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Medical Cannabis VS Herbal Medicine: What’s the Difference?

In recent years, ‘wellness’ has become a pop culture buzzword that’s hard to escape.

With the term encapsulating crazes from vitamin IV drips to diets to medicines, it’s important to make the distinction between wellness products like herbal medicines and more traditionally used pharmaceutical medicines so that you can make more informed decisions about both prescription-only and over-the-counter cannabis products.

What Is medical cannabis?

Medical cannabis is a term that refers to cannabis-based products that can be prescribed by doctors to treat medical conditions.

Research shows that medical cannabis products like Sativex, Dronabinol and Epidiolex could be useful for treating a number of conditions including epilepsy, vomiting and nausea caused by chemotherapy and even appetite and weight loss experienced by those with AIDS.

What is herbal medicine?

Herbal or botanical medicine is defined as any herbal remedy that has biological activity which is shown to support health and wellness. Indeed, as defined by the NHS: ‘Herbal medicines are those with active ingredients made from plant parts, such as leaves, roots or flowers’. Herbal medicine is relied upon by most of the world’s population, with cultural preferences for natural products driving this popularity, as well as the fact that herbal medicine is typically affordable and easy to access. This popularity also highlights that herbal medicines are often taken without any kind of input from doctors.

Their usefulness should not be fully dismissed though, as herbal medicines can be used to treat various conditions where drugs do not always work. They can also be used so that drug-related side effects such as addiction or habituation can be avoided. Furthermore, they are often used to compliment a concurrently prescribed pharmaceutical treatment – for example they may be used to alleviate stress, stop insomnia and to minimise anxiety or pain.

Nonetheless, drugs consistently outperform herbal medicines in medical emergencies and acute and life-threatening conditions, so use of herbal medicines for these purposes is not recommended. Indeed, it’s critical to note that herbal or botanical medicines, unlike regulated drugs, can have content and consistencies that vary widely.

While the majority of modern drugs are in fact derived from plants, the majority of herbal remedies are not produced as medications; this means that herbal remedies do not have to follow the same standards and regulatory controls as drugs.

In the UK specifically, the regulations are different for herbal medicines and drugs, with herbal medicines being categorised simply as food additives.

Getting evidence for the effectiveness and efficacy of herbal medicines is also a big challenge for researchers as, unlike conventional drugs, herbal medicines often contain hundreds of potentially active compounds. Each of these compounds may have different mechanisms of action at multiple receptor sites throughout the body, where these chemicals can interact with each other and the body’s own receptors, resulting in a highly complicated pharmacological situation.

Further investigation and research into medicinal cannabis and alternative medical options is thoroughly encouraged by The Academy, particularly through the use of our own online coursesevidence base and whitepapers.

The rest of our resources are available on our website. We urge anyone considering use of medical cannabis products to consult with a trained medical professional prior to beginning use.

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