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About Medical Marijuana

The potential medicinal properties of marijuana and its components have been the subject of research and heated debate for decades. Today, a growing number of states have legalized dispensing of marijuana or its extracts to people with a range of medical conditions.

Concerns About Marijuana as Medicine

  • Development of drugs from the marijuana plant poses numerous challenges, as botanicals may contain hundreds of unknown, active chemicals, and it can be difficult to develop a product with accurate and consistent doses of these chemicals.
  • The adverse health effects of smoking and THC-induced cognitive impairment are still problems with the use of marijuana for medical reasons.
  • Little is known about the long-term impact of its use by people with health- and/or age-related vulnerabilities, such as older adults or people with cancer, AIDS, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, or other neurodegenerative diseases. Further research will be needed to determine whether people whose health has been compromised by disease or its treatment (e.g., chemotherapy) are at greater risk for adverse health outcomes from marijuana use.

FDA-Approved Medications

Researchers generally consider medications which use purified chemicals derived from or based on those in the marijuana plant to be more promising therapeutically than use of the whole marijuana plant or its crude extracts.

THC itself has proven medical benefits in particular formulations, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved THC-based medications dronabinol (Marinol) and nabilone (Cesamet), prescribed in pill form for the treatment of nausea in patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy and to stimulate appetite in patients with wasting syndrome due to AIDS.

In addition, several other marijuana-based medications have been approved or are undergoing clinical trials. Nabiximols (Sativex), a mouth spray that is currently available in the United Kingdom, Canada, and several European countries for treating the spasticity and neuropathic pain that may accompany multiple sclerosis, combines THC with another chemical found in marijuana called cannabidiol (CBD).

The FDA also approved a CBD-based liquid medication called Epidiolex for the treatment of two forms of severe childhood epilepsy, Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. It’s being delivered to patients in a reliable dosage form and through a reproducible route of delivery to ensure that patients derive the anticipated benefits. CBD does not have the rewarding properties of THC.

Medical Marijuana Laws & Prescription Opioid Use Outcomes

Early research suggested that states allowing medical marijuana use were experiencing a lower rate of opioid overdose deaths. However, investigators have uncovered no evidence that either broader cannabis laws (those allowing recreational use) or more restrictive laws (those only permitting the use of marijuana with low THC concentrations) were associated with changes or a reduction in opioid overdose mortality rates.