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Medical marijuana is making headlines, especially in the United States, but the use of marijuana to treat various disease conditions is nothing new. While claims that marijuana is a cure-all are hyperbole, there are varying degrees of objective evidence that marijuana or drugs that concentrate certain naturally occurring chemicals found in marijuana can relieve symptoms in some (although not all) cases of chronic pain, withdrawal from opiates (such as experienced by addicts in recovery after stopping heroin or Vicodin), glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, and some kinds of cancer.
The primary active in marijuana oil, a chemical called beta-caryophyllene, not only is legal but is listed by the Food and Drug Administration as an approved food additive. This compound is also found in basil, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, hops, and oregano, and can be synthesized in the lab.
Some drugs derived from marijuana, such as dronabinol and nabilone, have been legal in the United States and Canada since 1985. Canasol, a prescription drug based on marijuana used to treat glaucoma, has been legal in the United States since 1987. A sublingual (under the tongue) spray for pain called Sativex is legal in Canada, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand. Sativex is expected to be approved throughout the European Union before 2016.
However, smoking pot to cure what ails you is not as widely accepted, although laws are changing rapidly around the world.
If you are an international traveler, and you use marijuana for a health issue, you can expect a tremendous range of legal restrictions ranging from complete acceptance to complete prohibition. The countries that have made the medical use of marijuana legal include:
Then there are countries in which the possession of small amounts (typically up to 6 grams, but check local laws) of marijuana for medical use has been decriminalized but possession or larger amounts or smoking pot in public (especially around schools) may be illegal. These countries include:
- Denmark (as well as the Faroe Islands and Greenland)
Residents of the United Kingdom generally cannot bring back marijuana for their personal use, although local use of small amounts may be tolerated.
In some countries, the possession of marijuana is illegal but law enforcement officials are encouraged to "look the other way." This is the case in Germany, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Romania, and South Africa.
Then there are countries in which the possession of even small amounts of marijuana may result in severe criminal penalties. These countries include:
- All of the Arabian peninsula and most of the Middle East.
Then there is a patchwork of laws in Australia and the United States, in which possession of marijuana may be completely legal or may result in a prison term.