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Many people are excited about the relaxation of state laws regarding the use of marijuana for medical purposes. However, federal law prohibits the prescription, possession and sale of marijuana, which is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance.

News about medical marijuana being legalized in several states (now 22 of them, plus the District of Columbia) has stirred much excitement and some controversy about its use. Although marijuana (Cannabis sativa) has been used for centuries as a medicinal substance as well as a recreational drug, its effectiveness and safety are still being studied today. Furthermore, in spite of the relaxation of state laws against its use, federal law still prohibits physicians from prescribing marijuana to patients. Under the Controlled Substances Act, medical marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, just like heroin or LSD, for which no prescriptions may be written. According to federal policy, a doctor who prescribes marijuana to a patient may be prosecuted and stripped of his federal license.

What is Medical Marijuana?

Supporters of the medical use of marijuana claim that this common tropical plant can relieve chronic pain, stimulate appetite and reduce nausea and vomiting in patients suffering from cancer or AIDS. Others also claim that it has anti-bacterial properties, it can reduce eye pressure in glaucoma, or that it can control seizures in epileptic patients. However, doctors are also aware that eating or smoking marijuana can cause many physical, mental and emotional side effects, including dizziness, rapid heart rates, confusion, euphoria, and depression. This is partly why there is a lot of debate among parents, health workers, patients, scientists and ordinary people about the benefits and risks of marijuana for medical use.

The confusion on whether or not people can use marijuana, pot, grass, or weed for medical purposes lies on the concept that the term 'medical marijuana' generally refers to the use of the whole cannabis plant, usually unprocessed or just its crude extracts.

These are not recognized nor approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as medicine. According to them, using marijuana leaves, flowers, stems or seeds for smoking, mixing with food or drinking as tea can be dangerous to one's health. Various strains of the plant, including how they are prepared and used, can yield different, unpredictable concentrations of the active ingredients (cannabinoids) of the plant, which can result in dangerous physical and mental effects. Therefore, possession or sale of raw or crude marijuana is still illegal, as far as US federal laws are concerned.

However, scientific study of the cannabinoids have led medical experts to demonstrate that their harmful side effects may be eliminated or reduced when the active ingredients are chemically purified and formulated into drugs. 

While eating or smoking cannabis leaves can produce a certain “high”, taking the medically prescribed, FDA-approved drugs can have beneficial effects for certain conditions.

See Also: Therapeutic Uses Of Medical Marijuana

To clarify further, some states ( Arizona, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Montana, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia) allow authorized patients to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation under limited legal protection from arrest. However, doctors may not prescribe Schedule I substances without violating federal laws. Instead, physicians who believe their patients may benefit from the effects of cannabinoids may prescribe FDA-approved drugs that contain these ingredients, which are classified as Schedule II (just like morphine or amphetamine) or Schedule III controlled substances (just like codeine or barbiturates).

Continue reading after recommendations

  • ACS. Marijuana.
  • NORML. Medical Frequently Asked Questions.
  • NIH. DrugFacts: Is Marijuana Medicine?
  • University of Texas at Dallas. "No correlation between medical marijuana legalization, crime increase: Legalization may reduce homicide, assault rates." ScienceDaily.
  • Lifespan. Legalizing medical marijuana doesn't increase use among adolescents, study says. ScienceDaily.
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