What Does Medical Marijuana Treat Exactly?

Buds of Medical Marijuana with stethoscope

More than 4 million people use medical marijuana in the United States, according to a recent estimate. 

That’s serious growth considering that the first medical dispensary wasn’t started until 1992 in California (The San Francisco Cannabis Buyer’s Club). Marijuana use isn’t even legal in all 50 states. Medical marijuana, in some form, is available in 33 states.  

Medical marijuana is different than recreational marijuana and doctors prescribe it for use against specific sickness and diseases. Just 11 states and Washington, D.C. allow for the sale or use of marijuana for personal use. 

But what does medical marijuana treat?

Although a large cross-section of scientific studies is unavailable in the U.S. due to the federal government’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug — the same as heroin and cocaine — there is a great deal of evidence that medical marijuana can treat the following conditions.

Depression, Anxiety, and PTSD

Anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder have a better track record of treatment success than depression, but medical experts prescribe medical marijuana for all three issues.

In a 2017 survey, 81 percent of 9,000 people who answered in the United States believed that medical marijuana use was useful against anxiety.  

That said, it’s important to understand the difference between THC and CBD, the two active ingredients of marijuana. 

  • THC is the mind-altering chemical of cannabis (the one that gets you “high)
  • CBD is the second most common compound in marijuana after THC and believed to have anti-inflammatory, seizure stopping, and anti-anxiety properties. 

CBD occurs in common hemp plants as well as marijuana, while THC is either not present in certain hemp or found in very small amounts.

As far as treating anxiety, many users report short-term relief from panic disorders, social anxiety, some fears, and the flashbacks related to PTSD. 

Yet the use of medical marijuana to treat anxiety, depression, and PTSD needs to be carefully weighed.

Side effects of medical marijuana can include a fast heart rate, hallucinations, racing thoughts, and irritability. 

Fighting Chronic Pain

The most common and widespread uses for medical marijuana is fighting pain issues. A recent study in Health Affairs found that 65% of people prescribed medical marijuana did so for chronic pain.

The use of medical marijuana to combat chronic pain needs to be understood in its relation to the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States.

Many people have turned to marijuana as an alternative to highly addictive opioids. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported that there were 67,367 overdose deaths in 2018. Opioids, specifically synthetic opioids like fentanyl, were the main cause of these overdose deaths with 69% attributed to these compounds.

Medical marijuana, and THC’s high, is less addictive than opioids, although there is some risk of dependent behavior attributed to longterm marijuana use.

Also, if pot is not used instead of opioids, medical marijuana is used to go along with opioids to limit addiction.

According to U.S. Pharmacist, a trade publication for pharmacists, both factors have helped to reduce the number of opioid-related overdose deaths. 

You can find out how opioids and medical marijuana relate to one another on several online sites used for state-by-state marijuana prescription rules and services.

Nerve pain from diabetes, spinal cord injuries, regional pain problems, and arthritis are just some of the illnesses chronic pain sufferers said that marijuana helped relieve, according to a 2017 report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. The NASEM report also said people reported a 40 percent decrease in pain from medical marijuana. 

What Does Medical Marijuana Treat In Regards to Cancer? 

Fighting the pain and discomfort related to cancer and the side effects of chemotherapy has been one of the biggest drivers of state legislation for medical marijuana.

According to the American Cancer Society, marijuana has reduced nausea and increased appetite in patients undergoing chemotherapy. It has also shown promise in studies dealing with neuropathic pain, or pain caused by damaged nerves.  

But the American Cancer Society also issued a warning that marijuana is not a treatment for cancer and people with cancer shouldn’t attempt self-treatment with marijuana. 

Depending on what symptoms the patient is suffering from, the dispensary should give guidance on what type of medical marijuana is best to use. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate the marijuana industry, so THC levels vary from cannabis type and depending on the product.  

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis suffers are the second most common group of medical marijuana users after chronic pain sufferers.

There’s good reason to believe that the muscle spasms from MS — a painful disease that attacks the brain and nervous system — are helped by medical marijuana.

Of the 1 million Americans who suffer from MS, it is estimated that some 66% of them may be using medical marijuana in one form or another. 

Types of delivery methods for medical marijuana include smoking, vaping, and a wide variety of edibles. CBD is generally used as an oil but can also be smoked or vaped. 

Insomnia and Other Conditions 

The scientific verdict is largely out on if medical marijuana has an effect on insomnia. Yet, with millions of Americans each year reporting sleep-related issues, people have turned to medical marijuana for relief. The NASEM report warns that some THC can limit REM sleep and suppress vivid dreaming, but too powerful a dose can ramp-up anxiety.

Medical marijuana users back its use as a sleep aid and there is some evidence that THC can help stop the nightmares associated with PTSD.

Other illnesses and conditions that are prescribed for medical marijuana use include: 

  • HIV/Aids 
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Asthma
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • Endometriosis 

Always Exercise Caution 

Before taking any marijuana as a remedy for a serious condition or illness, you should talk to a physician “What does medical marijuana treat?” While some forms of THC or CBD may be right for you, others may not and could cause physical issues — high blood pressure and heartbeat problems.

Also, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should speak to their doctor before using marijuana.  

For more information on CBD, THC, and medical marijuana, search this site for more relevant articles.  

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