Points to Remember - Medical Marijuana

Low Reading Level : 
  • The term medical marijuana refers to treating a disease or symptom with the whole unprocessed marijuana plant or its basic extracts.
  • The FDA has not recognized or approved the marijuana plant as medicine.
  • However, scientific study of the chemicals in marijuana called cannabinoids has led to two FDA-approved medications in pill form.
  • Cannabinoids are chemicals related to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s main mind-altering ingredient.
  • The body also produces its own cannabinoid chemicals.

What are marijuana’s effects on general physical health?

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Within a few minutes after inhaling marijuana smoke, a person's heart rate speeds up, the breathing passages relax and become enlarged, and blood vessels in the eyes expand, making the eyes look bloodshot (red). The heart rate—normally 70 to 80 beats per minute—may increase by 20 to 50 beats per minute or may even double in some cases. Taking other drugs with marijuana can amplify this effect.

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Marijuana use may have a wide range of effects, both physical and mental.

Does marijuana use affect driving?

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A person driving a car with impaired driving ability

Marijuana significantly impairs judgment, motor coordination, and reaction time, and studies have found a direct relationship between blood THC concentration and impaired driving ability.6–8 

Points to Remember

Low Reading Level : 
  • Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa.
  • The plant contains the mind-altering chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other related compounds.
  • People use marijuana by smoking, eating, drinking, and inhaling it.
  • Smoking THC-rich extracts from the marijuana plant (a practice called dabbing) is on the rise.
  • THC overactivates certain brain cell receptors, resulting in effects such as:
    • altered senses
    • changes in mood

Is marijuana a gateway drug?

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ome research suggests that marijuana use is likely to precede use of other licit and illicit substances44 and the development of addiction to other substances.

How do people use marijuana?

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Photo of dried marijuana and joints.Photo by ©Stephen Orsillo/Shutterstock

Is Marijuana Medicine?

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The potential medicinal properties of marijuana and its components have been the subject of research and heated debate for decades. THC itself has proven medical benefits in particular formulations. There are two FDA-approved, THC-based medications, dronabinol (Marinol®) and nabilone (Cesamet®), prescribed in pill form for the treatment of nausea in patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy and to stimulate appetite in patients with wasting syndrome due to AIDS.

Low Reading Level : 
Photo of a person's fingers holding up a marijuana leaf.

The term medical marijuana refers to using the whole unprocessed marijuana plant or its basic extracts to treat a disease or symptom. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not recognized or approved the marijuana plant as medicine.

A Rise in Marijuana’s THC Levels

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Marijuana potency, as detected in confiscated samples, has steadily increased over the past few decades.2 In the early 1990s, the average THC content in confiscated cannabis samples was roughly 3.7 percent for marijuana and 7.5 percent for sinsemilla (a higher potency marijuana from specially tended female plants).

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The amount of THC in marijuana has been increasing steadily over the past few decades.4 For a new user, this may mean exposure to higher THC levels with a greater chance of a harmful reaction. Higher THC levels may explain the rise in emergency room visits involving marijuana use.

What is marijuana?

High Reading Level: 
Illustration of leaves, buds, and flowers of the hemp plant
Low Reading Level : 

Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. The plant contains the mind-altering chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other related compounds. Extracts with high amounts of THC can also be made from the cannabis plant (see "Marijuana Extracts").

How might cannabinoids be useful as medicine?

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Currently, the two main cannabinoids from the marijuana plant that are of medical interest are THC and CBD.

THC increases appetite and reduces nausea. The FDA-approved THC-based medications are used for these purposes. THC may also decrease pain, inflammation (swelling and redness), and muscle control problems.

CBD is a cannabinoid that does not affect the mind or behavior. It may be useful in reducing pain and inflammation, controlling epileptic seizures, and possibly even treating mental illness and addictions.

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