Marijuana is made from the dried leaves and buds of the Cannabis sativa plant. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved the use of the marijuana plant as medicine, many states have legalized marijuana use.
The FDA has approved two drugs, dronabinol (Marinol, Syndros) and nabilone (Cesamet), made from synthetic forms of ingredients found in marijuana. They can be legally prescribed for the treatment of nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy when other treatments have failed. Dronabinol might also be used for the treatment of decreased appetite associated with weight loss in people with HIV and AIDS.
The FDA has also approved a liquid medication (Epidiolex) containing a purified form of cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical found in marijuana. This drug can be used for the treatment of rare forms of severe childhood epilepsy (Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome).
Medical marijuana is available as an oil, pill, vaporized liquid and nasal spray, as dried leaves and buds, and as the plant itself. The herb is typically used to treat nausea and vomiting associated with cancer treatment, loss of appetite and weight loss associated with HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, chronic pain and muscle spasms.
Research on the use of marijuana for specific conditions shows:
Glaucoma. Marijuana might reduce the pressure in the eye caused by this eye condition. However, the effect appears to last only a few hours. Some findings indicate that marijuana may decrease blood flow to the optic nerve, increasing the risk for vision loss in people with glaucoma.
Nausea and vomiting associated with cancer treatment. Research has shown that an active ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), effectively reduces nausea and vomiting in people undergoing chemotherapy.
Pain. Marijuana use might reduce the intensity of shooting or burning pain often due to nerve damage (neuropathic pain) caused by HIV, diabetes and other conditions.
Seizures. It’s not clear if marijuana effectively treats seizures.
Spasticity. Marijuana use might reduce muscle stiffness or spasms and urinary frequency caused by multiple sclerosis.
Evidence has shown that marijuana can effectively treat chemotherapy-induced nausea. It might also reduce muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis and decrease the intensity of neuropathic pain.
However, marijuana use can cause cognitive impairment and should be used with caution if you have a mental health condition. In many places marijuana use is considered illegal for any purpose.
Medical marijuana use is generally considered safe. But different strains of marijuana have different amounts of THC. This can make dosing marijuana difficult.
Marijuana can cause:
Other side effects may include:
Possible interactions include: