Medical marijuana

Medical marijuana is now available in several states. People seek it to treat pain, nausea and some disease symptoms that don't respond to other treatments.

Medical marijuana is marijuana used to treat pain, nausea and other side effects of medical treatments, as well as some disease symptoms. Marijuana is made from the dried leaves and buds of the Cannabis sativa plant. It's most commonly used by smoking. Medical marijuana is also available as a pill or an oil.

In the United States, medical marijuana — also referred to as medical cannabis — is legal in over half the states and Washington, D.C. It may benefit adults and children with certain conditions. Depending on why a person is using medical marijuana, treatment may be short term or continue for years.

When is medical marijuana appropriate?

Studies report that marijuana has possible benefit for several conditions. State laws vary in which conditions qualify people for treatment with medical marijuana.

Depending on which state you live in, you may qualify for treatment with medical marijuana if you meet certain requirements and have one of the following conditions:

  • Multiple sclerosis or severe muscle spasms
  • Cancer associated with chronic pain, nausea or vomiting, or severe wasting
  • Epilepsy or seizures
  • Glaucoma, although the American Academy of Ophthalmology doesn't recommend medical marijuana
  • Crohn's disease
  • Terminal illness
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Tourette's syndrome
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Anorexia
  • Chronic pain from any condition, though this is a qualifying condition in only a few states

If you are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms or side effects of medical treatment, especially pain and nausea, talk with your doctor about all your options before trying marijuana. Doctors may consider medical marijuana as an option if other treatments haven't helped.

Is medical marijuana safe?

Further study is needed, but possible immediate and long-term risks of using marijuana to treat medical conditions include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired concentration and memory
  • Slower reaction times
  • Negative drug-to-drug interactions
  • Addiction, which occurs in about 10 percent of users who start smoking before age 25
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Mental illness in people with a tendency toward it
  • Increased risk of heart attack or stroke
  • Breathing problems, for people who smoke marijuana
Dec. 04, 2015 See more In-depth