Updated: Jan 20, 2022
Posted on January 20, 2020
More than half of U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana in some form, and more are considering bills to do the same. Yet while many people are using marijuana, the FDA has only approved it for treatment of two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gestalt syndrome. Why hasn’t more research been done? One reason is that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) considers marijuana a Schedule I drug, the same as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, and likely to be abused and lacking in medical value. Because of that, researchers need a special license to study it, says Marcel Bonn-Miller, PhD, a substance abuse specialist at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.
The agency did, however, agree to support additional research on marijuana and make the process easier for researchers. "Research is critically needed, because we have to be able to advise patients and doctors on the safe and effective use of cannabis,” Bonn-Miller says.
He shared some background on medical marijuana’s uses and potential side effects.
What is medical marijuana?
Medical marijuana uses the marijuana plant or chemicals in it to treat diseases or conditions. It’s basically the same product as recreational marijuana, but it’s taken for medical purposes.
The marijuana plant contains more than 100 different chemicals called cannabinoids. Each one has a different effect on the body. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the main chemicals used in medicine. THC also produces the “high” people feel when they smoke marijuana or eat foods containing it.
What is medical Marijuana: What Does It Treat?
More and more states are legalizing marijuana to treat pain and illness. Find out what conditions it’s used for and the known side effects.
ABOUT Medical marijuana is used to treat a number of different conditions, including:
Eating disorders such as anorexia
Mental health conditions like schizophrenia and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Wasting syndrome (cachexia)
But it’s not yet proven to help many of these conditions, with a few exceptions, Bonn-Miller says. “The greatest amount of evidence for the therapeutic effects of cannabis relate to its ability to reduce chronic pain, nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, and spasticity [tight or stiff muscles] from MS,” Bonn-Miller says.
How does it help?
Cannabinoids — the active chemicals in medical marijuana — are similar to chemicals the body makes that are involved in appetite, memory, movement, and pain.
Research suggests cannabinoids might:
Reduce inflammation and relieve pain
Control nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy
Kill cancer cells and slow tumor growth
Relax tight muscles in people with MS
Stimulate appetite and improve weight gain in people with cancer and AIDS
Can medical marijuana help with seizure disorders? Medical marijuana received a lot of attention a few years ago when parents said that a special form of the drug helped control seizures in their children. The FDA recently approved Epidiolex, which is made from CBD, as a therapy for people with very severe or hard-to-treat seizures. In studies, some people had a dramatic drop in seizures after taking this drug. Which states allow medical marijuana?
Medical marijuana is legal in :
1. Alaska 2. Maine 3. Louisiana 4. Illinois 5. Maryland 6. Massachusetts 7. Michigan 8. Arizona 9. Arkansas 10. California 11. Colorado 12. Connecticut 13. Delaware 14. District of Columbia 15. Florida 17. Hawaii 18. Minnesota 19. Missouri 20. Montana 21. New Hampshire 22. Nevada 23. New Jersey 24. New York 25. New Mexico 26. North Dakota 27. Ohio 28. Oklahoma 29. Oregon 30. Pennsylvania 31. Rhode Island 32. Utah 33. Vermont 34. Washington 35. West Virginia
States that allow restricted use only include: Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. How do you get medical marijuana?
To get medical marijuana, you need a written recommendation from a licensed doctor in states where that is legal. (Not every doctor is willing to recommend medical marijuana for their patients.) You must have a condition that qualifies for medical marijuana use.
Each state has its own list of qualifying conditions. Your state may also require you to get a medical marijuana ID card. Once you have that card, you can buy medical marijuana at a store called a dispensary. How do you take it?
To take medical marijuana, you can:
Inhale it through a device called a vaporizer that turns it into a mist
Eat it — for example, in a brownie or lollipop
Apply it to your skin in a lotion, spray, oil, or cream
Place a few drops of a liquid under your tongue
How you take it is up to you. Each method works differently in your body. “If you smoke or vaporize cannabis, you feel the effects very quickly,” Bonn-Miller says. “If you eat it, it takes significantly longer. It can take 1 to 2 hours to experience the effects from edible products.”
Has the FDA approved medical marijuana?
The FDA has approved two man-made cannabinoid medicines — dronabinol (Marinol, Syndros) and nabilone (Cesamet) — to treat nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy. The cannabidiol Epidiolex was approved in 2018 for treating seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gestalt syndrome and Dravet syndrome. What are the side effects of medical marijuana? Side effects that have been reported include:
Low blood pressure
The drug can also affect judgment and coordination, which could lead to accidents and injuries. When used during the teenage years when the brain is still developing, marijuana might affect IQ and mental function.
