What about medical marijuana?

The marijuana plant itself has not been approved as a medicine by the federal government. However, the plant contains chemicals—called cannabinoids—that may be useful for treating a range of illnesses or symptoms. Here are some samples of cannabinoids that have been approved or are being tested as medicines:

  • THC: The cannabinoid that can make you “high”—THC—has some medicinal properties. Two laboratory-made versions of THC, nabilone and dronabinol, have been approved by the federal government to treat nausea, prevent sickness and vomiting from chemotherapy in cancer patients, and increase appetite in some patients with AIDS.
  • CBD: Another chemical in marijuana with potential therapeutic effects is called cannabidiol, or CBD. CBD doesn’t have mind-altering effects and is being studied for its possible uses as medicine. For example, CBD oil has been approved as a possible treatment for seizures in children with some severe forms of epilepsy.
  • THC and CBD:  A medication with a combination of THC and CBD is available in several countries outside the United States as a mouth spray for treating pain or the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

It is important to remember that smoking marijuana can have side effects, making it difficult to develop as a medicine. For example, it can harm lung health, impair judgment, and affect memory. Side effects like this might outweigh its value as a medical treatment, especially for people who are not very sick. Another problem with smoking or eating marijuana plant material is that the ingredients can vary a lot from plant to plant, so it is difficult to get an exact dose. Until a medicine can be proven safe and effective, it will not be approved by the federal government. But researchers continue to extract and test the chemicals in marijuana to create safe medicines.

For more information, see Drug Facts—Marijuana As Medicine

Legal Issues

A growing number of states have legalized the marijuana plant’s use for certain medical conditions, and a smaller number have voted to legalize it for recreational use. So, in some cases, federal and state marijuana laws conflict. It is illegal to grow, buy, sell, or carry marijuana under federal law. The federal government considers marijuana a Schedule I substance—having no medicinal uses and high risk for misuse. It is important to note that because of concerns over the possible harm to the developing teen brain, non-medical marijuana use by people under age 21 is against the law in all states.

For more information, see Drug Facts—Is Marijuana Medicine?