experience. This can be hard advice to swallow when you’re desperate for change, but the rewards for sticking with it, trying a few things and keeping an open and honest dialogue with your doctor, can be significant.