Patient Rights Treatment Decisions & Safety Medical Marijuana Print The Legality of Using Medical Marijuana for Pain Relief By Trisha Torrey Updated July 16, 2019 Medically reviewed by a board-certified physician More in Patient Rights Treatment Decisions & Safety Medical Marijuana Navigating Your Diagnosis Medical Records Managing Medical Costs Patient Advocacy Healthcare Team Hospital Stay Safety Marijuana is increasingly being prescribed and used for a variety of medical reasons, including pain relief. But its use is controversial, and in the United States—as in every other country in the world—it continues to be illegal under federal law. Despite this fact, over half the states in the U.S. have approved the prescribing of marijuana for medical purposes. Here are some frequently asked questions about the use of marijuana for pain relief. What Is Medical Marijuana? Uriel Sinai/Getty Images Cannabis sativa, the Latin name for marijuana, is an herb that has been used for thousands of years to treat many different symptoms. It's also one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine (an alternative therapy). The active ingredient in medical marijuana, also known as medical cannabis, is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The herb cannabis/marijuana is labeled as a Schedule I substance according to the US Federal Government, indicating that (legally) it has no known medicinal properties or uses. There is also a synthetic version of THC called Marinol. Marinol is a Schedule III substance. What Is Medical Marijuana Used to Treat? Depending on the source of information, there are dozens of symptoms, as well as diseases and conditions that feature those symptoms, which can be treated and improved using medical marijuana. However, there's not much evidence to prove how it works; most of the evidence is anecdotal in nature. In many cases, professionals will tell you that it works only because people think it will work: the mind tells the body that pain has been relieved, or nausea has vanished. Others, usually proponents of the use of medical marijuana, will tell you that there is plenty of evidence. Among the symptoms that some believe may be relieved are: PainNausea, vomiting, and diarrheaImproving appetites for cancer and AIDs patientsReduction of pressure in the eyesDepressionCrampsPanic attacksItching Among the diseases it might be used to treat: Chronic painGlaucoma (relief of eye pressure)DystoniaMultiple sclerosisHIVRheumatoid arthritisSleep apneaTourette's syndrome How Is It Administered? The administration of the THC in marijuana is actually at the center of much of the controversy over its use. Until recently, medical marijuana had to be smoked in order for people to feel any benefit (or a high)—and because people were smoking it, it was controversial. But more recently, ingesting marijuana has become safer through the development of inhalers which vaporize the herb and allow the THC to be breathed in. Marijuana can also be swallowed through the use of capsules, and it's effective if eaten as an ingredient in brownies, cookies, cakes or other forms of sweets. Are There Benefits to Using Cannabis Instead of Other Drugs/Herbs to Treat Pain? Research has found that, compared to other pain drugs, cannabis takes less of a toll on the liver, kidneys and possibly other organs. What Side Effects Might Patients Experience by Using Medical Marijuana? Among the negative side effects that have been reported are anger, involuntary movements, and seizures. But remember, there hasn't been a great deal of formal research into these side effects, nor have they been formally documented any more than the benefits have been documented. What Other Names Are Used for Medical Marijuana? Both the herb and the synthetic versions of marijuana and THC go by a variety of names. Some names used for non-medical marijuana include pot, grass, weed, Maryjane, hash or hashish. While hemp is a form of cannabis, it's not the same form that can be smoked to create a high. The plant itself may be used for clothing or woven materials, but it's not used medicinally or for a high. There are also brand names for the synthetic versions of THC. In the US and Canada, the synthetic drug is called Marinol. In Mexico, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, a synthetic brand is called Cesamet. Where Is Marijuana Legal or Illegal? The prescribing, or use of, medical marijuana in the United States is illegal according to federal law. However, over two dozen states (plus Washington, DC) have legalized the use of medical marijuana, with varying restrictions. The Marijuana Pro Con website maintains information about states and their laws. Similar to the United States, medical marijuana is illegal in all other countries. However, there are places in many of those countries where provinces or states have also tried to override federal policies, including: CanadaThe synthetic form of cannabis/THC can be prescribed and used in Belgium, Austria, Netherlands, the UK, Spain, Israel, Finland, and other countries, as well as in some of the United States where the herbal form is still illegal.Many people believe marijuana is legal in the Netherlands (Amsterdam), but officially it is illegal. Its use by citizens of the Netherlands is not prosecuted. It is illegal for tourists to purchase it. What Are the Objections to Making It Legal Everywhere Else? The first is that marijuana is used recreationally for a high, and is smoked to gain that high. Legalizing it creates a slippery slope—and possibly new smokers—and many governments just don't want to go there. Secondly, there are major questions about the control of the supply as compared to its benefits. Because of the ways and places it's grown and sold, there is no way to guarantee that one dose of marijuana is equal to the next. Questions about quality, including the percent of marijuana (combined with fillers) in one dose, mean that consistency is in question. Even if one marijuana dose is compared to an equal dose, the potency and purity will not be the same. That makes it very difficult to do accurate research into its effectiveness, and impossible to label it accurately. How Can You Obtain Marijuana for Medical Use? See any of the sources below. There is a wealth of information available, but not all of it is objective or accurate. Be sure any of the websites you review follow the guidelines for credible, reliable health information online. Among the most important guidelines is the one that encourages you to find the most current information. The research, laws, and use of medical marijuana change frequently. Resources The following are some great resources for more information about medical marijuana and the current state of its use and legality throughout the country: Find a list of current research findings at Norml.com.Basic information about the medical use of marijuana and the law from the National Institutes of HealthMedical Marijuana ProCon: This website has a great deal of objective information on the pros and cons and facts regarding the use of marijuana for medical use and the legalization movement. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Sign up for our Health Tip of the Day newsletter, and receive daily tips that will help you live your healthiest life. Email Address Sign Up There was an error. Please try again. Thank you, , for signing up. What are your concerns? Other Inaccurate Hard to Understand Submit Article Sources DrugFacts: Is Marijuana Medicine? National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIH, revised July, 2015.