More states are passing laws that allow people to use medical marijuana. So what does it treat, and who can and should use it?
Pain is the main reason people ask for a prescription, says Barth Wilsey, MD, a pain medicine specialist at the University of California Davis Medical Center. It could be from headaches, a disease like cancer, or a long-term condition, like glaucoma or nerve pain.
Nerves extend from your brain and spinal cord, sending important messages throughout your body. If you have a pinched nerve (nerve compression) your body may send you warning signals such as pain. Don't ignore these warning signals.
Damage from a pinched nerve may be minor or severe. It may cause temporary or long-lasting problems. The earlier you get a diagnosis and treatment for nerve compression, the more quickly you'll find relief.
In some cases, you can't reverse the damage from a pinched...
If you live in a state where medical marijuana is legal and your doctor thinks it would help, you’ll get a “marijuana card.” You will be put on a list that allows you to buy marijuana from an authorized seller, called a dispensary.
Doctors also may prescribe medical marijuana to treat:
Muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis
Nausea from cancer chemotherapy
Poor appetite and weight loss caused by chronic illness, such as HIV, or nerve pain
The FDA has also approved THC, a key ingredient in marijuana, to treat nausea and improve appetite. It's available by prescription Marinol (dronabinol) and Cesamet (nabilone).
How Does It Work?
Your body already makes marijuana-like chemicals that affect pain, inflammation, and many other processes. Marijuana can sometimes help those natural chemicals work better, says Laura Borgelt, PharmD, of the University of Colorado.
How Is It Used?
Medical marijuana may be:
Vaporized (heated until active ingredients are released, but no smoke is formed)
Eaten (usually in the form of cookies or candy)
Taken as a liquid extract
Side effects of marijuana that usually don’t last long can include:
Short-term memory loss
More serious side effects include severe anxiety and psychosis.
Risks and Limits
Medical marijuana is not monitored like FDA-approved medicines. When using it, you don’t know its potential to cause cancer, its purity, potency, or side effects.
Only people who have a card from a doctor should use medical marijuana. Doctors will not prescribe medical marijuana to anyone under 18. Others who should not use it: