The truth about medical marijuana: science set to clear the haze

The Federal Government of Australia recently announced that it would legalise the growing of marijuana for medicinal and scientific purposes.

Although key elements of marijuana hold promise as a therapeutic agent for several conditions, such as chronic pain, controlling seizures, and improving psychiatric symptoms, recreational marijuana use is associated with substantial adverse effects including cognitive impairment and psychological problems.

Indeed, the pros and cons of marijuana remain a fiercely debated medical, scientific, public and political topic.

Emerging evidence suggests that the extent to which brain-related harms manifest from marijuana use depends on interactions between the two primary elements of marijuana plant matter: delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is psychotogenic and neurotoxic; and cannabidiol (CBD), which has purported neuroprotective properties to offset the adverse effects of THC.

There is, however, a lack of evidence as to whether increased CBD levels over prolonged periods of exposure maintains the neuroprotective properties and minimises marijuana-related harms. And, it is this knowledge gap that is limiting the national conversation on the legal status of marijuana for therapeutic applications and personal use, and that, importantly, raises significant ethical issues for healthcare providers seeking evidence-based treatment recommendations.

Professor Murat Yücel, Lead of MICCN’s Addiction Program, has been awarded a four-year NHMRC Project Grant to investigate whether, in fact, the neuroprotective properties of CBD can be therapeutic against THC-related brain and psychosocial harms.

“Addressing this question is critical considering the increasingly liberal policies towards the use and trade of marijuana products and the low CBD levels in typical street marijuana in Australia”, Professor Yücel said. “We will be conducting the first comprehensive examination of the links between prolonged exposure to varying concentrations of CBD within marijuana, brain injury and protection, and associated cognitive and psychological factors, in the hope that our discoveries can guide informed, evidence-based treatments that will ultimately improve the lives of thousands.”

MICCN congratulates Professor Yücel on the award of the grant.

For more information on Professor Murat Yücel’s research, please contact him on t: 03 9902 9765,
e: Murat.Yucel@monash.edu.

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