Medical Uses for Marijuana

We hear a lot about marijuana in the media. Whether it's pundits debating pot's legalization or entertainers romanticizing its euphoria, marijuana is a perennial part of our national consciousness. Although all of us have heard of medical marijuana, few of us actually appreciate the remarkable range of conditions that cannabis treats.

Granted, the evidence supporting marijuana's efficacy as medical treatment is limited in rigor and scope. Nevertheless, there's easily enough peer-reviewed, evidence-based data on the subject to explore its uses.



Pharmacist and customer with medical marijuana
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For anybody familiar with the munchies, it should come as no surprise that both marijuana and dronabinol (Marinol), a pharmaceutical synthetic preparation of the drug, increase appetite in people with AIDS-related anorexia. However, marijuana may also increase CD4+ cell count in people with HIV infection.


Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's disease is an unrelenting and fatal disease which progressively destroys nerve cells responsible for voluntary movement. Nabilone, a synthetic cannaboid similar to dronabinol, may reduce spasticity-related pain in those affected with ALS. Moreover, marijuana may help with ALS-related loss of appetite, depression, drooling, pain, and spasticity.



Although less effective at stimulating appetite than another drug called megestrol acetate (Megace), dronabinol does help combat anorexia and weight loss associated with cancer.  Moreover, dronabinol and cannabis-derived oromucosal spray may help alleviate pain in people with cancer. Finally, both dronabinol and the spray may help with nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy.


Crohn's Disease

Marijuana may reduce the severity of symptoms during flare-ups caused by Crohn's disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease. Marijuana may also contribute to remission of the disease.



Marijuana has been shown to decrease seizure frequency in people with epilepsy who are otherwise resistant to medication therapy.



Marijuana may help alleviate some symptoms associated with fibromyalgia, and, research suggests that nabilone may help alleviate pain and anxiety associated with the disease.



Glaucoma refers to a constellation of disease that messes up the optic nerve and can lead to vision loss and blindness. Damage occurs on account of increased intraocular pressure.  Research suggests that THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, may reduce intraocular pressure.


Hepatitis C

Synthetic cannabinoids (nabilone and dronabinol) might help with anorexia and nausea caused by ribavirin and interferon, medications used to treat hepatitis C. Additionally, marijuana may help with adherence to drug regimens and even improve virologic response while people are taking hepatitis drugs. In other words, marijuana may make heavy-hitting hepatitis drugs easier to take and may even somehow improve their efficacy.


Multiple Sclerosis

Nabilone, cannabidiol oromucosal spray, and marijuana may all help with the pain and spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease which affects the brain and spinal cord and eventually leaves people unable to walk.


Rheumatoid Arthritis

Cannabis-derived oromucosal spray may help alleviate pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis and even help reduce disease activity. Interestingly, gold was once used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, too.


Final Thoughts

An astute reader will likely notice that we didn't include psychosis and depression on this list of conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana. For at least two reasons, this omission was purposeful. First, as is the case with much of the research on the therapeutic benefits of marijuana, there is limited research on the subject. Second, there's a dichotomy in how people view marijuana and mental illness. Some people think that marijuana exacerbates or even precipitates mental illness and others feel that it can help.

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Article Sources

  • Mello NK, Mendelson JH. Chapter 394. Cocaine and Other Commonly Abused Drugs. In: Longo DL, Fauci AS, Kasper DL, Hauser SL, Jameson J, Loscalzo J. eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 18e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2012.