Home > Health & Wellness > Health Library > Medical Marijuana
Marijuana, also called cannabis, is a drug that's made of the leaves, flowers, and buds of the cannabis plant. Medical marijuana can help treat symptoms like pain, nausea, and lack of appetite. It may be used by people who have health problems like cancer, AIDS, or multiple sclerosis.
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 experts don't recommend marijuana because:
Other experts recommend marijuana because:
Be sure to let your doctor know if you're using medical marijuana. If you're pregnant, it's not safe to use marijuana.
Marijuana can interact with other medicines. It can be dangerous if you use it with medicines that make you sleepy or control your mood. These include sedatives, anxiety drugs, antidepressants, and opioids. And it can be dangerous to use marijuana with alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.
Marijuana raises your chance of bleeding if you're on blood thinners. And it can affect your blood pressure. So use caution if you take blood pressure medicine.
Talk to your doctor about other medicines you use before you try marijuana. And talk to your doctor about any personal or family history of substance use disorders or mental health problems. Using marijuana may make these problems worse.
Marijuana may affect your judgment, memory, and concentration. And it may affect your coordination and decision-making. Do not drive or operate machinery after you use marijuana. Talk with your doctor about when it's safe to drive.
Long-term use of marijuana may increase your risk for severe nausea and vomiting. This is called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, or CHS. People who have CHS may feel very thirsty. They may have belly pain and diarrhea. They may vomit more than 20 times a day. Bouts of vomiting may last more than 24 hours.
Some people who use marijuana may develop cannabis use disorder. This can range from mild to severe. The more signs of this disorder you have, the more severe it may be. When it's severe, it's sometimes called addiction. People who have it may find it hard to control their use. And they may keep using marijuana even though it's having harmful effects on their life.
The risk of this disorder is higher in people who:
People who use marijuana often and then quit may have withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms include anxiety, trouble sleeping, and intense cravings for the drug.
If you smoke marijuana, the smoke could damage your lungs. It may make you cough or wheeze. And it may cause lung infections like bronchitis.
If you use medical marijuana and are pregnant (or think you might be) or you are breastfeeding, talk to your doctor. It can affect your baby's development.
People can smoke medical marijuana. They can also:
There are many types, or strains, of marijuana. Some strains are much stronger or have different kinds of effects than others. Talk to your health care provider or to the staff at the dispensary (sometimes called a budtender). They can tell you about the different strains you can try for your condition.
You may feel the effects for hours after you use the drug. How soon you feel them and how long they last can depend on many things. These include:
Some people use medical marijuana after trying other common medicines.
Doctors can prescribe two legal alternatives to medical marijuana. They are dronabinol (Marinol) and nabilone (Cesamet). Both of these drugs contain a man-made form of THC, the main chemical in marijuana.
Nabilone is used to relieve nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy. Dronabinol also can relieve this kind of nausea and vomiting. It may also improve the appetite of people who have AIDS. Both of these drugs can be used to relieve pain and spasticity from multiple sclerosis. Both drugs come in pill form.
Talk to your doctor if you think these medicines might help relieve your symptoms.
Synthetic marijuana is made of dried plant material that is treated with chemicals that produce effects like marijuana's effects. It is sold in the form of incense under many names, such as K2 or Spice. The labels often claim that these products are "safe" or "natural." But in fact, the active chemicals are created in a lab. And they have not been tested for safety.
But young people often try these products because they are easy to buy and they may not be detected by drug tests.
People think that using these drugs will make them feel the same as when they use marijuana. But these drugs are stronger than marijuana. And the effects are hard to predict. That's because the type and strength of the chemicals used are often unknown. Some people have reported severe symptoms, such as:
Current as of:
November 8, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: November 8, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.