Slideshow: Medical Marijuana
1/10 What Is Medical Marijuana?
Medical marijuana is any part of the marijuana plant that you use to treat health problems. People use it to get relief from their symptoms, not to try to get high.
Most marijuana that’s sold legally as medicine has the same ingredients as the kind that people use for pleasure. But some medical marijuana is specially grown to have less of the chemicals that cause feelings of euphoria.
2/10 Ingredients in Medical Marijuana
Marijuana plants have multiple chemicals, known as cannabinoids. The two main ones are THC and CBD. THC gives some of the pleasurable effects that pot smokers are looking for, but it also has some effects that may treat medical problems.
Some research suggests that CBD may be helpful for some health issues, but it doesn’t cause you to get high.
3/10 How Marijuana Works on the Brain
People who smoke marijuana begin to feel its effects almost immediately, while those who eat it may not feel it for up to an hour.
When you smoke pot, THC goes from your lungs to the bloodstream and causes your brain cells to release the chemical dopamine, leaving you feeling high.
Experts know less about how CBD works. They think it may work sometimes with THC, and sometimes on its own, to have an effect on the brain.
4/10 Uses for Medical Marijuana
Medical marijuana can cut down on seizures in people with epilepsy. It may help ease pain, nausea, and loss of appetite in people who have cancer and HIV. There’s not a lot of research on these areas yet, though.
Some studies show medical marijuana also may ease multiple sclerosis symptoms like muscle stiffness and spasms, pain, and frequent urination.
5/10 Short-Term Side Effects
Medical marijuana can change your mood, making you feel happy, relaxed, sleepy, or anxious. It can also disrupt your short-term memory and decision-making ability. These side effects can last 1 to 3 hours. Large doses of medical marijuana can make some people have hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. Research suggests that smoking marijuana can make breathing problems, like bronchitis, worse.
6/10 Long-Term Side Effects
Regular smokers of medical marijuana may get respiratory problems, such as a daily cough and a higher risk of lung infections. Studies also link routine use to mental illness, depression, anxiety, less motivation, and suicidal thoughts among young people. Marijuana use during pregnancy can raise the risk of health problems in babies. Marijuana use can result in addiction.
7/10 Drugs Made From Marijuana
The FDA has approved three drugs that include ingredients also found in marijuana. Dronabinol has synthetic THC and is used to treat nausea from chemotherapy and extreme weight loss in people with AIDS. Nabilone is used for the same reasons, but it has a man-made chemical that’s similar to THC. Epidiolex is made from CDB and has been approved for treating patients with severe of hard-to-treat seizures.
8/10 Forms of Medical Marijuana
Users smoke medical marijuana in paper-rolled cigarettes or pipes. You can also brew it into a beverage, eat it in cooked foods, or take it in pill form. The effects of a marijuana pill can be strong and long-lasting. This makes it hard to predict how it will affect a person. It can also be inhaled through vaporizers. Cannabinoid receptors have also been found in skin. Some use topical marijuana for pain and inflammation. More research is needed.
9/10 Where Medical Marijuana Is Legal
California voters were the first to legalize medical marijuana, in 1996. It’s now legal in almost half of U.S. states. If you live in a state where it’s legal and your doctor has OK’d it, you can buy it from an authorized seller known as a dispensary. Some people may legally grow their own medical marijuana.
10/10 Medical Marijuana for Children
Some studies suggest medical marijuana may help relieve seizures in children with hard-to-treat epilepsy.
A type of medical marijuana known as “Charlotte’s Web” may help kids without getting them high, because the strain has very little THC. Reviewed by Neil Lava on 12/15/2018
Because marijuana contains some of the same chemicals found in tobacco, there have been concerns that smoking it could harm the lungs. The effects of inhaled marijuana on lung health aren’t clear, but there’s some evidence it might increase the risk for bronchitis and other lung problems.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says marijuana can be addictive and is considered a “gateway drug” to using other drugs. “The higher the level of THC and the more often you use, the more likely you are to become dependent,” Bonn-Miller says. “You have difficulty stopping if you need to stop. You have cravings during periods when you’re not using. And you need more and more of it to have the same effect.”
Another issue is that the FDA doesn’t oversee medical marijuana like it does prescription drugs. Although states monitor and regulate sales, they often don’t have the resources to do so. That means the strength of and ingredients in medical marijuana can differ quite a bit depending on where you buy it. “We did a study last year in which we purchased labeled edible products, like brownies and lollipops, in California and Washington. Then we sent them to the lab,” Bonn-Miller says. “Few of the products contained anywhere near what they said they did. That’s a problem