Marijuana can be helpful for treating many different conditions.
Marijuana is known for its ability to leave users happy, relaxed, and giggling. It can even offer many health benefits, like improved sleep, mood, and creativity. But aside from these everyday uses, marijuana can also be used as a medicine.
Patients with medical conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis to migraines to diabetes may be prescribed marijuana to help treat their symptoms and manage their condition.
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of marijuana when it comes to different medical conditions.
1. Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is one of the most common conditions treated with medical marijuana.
Similar to over-the-counter painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen, marijuana can reduce inflammation and pain associated with inflammation.
A 2015 clinical review examined 6 different trials with a total of 325 patients, and concluded that marijuana can be an effective treatment for patients with chronic pain.
Glaucoma is a condition that can lead to impaired vision or blindness. In this disorder, intraocular pressure (pressure in the eye) can increase to the point where the optic nerve is damaged.
A 1971 study found that marijuana decreased the intraocular pressure of some participants by 25-30%. This reduction was observed in both healthy individuals and those with glaucoma.
Glaucoma can damage the optic nerve, which sends information from the eyes to the brain. Scientists believe that the neuroprotective effects of marijuana can help protect the optic nerve from this damage. Both THC and CBD have neuroprotective and antioxidant properties.
3. Liver Disease
Marijuana may be beneficial to those with certain liver disorders. In the case of liver fibrosis (scarring), a 2011 study highlighted the benefits of CBD, a cannabinoid found in marijuana.
Specifically, CBD may contribute to the cell death of hepatic stellate cells that contribute to liver scarring. This suggests that CBD may reduce the extent of scarring in the liver when it is damaged.
A 2002 study showed promising results in three patients with cholestatic liver disease who were treated with THC. The patients displayed improvements in symptoms of sleep, itchiness, and depression, and were able to return to work following treatment.
However, these findings have limitations. The sample size of the study was extremely small, and it did not include a placebo-control group.
Marijuana use in patients with cancer is becoming increasingly common. One of the most commonly reported benefits is the reduction of nausea and vomiting for patients in chemotherapy.
Besides reducing the unpleasant symptoms of chemotherapy, marijuana shows potential as a cancer therapy itself. In mice and rat models, researchers have found that THC and other cannabinoids can trigger cell death in many types of cancer cells.
In 2007, researchers at Harvard University found that THC may reduce the size of human lung tumors implanted into rats and mice. The reduction in tumor mass and volume were found to be as high as 50%, and the reduction of cancerous lesions in the lungs was around 60%.
A non-psychoactive cannabinoid known as CBD may have beneficial effects for psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.
Researchers have found in human trials that CBD is an effective antipsychotic. CBD is considered to be a safe and well-tolerated medication that does not pose the same degree of risk as conventional antipsychotic drugs.
Larger clinical trials are still required to determine whether CBD should be prescribed by doctors for psychotic disorders.
Unlike CBD, THC may worsen symptoms of psychosis, and is not recommended for patients with psychotic disorders.
6. Multiple Sclerosis
In a 2015 review of human trials on the use of marijuana for multiple sclerosis, researchers concluded that marijuana may benefit patients with the disorder.
The review looked at 12 studies with a total of 1600 patients and concluded that the drug may improve symptoms of pain. Studies have also shown the potential for smoked marijuana to reduce other symptoms of multiple sclerosis, like spasticity and sleep difficulties.
A pharmaceutical cannabis extract called Sativex can be prescribed for the treatment of spasticity in MS. It has been approved in 30 countries, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.
7. Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Using marijuana may be beneficial for patients living with different forms of inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Observational studies indicate that using marijuana can result in an improvement in symptoms, as well as a reduction in the use of standard medications.
In a 2014 study, researchers found that IBD patients who used marijuana showed greater improvements in symptoms than those who received a placebo. The study found that of the 11 participants given marijuana, 5 were able to achieve complete remission of the disease.
8. Parkinson’s Disease
Research shows that marijuana may reduce the severity of tremors and pain in Parkinson’s disease. In a 2013 study conducted in Israel, patients with Parkinson’s disease showed reduced symptoms for 2-3 hours after using marijuana.
