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.

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.

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.

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

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

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two drugs made from synthetic forms of ingredients found in marijuana: dronabinol (Marinol, Syndros) and nabilone (Cesamet). These medicines are made from synthetic forms of certain ingredients in marijuana.

They can be legally prescribed for the treatment of nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy when other treatments have failed. Dronabinol may also be used for the treatment of anorexia associated with weight loss in people with AIDS.

The FDA has also approved two clinical research projects for new forms of marijuana ingredients.

Medical marijuana comes in a variety of forms, including:

  • Oil
  • Pill
  • Vaporized liquid
  • Nasal spray
  • Dried leaves and buds
  • Plant

How and where you purchase these substances legally varies among the states that allow medical use of marijuana. Once you have the product, you administer it yourself. How often you use it depends on its form and your symptoms.

Your symptom relief and side effects also will vary. You may notice the marijuana taking effect in 30 minutes or hours. The extent and timing of its effects may be harder to control with the pill form than with smoking.

Some medical marijuana is formulated to provide symptom relief without the intoxicating, mood-altering effects associated with recreational use of marijuana.

Oct. 14, 2016