Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on January 4, 2023

Cannabis has been used for its healing properties since ancient times. Back then, medical cannabis was used as a painkiller, anesthetic, for insomnia, headaches, wounds, and many other ailments, and also in religious practices, and even consumed recreationally. 

Unsurprisingly, medical marijuana is still being used for treating many conditions. This is why cannabis is avidly researched in a lot of studies, and its use as a medicine will only expand in the future.

This article will give you information on how medical marijuana is used today, what conditions it treats, and what side effects you can expect if you use it.

Marijuana and Its Essential Cannabinoids THC and CBD

Before we go into how medical marijuana is used as a treatment option today, we need to say a word or two on the most widely researched compounds of weed – delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

THC and CBD, along with other cannabinoids and terpenes are part of over 400 compounds which are found in weed. Besides treating some medical conditions, when consumed, the cannabis plant also produces effects such as euphoria, sedation, relaxation, heightened sensory perception, and others, all thanks to the special relationship between the cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system in the human body.

After consumption, the cannabinoids in weed bind to the cannabinoid receptors that are found in the endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for maintaining the balance in our hormones, metabolism, memory, and other vital functions. This is how they produce the effects that users experience after weed consumption. Now that that’s explained, let’s get into the benefits and side effects of medical marijuana.

The 411 on Medical Cannabis

Medical marijuana and recreational marijuana aren’t that different from each other, though the former is often higher in CBD, and the latter is higher in THC. Because of the different ratios in these cannabinoids, medical cannabis is mainly used to treat and manage medical conditions, while recreational cannabis is used for the psychoactive and relaxing effects it produces as a recreational drug.

As a result of the many benefits it provides when prescribed by healthcare professionals for numerous illnesses, weed has been legalized in a lot of countries all over the world and in over 30 US states, so let’s find where exactly you can buy it legally.

Where Is Medical Marijuana Legal?

The use of medical marijuana hasn’t been legalized on a federal level in the US, however, it has been legalized in the following 36 states and the District of Columbia:

  1. Alabama;
  2. Alaska; 
  3. Arizona;
  4. Arkansas; 
  5. California;
  6. Colorado;
  7. Connecticut;
  8. Delaware;
  9. District of Columbia;
  10. Florida;
  11. Hawaii;
  12. Illinois;
  13. Louisiana;
  14. Maine;
  15. Maryland; 
  16. Massachusetts;
  17. Michigan;
  18. Minnesota;
  19. Missouri; 
  20. Montana;
  21. Nevada;
  22. New Hampshire;
  23. New Jersey;
  24. New Mexico;
  25. New York;
  26. North Dakota;
  27. Ohio;
  28. Oklahoma;
  29. Oregon;
  30. Pennsylvania;
  31. Rhode Island;
  32. South Dakota;
  33. Utah;
  34. Vermont;
  35. Virginia;
  36. Washington;
  37. West Virginia.

Medical Marijuana Laws 

The road towards medicinal cannabis legalization has been long and hard. After a lot of clinical trials on the health effects of marijuana and its cannabinoids, CBD has become legal in all 50 US states with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill if it contains less than 0.3% THC. 

However, medical marijuana is yet to be legalized on a federal level for the treatment of medical conditions. Federal laws still classify cannabis as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act which was passed in 1971, which means its consumption (and cultivation) is illegal. 

State laws, on the other hand, have different regulations and the medical cannabis laws are expected to be even more liberal in the future. Since 1971, a lot of research has been done on how the benefits of cannabis consumption include the treatment of some medical conditions, which is why California was the first state to legalize the use of medical marijuana in 1996. 

Is Medical Marijuana Approved by the FDA?

Medical marijuana has anxiolytic, anti-inflammatory, antiepileptic, and neuroprotective effects. Consequently, its cannabinoids have been implemented in a few cannabis-derived products which are approved by the  U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The first was Epidiolex, a cannabis-derived product which contains CBD as a primary ingredient and is used to treat two forms of epilepsy, the Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and the Dravet syndrome.

After the legalization and success of Epidiolex, two more cannabinoid medicines, Dronabinol (also known as Marinol and Syndros) and Nabilone (also known as Cesamet), were approved for treating patients suffering from nausea and vomiting as a result of chemotherapy, as well as a treatment option for patients who are being treated for anorexia, and people suffering weight loss from AIDS.

What Is Medical Marijuana Used For?

After binding to the cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system, various cannabinoids found in marijuana start to affect different parts of the body and act as a pain reliever, reduce anxiety, inflammation, nausea, kill cancer cells and slow down tumor growth, relax stiff muscles, stimulate appetite, and so on. Since the research on medical marijuana is still ongoing, even more benefits are expected to be confirmed.

In states where medical marijuana is legal, prescribing physicians are using this plant as a treatment option for:

How Is Medical Marijuana Consumed?

Medical cannabis can be consumed similarly to recreational weed. It can be smoked in a joint, blunt, vape pen, bowl, bong, ingested as an edible such as weed brownies, cakes, gummies, chocolate made with cannabis oil, cannabutter, it can be consumed sublingually as a tincture, and even applied as a topical cream on the skin.

Side Effects of Consuming Medical Cannabis

The consumption of medical marijuana has similar short-term side effects to recreational marijuana, such as dry mouth, red eyes, dizziness, hallucinations, paranoia, and increased heartbeat, just to name a few. Consuming medical cannabis can also be a trigger for the onset of schizophrenia, psychosis, and other conditions. Moreover, it’s recognized as a “gateway drug” for the use of harder drugs by The National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Consuming marijuana over a long period of time can be especially harmful to young adults as it has severe effects on the proper development of their brains. Apart from these side effects, scientists are still unsure how cannabis affects the lungs and lung health, and whether it can cause lung cancer in the long term.

That being said, these side effects don’t apply when using medical marijuana that’s high in CBD, and has less than 0.3% of THC. One of the few side effects users can expect from consuming high CBD strains is relaxation and sedation if taken in high doses.

So, What Is the Use of Medical Marijuana?

The cannabis plant is a great alternative treatment for many ailments, especially those where the standard medication produces a lot of undesired side effects. That being said, you should also be aware of the side effects of marijuana, and talk to your doctor to see whether it’s a good treatment option for you. To start getting treated with cannabis, you need to acquire a medical marijuana card for which you are only eligible if you talk to your healthcare provider. Upon getting familiar with your medical history, they can determine whether you qualify for medical marijuana use. Only then can you go to your local dispensary and buy your perfect strain of weed.

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


The information presented on this page is provided as a public service to aid in education and is derived from sources believed to be reliable. Readers are responsible for making their own assessment of the topics discussed here. In no event shall Leaf Nation be held reliable for any injury, loss or damage that could happen if using or abusing drugs.