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Medical Marijuana - Topic Overview

What is medical marijuana, and is it legal?

Marijuana is a drug that is made up of the leaves, flowers, and buds of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. Medical marijuana is the use of this drug to help treat symptoms like pain, muscle stiffness (spasticity), nausea, and lack of appetite. It may be used by people who have conditions like cancer, AIDS, or multiple sclerosis.

In the United States, it is against federal law to possess, sell, give away, or grow marijuana for any purpose. It's also against federal law for doctors to prescribe this drug. But more than a dozen states have passed laws that allow people with certain health problems to buy or grow marijuana for their own use. Some states also allow or license people to provide medical marijuana to those who need it.

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If you use medical marijuana to treat an approved medical condition, the federal government might not prosecute you. But there's no guarantee.

Medical marijuana laws vary from state to state. If you think you might want to try medical marijuana, talk to your doctor. You can also call your state department of health or health services to learn more about the laws in your state.

What do the experts say?

The medical use of marijuana has been studied for decades. But experts still don't agree on how safe it is or how well it works.

Some medical experts don't recommend marijuana because:

  • It hasn't been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
  • Marijuana may impair your memory, judgment, and coordination. It can increase your risk of being in a car crash.
  • Marijuana smoke may harm your lungs.
  • There are legal drugs that may work just as well, such as new kinds of pain and nausea medicines.

Other medical experts do recommend marijuana because:

  • It can provide pain relief when normal pain medicines don't work or have unwanted side effects.
  • It can improve appetite and relieve nausea in people who have cancer or AIDS.
  • It may help relieve symptoms such as pain and muscle stiffness (spasticity) in people who have multiple sclerosis.

Be sure to let your doctor know if you are using medical marijuana. If you're pregnant, it is not safe to use alcohol or drugs, including marijuana.

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