Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana

By Anne Harding
WebMD Feature

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 glaucomaor nerve pain.

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At some point in life, many people just don’t feel the way they used to. The run that once cleared their head now just makes them uncomfortably aware of their knees. Or they’ve got achy joints that make them feel “old.” Although it is not uncommon with age to experience new aches, it isn’t normal to be in pain; that’s a sign that something is amiss. No two pains are alike, and it’s hard to predict what you may feel as you age. But there are certain pains that are more common at certain ages…

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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
  • Seizure disorders
  • Crohn’s disease

The FDA has also approved THC, a key ingredient in marijuana, to treat nausea and improve appetite. It’s available by prescriptionMarinol (dronabinol) and Cesamet (nabilone).

Continue reading below…

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:

  • Smoked
  • 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

Side effects of marijuana that usually don’t last long can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Euphoria

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:

  • People with heart disease
  • Pregnant women
  • People with a history of psychosis
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