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What is Medical Marijuana

A rundown of this controversial pain reliever


Marijuana plants grow at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, a not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensary in operation since 2006, on September 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.
David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Medical marijuana. It’s controversial but it’s gaining traction. Some states allow the sale of medical marijuana, but they are in the minority. It’s going to take more moves by policy makers and the U.S. government for it be sold nationwide.

What is medical marijuana?

It is the same marijuana/cannabis as that which is smoked recreationally but is used to alleviate pain or improve the quality of life in certain patients.

Which diseases does it help with the most and how?

• Cancer: It is an anti-emetic, which helps especially for chemotherapy patients suffering from nausea.

• AIDS: Also as an anti-emetic.

• Stimulates hunger

• Neurogenic pain

• Multiple sclerosis because it has muscle relaxant properties.

How does it help?

Marijuana contains the compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis. Some research has showed that it can help as a pain reliever. It’s a mild analgesic and affects parts of the brain that are controlled by anandamide, a neurotransmitter that is believed to play a role in pain sensation, memory, and sleep.

What’s the benefit of using medical marijuana over regular drugs?

It takes less toll on the liver, kidneys and other organs.

How is medical marijuana administered?

Most frequently it is smoked, but it can be taken through a vaporizer (which heats the marijuana so that the user can inhale the vapor from it and thus receive the benefits) or eating.

There’s also synthetic cannabinoid available in the drug Marinol (dronabinol), which is available in North America; and the drug Cesamet, which is available in Canada, the U.K. and Mexico.

Where is medical marijuana legal in the U.S.?

Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

In California, Colorado, New Mexico, Maine, Rhode Island, Montana, and Michigan pharmacies may sell medical cannabis.

Why is there opposition against the use of medical marijuana?

The main criticism leveled at medical marijuana is because it is often smoked. However, says George Mull, co-founder of the California Cannabis Association (CCA) and a Sacramento, Calif. attorney specializing in all areas of medical marijuana litigation: “There’s a traditional conservative block in this country that looks at marijuana as connected with radical politics and hippies, and that people are using medical marijuana to get high and not for a medical purpose.”

The Food and Drug Administration’s stance on smoked medical marijuana is that: "Marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. Furthermore, there is currently sound evidence that smoked marijuana is harmful.”

A study from the Institute of Medicine (albeit from 1999) showed that while it can’t recommend smoking marijuana for any disease, it can improve nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety. The report also pointed out that the long-term risks of smoking are not of great concern for the terminally ill or those with debilitating symptoms.

Does insurance cover medical marijuana? Is it expensive?

Medical marijuana is typically cheaper than traditional drugs but as yet is not covered by any insurance companies.

Is medical marijuana legal in other countries?

Canada, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Israel, Italy, Finland, and Portugal.

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