If you’re new to medical cannabis, you may be overwhelmed by the volume of information available. As research presses ahead and creates a stronger case for cannabis’s role in health, there are also innovations in other areas. New strains are being developed as are many different cannabinoid and cannabis products.
One thing that can cause confusion is the terminology surrounding the various forms of cannabis and cannabinoid-based treatments. For example, you may hear frequently about “medical cannabis” but less about prescription cannabinoids. This can lead people to wonder if they’re two terms for the same treatment.
The two terms aren’t synonymous. While prescription cannabinoids and medical cannabis are both cannabinoid-based treatment options, there are some significant differences.
What Is Medical Cannabis?
The term “medical cannabis” is probably the more familiar term for most people. It makes sense to start here.
Medical cannabis is the term used to describe the dried buds of the cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa). This is the most common form of cannabis, whether it’s being used recreationally or as a medicinal treatment.
There are several ways to use medical cannabis, but the most common method of administration is smoking. Other products, such as cannabis oil, can also be derived from the plant. While this is usually identified as an oil, it may be termed “medical cannabis” as well.
What Are Prescription Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are the active substances in the cannabis plant. These substances give rise to medical cannabis’s effects. There are more than 100 known cannabinoids, and each of them interacts with the human body’s endocannabinoid system. Different cannabinoids have different effects. THC and CBD are two of the best known, in addition to being the most medically important and the best-researched thus far.
Prescription cannabinoids are generally considered a class of prescription medications, and they include nabilone, dronabinol, and THC/CBD. These substances are traded under names such as Marinol, Ceasmet, and Sativex. Others also exist, but these three are the only ones currently legal in Canada.
What’s the Difference?
Prescription cannabinoids like nabilone and dronabinol are generally synthetic, while medical cannabis is natural. Prescription cannabinoids are thus like other prescription medications you can get from the doctor. They may come as a spray or a capsule, which you can take like other medications.
Medical cannabis, on the other hand, is usually part of the plant itself or an oil extracted from the plant.
Which Is Better?
There isn’t really a “correct” answer to this question. For some people, medical cannabis will be the right solution. For others, prescription cannabinoids are a better option.
Generally speaking, prescription cannabinoids may be favoured because they can be more systematically controlled. Since they’re man-made, the quality and quantity of the compounds they contain can be standardized more easily. While medical marijuana strains and producers work to ensure their products meet stringent quality standards set by Health Canada, there can be some variation.
Prescription cannabinoids can also help people avoid smoking, which is a concern for many patients and medical professionals alike. If a patient would like to test medical cannabinoid treatments, but doesn’t wish to inhale, prescription cannabinoids may be one alternative. Cannabis oil is another.
Which Is Right for You?
There are many questions you should ask a medical professional before deciding whether prescription cannabinoids or medical cannabis are right for you. Some considerations include an aversion to smoking, the medical condition or symptom you wish to treat, and any side effects you may know of or experience when using cannabinoids medicinally.
Nabilone and dronabinol, for example, have been demonstrated as relatively effective for the treatment of certain cancer symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting. CBD and THC, however, have different effects, so they may not be as appropriate for treating these particular symptoms.
Talk to your doctor or another medical professional about medical cannabinoids and if they could be right for you.