What is medicinal about marijuana?

Let’s start by looking at what medicinal properties marijuana actually has.

Marijuana consists of several hundred chemical components, but the most well known is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which causes marijuana’s “high.” It can also be used to treat nausea and vomiting. In fact, there are two FDA-approved synthetic versions of THC, Dronabinol (also called Marinol) and Cesemet, which are prescribed to treat nausea and vomiting for patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer or to stimulate appetite for patients with AIDS. A side effect of these drugs is euphoria, which means they can make you high.


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At the federal level, only these two medications are legal. THC or other extracts, whether synthetic or derived from the marijuana plant, are not.

The other marijuana compound with known medical applications at present is cannabidiol (CBD). Unlike THC, CBD does not produce a high. There are no FDA-approved medications based on CBD yet, although it is being studied as promising treatment for severe epilepsy and pain.

Proponents of medical marijuana argue that the combination of the chemical components present in the plant itself provides the most effective treatment for some medical symptoms. However, the amount of the medically important components differs from one plant to the next, and other potentially harmful components may also be present in the natural product. Research examining this issue is critically needed. 

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In some states ‘medical marijuana’ means marijuana

The phrase “medical marijuana” might give you the image of people buying plants or dried marijuana to smoke. That’s the case in some states with medical marijuana laws, but not all.

In 21 states and the District of Columbia as of this writing, people can possess marijuana in plant form for medical purposes. But, of course, there is plenty of variation between these 21 states.

For instance, in 15 of those states, laws permit people to cultivate marijuana plants for medicinal use. Limits on the number of plants vary from state to state, but most of the states allow for 6-12 plants. And some of those states limit the number of mature versus immature or seedling plants people are allowed to have.

Several of these 15 states allow home cultivation only under certain circumstances. For example, Massachusetts allows patients to cultivate plants if a state dispensary is not nearby or for financial reasons. Other states require the cultivation to be in a locked area or have other restrictions.

In six other states, medical marijuana laws allow people to possess usable marijuana, but prohibit them from cultivating the plant.

Still with me? Good. Those are just the states that permit people to possess marijuana or to cultivate plants to some degree or another.