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Medical marijuana

Pot; Grass; Cannabis; Weed; Hash; Ganja

Marijuana is best known as a drug that people smoke or eat to get high. It is derived from the plant Cannabis sativa. Possession of marijuana is illegal under federal law. Medical marijuana refers to using marijuana to treat certain medical conditions. In the United States, over one half of the states have legalized marijuana for medical use.

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How Does Medical Marijuana Work?

Medical marijuana may be:

Marijuana leaves and buds contain substances called cannabinoids. THC is a cannabinoid that can affect the brain and change your mood or consciousness.

Different varieties of marijuana contain different amounts of cannabinoids. This sometimes makes the effects of medical marijuana hard to predict or control. The effects also may differ depending on whether it is smoked or eaten.

What Conditions Can It Help?

Medical marijuana may be used to:

Some small studies show that marijuana might relieve symptoms in people who have:

Smoking marijuana lowers pressure inside the eyes, a problem linked to glaucoma. But the effect does not last long. Other glaucoma medicines may work better to treat the disease.

How Do People Get Medical Marijuana?

In states where medical marijuana is legal, you need a written statement from your health care provider to get the drug. It must explain that you need it to treat a medical condition or to ease side effects. Your name will be put on a list that lets you buy marijuana from an authorized seller.

What Medical Conditions Qualify?

You can only get medical marijuana if you have certain conditions. The conditions marijuana can treat varies from state to state. The most common ones include:

Side Effects

Possible physical symptoms from using marijuana include:

Possible mental or emotional side effects include:

Who Should Not Use Medical Marijuana?

Providers are not allowed to prescribe medical marijuana to people younger than age 18. Other people who should not use medical marijuana include:

Other concerns linked to marijuana use include:

Prescription Drugs Based on Marijuana Compounds

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved marijuana for treating any health conditions.

However, the FDA has approved two prescription medicines that contain man-made cannabinoids.

Unlike medical marijuana, the active ingredient in these drugs can be controlled, so you always know how much you get in a dose.

References

American Cancer Society website. Marijuana and cancer. www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/complementary-and-alternative-medicine/marijuana-and-cancer.html. Updated August 4, 2020. Accessed January 19, 2022.

Deutsch JK, Hass DJ. Complementary, alternative, and integrative medicine. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 131.

Gonzalez D. Integrating palliative and curative care strategies in the practice of otolaryngology. In: Flint PW, Francis HW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 79.

Mostoufi SA. Chronic pain syndrome. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD Jr, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Musculoskeletal Disorders, Pain, and Rehabilitation. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 98.

National Cancer Institute website. Cannabis and cannabinoids (PDQ) - health professional version. www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/cannabis-pdq#section/all. Updated December 15, 2021. Accessed January 19, 2022.

Wilcoxson BJ, Denney-Koelsch EM, Holloway RG. Palliative care. In: Wing EJ Schiffman FJ, eds. Cecil Essentials of Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 147.

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Review Date: 11/4/2021  

Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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