A 2004 survey conducted by the Movement Disorder Society found that marijuana use was relatively common among Parkinson’s patients. Approximately 25% of the respondents reported using marijuana, with 45.9% reporting an improvement in their condition.
Together these findings suggest that Parkinson’s sufferers may attain significant relief from marijuana.
Though it may seem like marijuana would be bad for your lungs, evidence suggests that compounds in the plant can actually help those with asthma.
THC has been found to act as a bronchodilator — a substance that opens the airways of the lungs.
In a 1975 clinical study, marijuana was observed to rapidly improve symptoms of asthma. Researchers induced the symptoms of asthma through chemical inhalation or exercise, and found that marijuana reduced symptoms such as spasms and over-inflation of the lungs.
10. Appetite Loss
One of the most well-known effects of marijuana is an increase in appetite, also known as “the munchies”. While often considered a mere side effect, the munchies can also be beneficial for patients with certain disorders.
Certain conditions like AIDS and cancer can cause a loss of appetite. The increase in appetite from marijuana may help these patients maintain a healthy weight and avoid discomfort.
Those with eating disorders such as anorexia may also benefit from the appetite-boosting effects of marijuana.
Using marijuana regularly has been linked to a smaller waist size and a better ability to regulate glucose levels in the body. And despite consuming more calories on average, people who use marijuana tend to be slimmer.
In a 2013 study assessing over 4,600 adults, researchers found that current marijuana users were skinnier and had healthier levels of cholesterol than non-users. The marijuana users were found to have lower levels of insulin, as well as lower levels of insulin-resistance, a risk factor for diabetes.
Experts believe that marijuana use may protect against certain factors that contribute to obesity.
12. Nausea and Vomiting
Several scientific studies support the notion that marijuana can reduce nausea in various conditions. THC and CBD have both been found to suppress nausea associated with chemotherapy. Cancer patients can be prescribed Marinol, a synthetic form of THC, to treat their nausea.
Nausea and vomiting are also common side effects of antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS. The symptoms can be so severe that patients stop taking their medications altogether.
A 2005 study showed that marijuana use helped HIV patients stick to their prescribed treatment by decreasing the unpleasant side effects of nausea and vomiting. Marinol can also be prescribed for HIV patients experiencing weight loss, known as AIDS wasting syndrome.
13. Traumatic Brain Injury
Certain cannabinoids in the marijuana plant may improve outcomes in patients with traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
A 2014 study compared the survival rates of TBI patients who used marijuana and those who did not. After analyzing 446 cases, the researchers found that cannabis consumption predicted increased survival rates among TBI sufferers.
Cannabinoids produced naturally in the body may also play a role in recovery from brain injuries. Levels of 2-AG have been observed to increase in response to a brain injury.
Researchers investigated the role of 2-AG in rats and mice following head injuries, and found that it improved the rate of recovery. While 2-AG is not found in marijuana, it acts on the same receptors as the THC in marijuana.
14. Spinal Cord Injury
Damage to the spinal cord can cause permanent and life-changing effects including paralysis and loss of sensation. There are currently no effective treatment options available.
Similar to brain injuries, researchers have observed increased levels of cannabinoids produced in the body following a spinal cord injury. This increase is believed to be the body’s attempt at minimizing long-term damage.
In a 2016 review, researchers suggested that treatment with plant or synthetic cannabinoids could potentially improve the outcome of spinal cord injuries. In other words, marijuana could someday be used to treat spinal cord injuries, although more research is needed.
15. Heart Disease
The relationship between marijuana use and cardiovascular health is complicated.
Marijuana can increase heart rate and blood pressure in some users, leading to an increased risk of heart attack. However, research also suggests that small doses of THC can reduce the impact of a heart attack.
A 2013 study published in the Biochemical Pharmacology journal found that an ultra-low dose of THC (0.002 mg/kg) can reduce damage from a heart attack if introduced beforehand.
When it comes to other cannabinoids, a 2013 review highlighted the potential for CBD to be used as a treatment for cardiovascular disease. The authors conclude that current evidence “appear[s] to support a positive role for CBD treatment in the heart, and in peripheral and cerebral vasculature.”
