What is medical marijuana?
Though marijuana, or cannabis, is commonly known as a recreational drug, it has
been used as a medicine for thousands of years. Its recreational use is still
illegal in all but a handful of U.S. states. Many states have legalized it for
medical use, though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved it
as a medicine.
The mind-altering ingredient in marijuana is THC, short for
delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. The amount of THC in marijuana varies and has
been steadily increasing over the past few decades. According to the National
Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the average THC content of confiscated samples
was 3.7 percent in the 1990s. In 2013 it was 9.6 percent.
When THC enters the body it attaches to and stimulates cannabinoid receptors
in the brain. The stimulation of these receptors affects the body in various
ways. Among its effects are reduced pain and increased appetite.
Another chemical in marijuana that has beneficial health effects is
cannabidiol (CBD). Unlike THC, this chemical isn’t psychoactive and doesn’t
cause the intoxicating effects that THC does. According to NIDA,
CBD can possibly be used to treat childhood epilepsy. It could also be turned
into an oil for use as a healing salve. More research needs to be done into the
effects of CBD.
In states where medical marijuana use is legal, a doctor must write a
prescription for the drug.
does medical marijuana treat?
Researchers continue to study the medical benefits of marijuana. It may be
effective in treating:
- chronic pain, due of its effect on the
central nervous system
- muscle spasms,
associated with certain conditions, such as multiple sclerosis
Medical Association (CMA) states that marijuana may also be used to help
treat these conditions:
- chronic pain
- persistent muscle spasms, including multiple
- seizures, including those related to epilepsy
- severe nausea
- any other chronic or persistent medical symptom
that limits your ability to conduct major activities in life or can cause
serious harm to you if not relieved
Medical marijuana is used to relieve symptoms. It isn’t used to treat or
cure diseases. Using it won’t change the outcome of a certain disease. But it
can ease certain symptoms, make you feel better, and improve your quality of
According to the CMA, cannabis is most effective in
treating chronic neuropathic pain. This is pain from nerve injury or disease.
Because marijuana can make you hungry, it is also useful in treating conditions
or side effects of diseases that cause a loss of appetite, such as AIDS.
What are the risks of medical marijuana?
One possible risk of cannabis use is addiction. The debate over whether
cannabis is physically or psychologically addictive is ongoing. NIDA
cites research that suggests 30 percent of marijuana users may become addicted,
and people who smoke marijuana before the age of 18 are 4 to 7 times more
likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults.
If you do become dependent on marijuana, you may have withdrawal symptoms if
you stop using the drug. Withdrawal symptoms may include:
- mood difficulties
- decreased appetite
- physical discomfort
Smoking tobacco leads to both
COPD and lung cancer. Researchers are split on whether smoking marijuana can
lead to these diseases as well. Marijuana smoke does contain some of the
same elements as tobacco smoke. This raises concern for its effects on the
are the side effects of medical marijuana?
According to the National
Cancer Institute (NCI), possible side effects of marijuana use include:
- increased heart rate
- low blood pressure
- dizziness, light-headedness, or fainting
- short-term reduced memory
- short-term reduced attention span
- decreased problem-solving skills
Cognitive side effects of marijuana use include impaired:
- sense of time
- sensory perception
- attention span
- problem solving
- reaction time
- motor control
Other side effects of marijuana use are:
- lowered blood sugar levels
- increased bleeding
- adverse interaction with other medications or herbs
People with mental or
emotional disorders may have paranoia or hallucinations. It could also make
their depression or mania worse.
How is medical
Methods for taking cannabis include:
- smoking it
- baking it into food or putting it in other edible items
- taking it orally in synthetic forms, such as dronabinol
Your doctor will determine the specific dosage and frequency
of medical marijuana use.
Although the American
Cancer Society believes that more research needs to be done into medical marijuana’s
effectiveness for people with cancer, it’s still regularly prescribed to treat
many conditions. Marijuana is not a cure in itself, but it can be used to
relieve adverse symptoms of diseases or side effects of their treatments.
You need a prescription to use medical marijuana. Talk to your doctor if you
feel it may help with your condition.