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The Facts about Medical Marijuana

By Scott Barnes

Medical marijuana (or medical cannabis) refers to the use of marijuana as a physician-prescribed therapy to reduce the pain or discomfort associated with some medical conditions or to lessen the side effects of some traditional medical treatments.

Medical marijuana is used for a variety of ailments and conditions, including

  • Easing nausea and vomiting.

  • Stimulating appetite in chemotherapy and/or AIDS patients.

  • Reducing eye pressure in glaucoma patients.

  • Managing chronic pain.

  • Treating gastrointestinal illnesses.

Recent research has also suggested that some of the compounds in marijuana may have beneficial qualities for patients suffering from a variety of other conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Alzheimer's disease, breast cancer, brain cancer, Lou Gehrig's Disease, insomnia, and even asthma.

Medicinal compounds in marijuana

Cannabis contains almost 500 compounds, of which about 80 are used for medicine and science. Five of these compounds are used frequently in medicine:

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the chemical in marijuana that produces its psychoactive effects. This chemical has been proven to also be a mild pain reliever and sleep inducer, as well as an antioxidant.

  • Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the primary compounds extracted for medical marijuana. CBD has been provent to relieve convulsion, inflammation, anxiety, cough, congestion, and nausea, and it inhibits cancer cell growth.

  • Cannabinol (CBN) is thought to inhibit the spread of cancer cells.

  • β-caryophyllene is used to reduce inflammation.

  • Cannabigerol relieves intraocular pressure of the eye, so it's used in the treatment of glaucoma.

States that have legalized medical marijuana use

Currently, medical marijuana is legal in 18 of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia.

Alaska Michigan
Arizona Montana
California Nevada
Colorado New Jersey
Connecticut New Mexico
District of Columbia Oregon
Delaware Rhode Island
Hawaii Vermont
Maine Washington
Massachusetts

The laws regarding medical marijuana vary from state to state. For example, the amount of marijuana a person is allowed to possess ranges from one ounce to 24 ounces. The fee to obtain a medical marijuana ID card ranges from state to state as well (from $25 to $200). Most states require proof of residency for a person to qualify for a medical marijuana prescription, while other states accept registry ID cards from any state.

Several states that have legalized medical marijuana have received letters from the U.S. Attorney General's office stating that despite state laws, the federal government still considers the growth, distribution, or possession of marijuana to be a federal crime. In some cases, the Department of Justice has raided dispensaries of state-sanctioned medical marijuana, while the IRS and other federal agencies have targeted banks and landlords who do business with them. The discrepancy between state and federal laws will probably be played out in court in the coming years.

Public opinion of medical marijuana

The outcome of future court cases could be influenced by public opinion, which is changing. Recent polls indicate that about 83% of Americans are in favor of allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana for patients suffering from serious illnesses, up from just 62% in 1997. But opposition to the drug remains strong.

One of the biggest criticisms of medical marijuana has to do with an implied perception that the drug is administered by smoking. Decades of conventional wisdom have led people to believe that "smoking pot" is taboo — not to mention that smoking, whatever the substance, has been proven to be unhealthy. However, medical marijuana is often administered to patients in alternative ways, including inhalers, pills, and even edible baked goods. These means of dispensation have proven to be healthier and sometimes more effective in relieving patients' pain or discomfort.

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