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'Medical Marijuana'—what are the benefits of using it?

Updated on May 29, 2012

Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the United States and lately has been the source of controversy among those who favor its use and those who are against legalizing marijuana. So far 14 states have legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. These states include Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

The controversy surrounds the active ingredient in marijuana which is Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC for short. Some claim that using marijuana increases the probability that users will eventually use harder drugs. Although the validity of this hypothesis has been highly debated, it has been one of the central pillars of anti-marijuana policy in the United States.

Among the list of the top 10 Pros and Cons of marijuana use the debate of whether or not marijuana should be a medical option is at the top of the list. Of individuals polled, 43.6 percent said they favored marijuana as a medical option, and 17.8 percent said they were opposed to marijuana use in medicine.

In a March 26, 2004 editorial in Providence Journal, former U.S. Surgeon General, Jocelyn Elders, M.D., says, "The evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS -- or by the harsh drugs sometimes used to treat them. And it can do so with remarkable safety. Indeed, marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day."[1]

But in opposition to the use of marijuana as medicine, former U.S. Senator (R-TN) said, "Although I understand many believe marijuana is the most effective drug in combating their medical ailments, I would caution against this assumption due to the lack of consistent, repeatable scientific data available to prove marijuana's medical benefits. Based on current evidence, I believe that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that there are less dangerous medicines offering the same relief from pain and other medical symptoms."[2]

There is no convincing scientific evidence that marijuana causes psychological damage or mental illness but there is evidence that marijuana has properties that helps patients deal with a variety of diseases. According to David L. Bearman, MD, physician and medical marijuana expert, if you smoke cannabis your chances of getting lung cancer are less than if you don't smoke anything at all."[3]

In various studies about the medicinal value of marijuana findings indicate that marijuana does have some medicinal value and therefore should be a medical option.

Women who suffer from premenstrual syndrome or PMS will tell you that PMS has many symptoms that occur at once. There is bloating and stomach distress, moodiness, cramps, backache and headache, and it is very difficult to find any one medicine that can treat all of the symptoms at once. But marijuana is an analgesic and an anti-inflammatory and it attacks many of the physical symptoms of PMS. Marijuana also helps moodiness in women who suffer with PMS because it works in the brain to make dopamine more readily available. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter important in thinking, motivation, short-term memory and some emotions, as well as immune function and motor control.

The anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects of marijuana may also help arthritis sufferers find instant relief from sore, swollen and stiff joints.

National Cancer Institute scientists have tested marijuana as an alternative drug to help cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Among cancer patients who are going through chemotherapy marijuana has been the number one drug of choice because it helps soothe the nausea that is one of the common side effects of chemotherapy.[4]

Glaucoma causes an increased internal eye pressure, but according to David L. Bearman, using medical marijuana can decrease that internal eye pressure up to 20 hours at a time. The most common conventional treatment for Glaucoma is drops that are placed in the eyes, which some patients do not tolerate very well. The downside of the treatment is that health insurance does not currently pay for medical marijuana. Because of this pitfall, many patients may not be able to afford the medication.

Migraine headaches are caused by excessive neural stimulation. When a migraine sufferer consumes marijuana, a mechanism called retrograde inhibition helps slow the speed or neurotransmission in the brain which alleviates the pain and other associated symptoms, like nausea and sensitivity to light, that accompany migraines.

Fibromyalgia is a very painful medical disorder that affects the muscle and connective tissue. It is characterized by chronic widespread pain and a heightened painful response to pressure. But Fibromyalgia symptoms are not just restricted to pain. Other symptoms include debilitating fatigue, sleep disturbance, and joint stiffness. Some patients may also report difficulty with swallowing, bowel and bladder abnormalities, numbness and tingling, and cognitive dysfunction. Research has shown that sufferers of Fibromyalgia find relief from their pain, stiffness and fatigue by using medical marijuana. Marijuana is a powerful pain reliever and has some anti-inflammatory effects.

Marijuana when used before bedtime can have a positive effect in producing sleep that many sufferers of insomnia find preferable to the conventional over-the-counter or prescription sleep medicines. Marijuana slows down rapid thinking and neurotransmission in the brain. It also helps those who suffer from insomnia deal with other symptoms that may act to keep them awake, such as pain and anxiety.

AIDS patients deal with a variety of symptoms, including pain, nausea and loss of appetite. Medical marijuana can help HIV and AIDS patients deal with pain but its most common use and greatest benefit is found in marijuana’s ability to suppress nausea and boost appetite.

It is also believed that marijuana may play a role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Crohn’s disease. These are but a few of the possibilities of marijuana use in medicine. The problem is that for too long marijuana has been viewed as a terrible street drug that is only good for getting people high. More research and study is needed to conclude the findings that support marijuana in medicine.


[1] ProCon.org, Top 10 Pros and Cons, Should marijuana be a medical option?, http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000141

[2] ProCon.org, Top 10 Pros and Cons, Should marijuana be a medical option?, http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000141

[3] ProCon.org, http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.source.php?sourceID=000594

[4] National Cancer Institute, Marijuana Use in Supportive Care for Cancer Patients, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Support/marijuana

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