Mayo Clinic Q&A: The basic facts on treatment with medical cannabis

Do people who use medical marijuana need to be concerned about addiction?

  • Sunday, October 7, 2018 7:08pm
  • Life

Q: Medical marijuana is now legal in the state where I live. What conditions can it be used for and how effective is it? Do people who use medical marijuana need to be concerned about addiction?

A: Medical marijuana, also called medical cannabis, can be helpful in treating a variety of conditions. The specific disorders it can legally be used to treat vary from state to state. To date, it appears to be most effective for treating muscle spasms, chronic pain and nausea. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a form of medical cannabis to treat severe childhood epilepsy. There is no convincing evidence that cannabis used to treat medical conditions leads to cannabis dependence.

Marijuana comes from the Cannabis plant. In its leaves and buds are substances called cannabinoids. The plant contains more than 100 cannabinoids, but two are of particular interest for medical purposes: THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is the primary mind-altering ingredient in marijuana that makes people “high.” CBD does not trigger changes in the brain that lead to a high.

Possession of marijuana is illegal under federal law in the U.S. However, 30 states and Washington, D.C., currently have laws legalizing medical cannabis in some form. For you to obtain medical cannabis in those states, your health care provider must certify that you have a condition that allows you to buy medical cannabis from an authorized dispensary.

A recent report from the National Academies of Science reviewed and summarized the medical literature published about medical cannabis, specifically examining its effectiveness and safety. It concluded that medical cannabis was particularly effective for easing chronic pain, especially pain caused by nerve damage. It can effectively control nausea and vomiting and is often used to manage those symptoms in people undergoing chemotherapy. Medical cannabis also has been shown to be useful in relieving painful muscles spasms caused by conditions such as multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injuries.

The drug approved by the FDA for epilepsy is a liquid medication that’s sold under the brand name Epidiolex. It can be used for patients age 2 and older to treat two rare and severe forms of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. Epidiolex is a pharmacy-grade product composed almost entirely of CBD. It’s the first FDA-approved drug that contains a purified drug substance that comes from marijuana.

Examples of additional conditions that may benefit from treatment with medical cannabis, and are approved for its use in some states, include anxiety and depression, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, Tourette syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder and autism. Additional study is needed to further define the specific benefits medical cannabis may have for these and other related disorders.

If you are interested in exploring medical cannabis as a treatment option for a disease or condition you have, talk with your health care provider. If your provider isn’t familiar with it, ask if there’s another clinician in his or her practice who can answer your questions. The state’s department of health often has a website with details and resources to help patients who want to learn more about the benefits and risks of medical cannabis.

Talk to us

More in Life

Why a happy belly is a key to having a happy life

Most of the serotonin in our bodies (our main “good mood” hormone) is made in our gut. So a digestive problem can be a real drag.

When is the best time of day to take probiotics?

The exact time you take a probiotic is not as important as other considerations, such as why are you’re taking it.

How should we feed our baby when we’re running low on money?

Some formula companies have patient assistance programs that your pediatrician can help you find.

The Port of Everett is adjusting its summer outdoor movie series, Sail-In Cinema, to meet public health guidelines this year. It'll be a drive-in theater. (Port of Everett)
Outdoor movies on the waterfront: Drive in or lawn seating

A six-movie lineup by the Port of Everett features action, cartoons and rom-com.

Willem Wolters, 9, is half way through reading "Space Case" by Stuart Gibbs. Wolters was given the title of the nation's highest point earner in the Accelerated Reader program on Thursday, June 17, 2021 in Bothell, Washington. Willem is a fourth grader at Cedar Wood Elementary School in Bothell. The new national record is 2,145 points. That is over 14 million words read and 377 books. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
This Bothell boy read 380 books to beat last year’s national record

Willem Wolters, 9, earned more than 2,000 Accelerated Reader points, but mostly he just loves to read.

pizza with cheese. vector illustration on white background
You voted: The best pizza in Snohomish County

Even during a pandemic, people still have their favorites

Photo courtesy Laura Thompson 

Madison Thompson and her dog Stella.
Whidbey teen, golden retriever make top 8 in NY kennel show

Madison Thompson was one of the youngest competitors in her division of 80 kids.

Chris Stack and Samantha Soule film a scene of their movie, "Midday Black, Midnight Blue," on the Coupeville wharf June 14. (Photo by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times)
Indie film crew: Whidbey residents are ‘generous and welcoming’

The movie makers are shooting scenes for a full-length feature at various sites around the island.

Max Djenohan climbed Alaska's Denali in early June to snowboard off the summit. (Submitted photo)
From steamy ‘Naked and Afraid’ to snowboarding down Denali

Max Djenohan spent the pandemic pursuing outdoor adventures, clothed and in the buff.

Most Read