Some experts believe that marijuana could protect the brain from damage after a stroke.
In 2013, researchers at the University of Nottingham reviewed 94 studies of the benefits of cannabis for treating stroke. They found that cannabinoids could help reduce the severity of a stroke and lessen its impact on the brain. The authors concluded that cannabis “shows promise as a neuroprotective treatment for stroke.”
It’s important to note that most experiments performed so far have been conducted on animals, and human studies are still needed.
17. Huntington’s Disease
Many animal studies suggest that marijuana could be helpful for treating Huntington’s disease, a rare genetic brain disorder that leads to the death of brain cells.
However, very few studies about using marijuana to treat Huntington’s have been performed on human patients.
According to the American Academy of Neurology, a single study from 2009 showed that nabilone, a synthetic drug that mimics THC, could modestly improve movement-related symptoms of Huntington’s disease.
18. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease that causes loss of muscle control and eventual paralysis. Stephen Hawking is diagnosed with ALS. There is some evidence that marijuana could have beneficial effects on ALS.
In a 2001 review, Dr. Gregory Carter of the University of Washington wrote: “Marijuana is a substance with many properties that are directly applicable to the management of ALS.” These properties include analgesia, muscle relaxation, saliva reduction, appetite stimulation, and sleep induction.
Evidence from animal studies has also shown that cannabinoid treatment may slow the progression of ALS.
Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by widespread pain and a heightened pain response. About 5 million Americans suffer from the condition, and very few treatments are available to them.
In an online survey of over 1,300 patients, medical marijuana was rated more effective than any of the three FDA-approved drugs for treating fibromyalgia.
These benefits have been supported by scientific research. In a 2008 study, treatment with nabilone — a synthetic cannabinoid — led to a significant improvement in pain and quality of life in 40 patients with fibromyalgia.
20. Alzheimer’s Disease
A study published in 2016 found evidence that marijuana might protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease.
According to Dr. David Schubert of the Salk Institute, who led the study, cannabinoids appear to reduce inflammation as well as the accumulation of biological markers of the disease, known as amyloid beta plaques.
There is also evidence that THC can help with symptoms such as apathy and sleep disturbances in Alzheimer’s patients. Other studies have shown that daily doses of THC can improve symptoms in patients with dementia.
Future research will help illuminate whether marijuana could someday be prescribed for Alzheimer’s patients.
The link between cannabis and ADHD has not been fully researched, but studies have shown that many people with ADHD use cannabis to manage their symptoms.
Both men and women have been found to use cannabis to treat their ADHD, but for different reasons. A 2013 study found that men with ADHD are more likely to use marijuana for their inattention symptoms, whereas women tend to use it to help their sleep.
Preliminary evidence from a 2017 study showed that cannabinoids may improve symptoms of hyperactivity. However, the results were not statistically significant. Overall, more research is needed to investigate marijuana as a treatment for ADHD.
22. Tourette’s Syndrome
Marijuana may help people who suffer from Tourette’s syndrome, according to a few small studies.
More recently, a 2003 study found that patients with Tourette’s syndrome showed a significant reduction in tics after being given daily doses of THC for 6 weeks. The researchers concluded: “Our results provide more evidence that THC is effective and safe in the treatment of tics”.
23. Skin Disorders (dermatitis, psoriasis, acne)
Cannabis and cannabis-based topicals can be beneficial for certain skin disorders. These products can easily be applied to and absorbed through the skin, providing a convenient way to use cannabis as a medicine.
There is evidence that cannabis can help treat both acne and itching associated with dry skin. The anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis may also be useful for treating dermatitis.
There is also growing evidence that cannabis can treat psoriasis and even slow the development of some types of skin cancers. However, most of this evidence comes from animal models and not human studies.
24. Sleep Disorders
Marijuana can also help treat a variety of sleep disorders, including insomnia and sleep apnea.
Studies show that THC taken before bedtime can help you fall asleep faster. A 1973 study showed that THC reduced the time it took for insomniacs to fall asleep by 1 hour on average.
