Medical marijuana

Despite a federal ban, many states allow use of medical marijuana to treat pain, nausea and other symptoms.

Medical marijuana is marijuana used to treat disease or relieve symptoms. Marijuana is made from the dried leaves and buds of the Cannabis sativa plant. It can be smoked, inhaled or ingested in food or tea. Medical marijuana is also available as a pill or an oil.

In the U.S. medical marijuana — also referred to as medical cannabis — is legal in a growing number of states to ease pain, nausea and other side effects of medical treatments, as well as to treat some diseases. Depending on why a person is using medical marijuana, treatment may be short term or continue for years.

Is medical marijuana legal under federal law in the U.S.?

No. Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under federal law, and federal law regulating marijuana supersedes state law. Because of the discrepancy between state and federal laws, people may still be arrested and charged with possession in states where marijuana for medical use is legal.

Each state that has legalized medical marijuana regulates who may use it and how the product is distributed within its borders. Some states have processes for certifying and registering eligible people. Some have also designated dispensaries, or medical marijuana centers, where people can get the product and advice on dosing and what form to use for their condition.

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. If you're considering marijuana for medical use, check your state's regulations.

Depending on which state you live in, you may qualify for treatment with medical marijuana if you meet certain requirements and have a qualifying condition, such as:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Anorexia due to HIV/AIDS
  • Chronic pain
  • Crohn's disease
  • Epilepsy or seizures
  • Glaucoma, although the American Academy of Ophthalmology doesn't recommend medical marijuana
  • Multiple sclerosis or severe muscle spasms
  • Nausea, vomiting or severe wasting associated with cancer treatment
  • Terminal illness
  • Tourette syndrome

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.

Oct. 14, 2016 See more In-depth