Drugs & Health Blog

Making Medicine From Marijuana

The NIDA Blog Team

This is the second post of a 3-part series on the science of medical marijuana.  Check out Part 1: What’s Wrong With “Medical Marijuana”? and Part 3: Medicines or Poisons?—Why Cannabinoids Can Both Help and Hurt You.

What people usually mean by “medical marijuana” is use of an unprocessed (raw) plant to treat illness—or herbal medicine, in other words. Unprocessed means the leaves, stems, or seeds are just taken off the plant and used.

Before the 20th century, that’s mostly what medicine was.

But science has made a lot of progress in the last several decades, and generally it hasn’t looked back. It’s because we now have ways of picking out the specific chemicals that are useful from plants and putting just those parts in a pill, without all the unwanted chemicals that might cause side effects or even be toxic.

This is what a lot of scientists are busy doing right now with marijuana—trying to figure out which chemicals in the plant really are useful in treating health problems and then finding ways to deliver them safely and effectively to patients to treat their conditions.

Turning Marijuana into Medicine

At the last count, scientists have found over 500 separate chemicals in the marijuana plant. The main chemical that gives users the “high” is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, but there are over 100 other chemicals in marijuana that have a similar molecular structure to THC. This family of chemical compounds is called cannabinoids.

So far, there are two FDA-approved medications containing THC for treating nausea and appetite problems caused by cancer chemotherapy and AIDS. Other drugs with THC in them have been approved already in other countries for treating symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) and are now being carefully tested before being approved in the United States.

Another marijuana chemical is cannabidiol, or CBD. News reports have highlighted some families who are living in states where medical marijuana is legal so their children with bad forms of epilepsy can get special high-CBD marijuana extracts to help control seizures.

These extracts probably still contain other, possibly harmful ingredients. But a medicine only containing CBD is now being tested in the United States. If the science finds that CBD really is a good treatment for seizures, eventually patients may be able to take that or another safe, CBD-based medication. This could help people get the safe treatment they need.

Cannabinoids and Other Diseases

Lots of different cannabinoid chemicals are being studied to see whether they have beneficial effects on conditions ranging from addictions and other mental health problems to pain and other serious conditions. Most are still a long way from being studied in humans and going on to become medications.

In Part 3, we’ll look at why chemicals in the marijuana plant could be so helpful even though they may also be harmful. It turns out, marijuana’s not unique in being two-faced!

Categories: 
Marijuana
Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.

Comments

Why did we make it illegal and arrest people?

The history of marijuana in the United States is long and complicated.  It's a topic we hope to tackle on the Drugs & Health blog sometime in the future.  For now, it's best to direct any questions about the legality of marijuana to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

We made marijuana illegal because it has more severe effects on the humans body and cause too much brain altering affects. people became so addicted to the drug that they became uncontrollable and started stealing and hurting people to get to this drug that the body needed to feel right.
yes marijuana does have its good and bad side affects but alcohol is a way bigger problem then marijuana is.
I believe you are mistaking crack cocaine for marijuana. cannabis has no such symptoms on individuals. A person who indulges in the cannabis plant does not become violent or hurt others to obtain it. I speak from experience being an ex smoker of cannabis. if you don't have that body does not crave it to the extent that you have to rob someone, it just gives a minor head ache as a person would that hadn't had coffee in a extended period of time
The following comment applies to adults only--kids absolutely should not be using any drugs. Most drugs are two-faced but not all. Tobacco, for example, has only one face and it's all bad. Tobacco smoke damages almost every organ in the human body and 32 percent of users become dependent--the highest rate of any drug. The Surgeon General says that 480,000 people die from tobacco every year, and also says that "Every adult who dies early because of smoking is replaced by two new, young smokers, one of whom also will die early from smoking." (See: http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports/50-years-...) Alcohol has only a very small good face--it may reduce the risk of heart disease for some at-risk populations. But it kills about 88,000 people a year, according to the Surgeon General, and about 15 percent of users become dependent. Moreover, it causes about one-third of traffic fatalities and it has the very bad property of making a lot of people violent when they consume too much of it. With marijuana, the good face is much bigger than the bad one. Only 9 percent of users become dependent, the harms that it causes pale in comparison with those of alcohol and tobacco, and the number of deaths is zero--or at least so close to zero that it can't be detected in population studies. On the good side, it is very effective for treating nausea, seizures, spasms, and neuropathic pain, and it does not have to be smoked. It probably has many more medical uses--possibly even for cancer, diabetes, Alzheimers, ALS, and PTSD--but NIDA unfortunately has made it very difficult to do research on marijuana's potential benefits, although that is beginning to change.
what about its uses in psychoses
It sounds like a good idea.
I don't think we should be using marijuana in medication
i think we can find something else to put in medicine
If the doctors are using it to make medicine it makes people think it's even more okay to use.
Great site and thanks for the info.
Well if we get any use for its medical properties I think they should allow it.
I don't see the problem with marijuana it is safer on your body than most pills,people that get drunk cant even talk walk or drive and it is everywhere so why cant people be allowed to use this and we all know what tobacco dose to people.i live in Arkansas and for some reason they just refuse to make it available to us.I have used it in the past and it was way better than any other drug.I don't get it all the money spent on all the drug test.It just drives me crazy,people don't care if someone is drunk and working,driveing.No body dose anything about that.Atleast people can still do everything while they use marijuana so what is the big deal.I think its all about the money.The government don't know how to take control of the money from it.I think that is the problem.They don't care how much pain people are in how bad they suffer.they just say give them more pills............... that's the problem.People are on so many pills.It is so bad that you have to urinate in a cup just to get pain pills do you know how humiliating that is.It makes me feel like I am just a drug addict well that's what they are turning me into and I hate it.Just give me some marijuana and be done with it already it works better it don't hurt my body as bad as all those freaking pills do.Then people wonder why people are so addicted to pills.everything I just wrote is why!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Well analyzed information, thanks for this great post.
Great thread. Thanks.
They keep it illegal so they can legally arrest minorities in the country without appearing to be racist. Smoking it in it's natural form is the best medicine that there is, no question about it.
Thanks for the information, much appreciated.
It is more informative and useful to the readers
Finally I agree 100% marijuana is only illegal because in 1926 some head honcho of a logging company saw hemp as a dangerous competitor to wood in the heating industry, so he hired some movie makers to make "Reefer Madness", which is now a comedy to most smokers.
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i think weed would be good for peoples with hiv and herpes the pain is very painful.
Its a really sad thing that people use medicine for personal pleasure and addiction. This was a good article and I enjoyed reading it.
They keep it illegal so they can legally arrest minorities in the country without appearing to be racist. Smoking it in it's natural form is the best medicine that there is, no question about it. [link removed per commenting policy]
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