September 2022

Considering Marijuana for a Health Condition? What You Should Know

Is marijuana a medical miracle? Or a dangerous drug that is best avoided? The answer likely lies somewhere in the middle. While marijuana may help with certain conditions, it's by no means a cure-all.

Marijuana, or cannabis, is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. The plant has been used for various medical purposes for centuries. Cannabis contains hundreds of chemical compounds, called cannabinoids. The main chemicals are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

Weighing the evidence

Researchers have found that cannabis may benefit some health conditions. However, most of the research involves taking medicines made from THC or CBD—not smoking or ingesting it. 

  • Epilepsy. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a medicine made from CBD to treat 2 rare types of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. There is not yet enough data to know if other cannabinoids may help with more common types of epilepsy. 

  • Nausea and vomiting. The FDA has approved two THC-based drugs for nausea and vomiting in cancer patients during chemotherapy. One of these medicines is also used to treat weight loss in people with AIDS.

  • Chronic pain. There is some research that shows cannabis or cannabinoids may help reduce chronic pain. A drug that contains both CBD and THC has been approved for use in some countries (not the U.S.) for nerve-related pain.

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS). Several small studies suggest synthetic cannabinoids may help ease pain and muscle tightness in people with MS.

Also, despite early research that showed a benefit, experts say cannabis is not a good option to treat glaucoma. Studies have shown it is not as helpful as other drugs.

Conditions where the jury is still out

There isn’t enough evidence yet to show if marijuana may help treat other conditions. These include:

  • Sleep problems

  • Anxiety

  • Irritable bowel syndrome

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Bottom line: Talk with your provider

There are still many unknowns about cannabis and its compounds. And using marijuana has its own risks, such as developing cannabis use disorder. To be safe, talk with your health care provider before using cannabis for any health condition. 

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2021
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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