A 2013 study found that people who used marijuana had less difficulty falling asleep, took less time to fall asleep and had more daytime sleep the following day.
Marijuana may also be helpful for sleep apnea — a disorder that can cause a person to stop breathing in the night. In a 2013 study, sleep apnea patients used synthetic THC before bedtime. The results showed that their nighttime breathing and symptoms improved in a dose-dependent manner.
One of the most promising medical benefits of marijuana is its ability to treat severe forms of epilepsy. Marijuana has very well-documented anti-seizure properties.
More recently, researchers have found that the cannabinoid CBD can safely and effectively reduce the frequency of seizures without causing a “high”.
Marijuana growers in Colorado have created a high-CBD strain of marijuana called Charlotte’s Web specifically for this purpose. Charlotte’s Web has already helped to treat the seizures of many children, and is growing in popularity as a safe and effective solution for treatment-resistant epilepsy.
The relationship between marijuana and anxiety is complicated. Although short-term anxiety after smoking marijuana is common, marijuana may be an effective treatment for chronic anxiety.
The CBD found in marijuana is associated with anxiety relief. One recent study found that marijuana can be just as effective as prescription anti-anxiety medications, but without the side effects or potential for addiction.
Studies have also found that marijuana can help treat specific forms of anxiety such as fear of public speaking.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can cause severe symptoms, such as joint pain, kidney dysfunction, pain, fever, skin lesions, rash, and hair loss. Many believe that marijuana can help those with the condition.
The Lupus Foundation of America has published a statement saying they support continued research into the use of medical marijuana for treating symptoms of lupus.
Studies in cells have found that components of marijuana can reduce the overactive immune system activity caused by lupus. This could potentially alleviate pain and joint inflammation caused by the disease.
There are many anecdotal reports of people using marijuana to alleviate their arthritis pain. Marijuana has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties in animal models of arthritis.
But research in humans is far more limited. One study found that Sativex, a pharmaceutical cannabis extract, can ease pain and other symptoms of arthritis, but the results can be quite variable between people.
A 2016 review concluded that although marijuana is well-tolerated, the benefits for arthritis patients are inconsistent. Some people may find that marijuana greatly eases their pain, while others may not experience any benefit at all.
Osteoporosis is a disease causing decreased bone density. Symptoms include bone weakness and an increased risk of bone fractures.
Studies show that naturally-occurring cannabinoids play an important role in stimulating bone formation and preventing bone resorption, a process that can cause osteoporosis. Other studies have found that cannabinoids can prevent the loss of bone mass, especially after menopause.
In a 2009 review, Israeli scientists wrote that cannabinoids could someday be used as a treatment for osteoporosis.
30. Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that can cause liver damage over time. Antiviral treatment can help clear the virus from the body and reduce the chance of liver damage.
However, many patients fail to complete their antiviral treatment due to side effects, and medications are not always effective.
A 2006 study examined marijuana users and non-users with hepatitis C. They found that marijuana users were more likely to achieve remission of the virus, and were more likely to complete their treatment course.
This effect is thought to be related to marijuana’s ability to treat certain side effects of antiviral medications, including nausea, headaches, and appetite loss. Researchers also believe marijuana’s stimulation of CB2 receptors on immune cells may improve outcomes in Hepatitis C patients.
Marijuana may reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches. While clinical trials are lacking, observational studies find that migraine patients can benefit from using medical marijuana.
A 2016 study found that medical marijuana decreased the frequency of migraine headaches, and appeared to block the onset of these headaches.
A 2017 study also found that the majority of people taking medical marijuana for their migraines no longer needed to use other medications.
While scientists aren’t sure exactly how it works, it is believed that marijuana’s effects on serotonin may play a role.
There are not many studies on the effects of marijuana on diabetes, but early results suggest that marijuana could help treat or prevent the disorder.
A 2012 study found that cannabis users have lower rates of diabetes mellitus than people of the same age who do not consume cannabis.
People who consume cannabis have also been found to have lower insulin levels, smaller waists, lower rates of obesity, and a lower prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a complication often resulting from diabetes.
Researchers are also investigating whether certain compounds in marijuana can be used to treat type 2 diabetes.