NOV 29, 2017 6:00 AM PST

What Is Medical Cannabis Approved to Treat?

WRITTEN BY: Loren DeVito

Recreational marijuana is illegal in the US under federal law (with the exception of a few states); however, medical cannabis is currently legal in many states. While pre-clinical studies have proven cannabis to be effective for many conditions, each state specifies which conditions cannabis can be used to treat. So, if you happen to live in a state where medical cannabis is legal, take a look at our list below to see if you might be able to take medical cannabis for your condition.

These are the most common conditions approved throughout 29 states (and the District of Columbia) where medical cannabis is legal:*

Arthritis. This common condition causes painful inflammation in the connective tissue and joints. Medical cannabis can be used as a natural analgesic (pain killer); in fact, both THC and CBD may be effective for arthritis. If you live in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, or New Mexico, you may be able to use medical cannabis for this condition.

Cancer. Although cannabis has been shown to target cancer cells, this evidence is pre-clinical and remains inconclusive for patient use. However, medical cannabis can address other symptoms associated with cancer or side effects from treatment, including pain, nausea, and appetite suppression. Cancer is an approved condition in nearly every state where medical cannabis is legal. Even if you don't live in one of these states, the FDA has approved three drugs, Marinol, Syndros, and Cesamet, to address nausea and vomiting.

Chronic Pain. Many people live with the burdensome symptoms of chronic pain every day, which can make even the most basic tasks very challenging. Medical cannabis may be a favorable treatment and good alternative to opioids by treating back and neck pain, fibromyalgia, headaches, and pain symptoms resulting from another condition. Most states with legalized medical cannabis include chronic pain as a qualifying condition, although specific conditions may differ.

Crohn’s Disease. This chronic condition affects the intestinal tract, causing abdominal pain, weight loss, and overall gastric distress, and includes irritable bowel disease and ulcerative colitis. Medical cannabis can treat Crohn’s disease symptoms through its anti-inflammatory and pain-killing effects. Most states include Crohn’s disease as a qualifying condition.

Epilepsy. This disorder of the nervous system is characterized by seizure events and, in severe cases, may cause patients to experience hundreds of seizures a day. Seizures can result in cognitive impairment, loss of consciousness, and loss of muscle control. Due to the unpredictability of these events, seizures can prove fatal if the patient is in an unsafe, although common, situation during a seizure, such as driving or taking a bath. CBD is particularly very effective in treating epilepsy, especially in pediatric patients. Most states have approved epilepsy as a qualifying condition, although some specify that the condition must be refractory (unresponsive to current treatment).

Glaucoma. Perhaps the first well-known condition to be treated with medical cannabis, glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve that causes problems with vision. Medical cannabis can help treat elevated levels of intraocular pressure that build up in the eye as a result of the condition. Since medical cannabis has been used to treat the disease for quite a while, its use is approved in most states.

HIV/AIDS. While medical cannabis cannot directly target this immune disease, it is effective in treating some of its symptoms, including pain, nausea, and appetite. It can also be used to address some side effects associated with antiretroviral treatments, and is approved in most states.

Multiple Sclerosis. This autoimmune disease affects the central nervous system and causes pain and difficulty with motor movements. Medical cannabis has been shown to positively impact inflammation, motor control, abdominal disturbances, and sleep. A roughly equal ratio of THC to CBD may be most effective in treating MS symptoms. Although MS is an approved condition in most states, if you happen to live outside the US, you may have access to Sativex, an oral spray derived from the Sativa plant approved for MS in the UK.

*Current as of November 2017. Medical cannabis laws and policies are quickly changing every day, so please remember to check with your state to make sure you stay up to date.






About the Author
  • Academically trained neuroscientist with extensive experience in science and medical writing across a wide range of therapeutic areas.
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