Pros and Cons of Medical Marijuana

The debate over the therapeutic benefits of medical marijuana is ongoing. More than 30 states in the U.S. allow for the medical use of marijuana. And a growing number allow recreational use.1 However, the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance.2

 It also limits medical studies into the potential benefits of cannabis.

The arguments for and against the legalization of marijuana are hot topics. This article explains the pros and cons of medical marijuana and the scientific evidence.

A gloved doctor filling a prescription for medical marijuana

The Pros

Americans overwhelmingly support the legalization of marijuana. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 91% of Americans support legalizing marijuana. Of those, 60% say it should be legal for medical and recreational use and 31% say it should be legal for medical reasons only.3


Several possible health benefits of medical marijuana have been proposed:

  • Nausea: Marijuana is effective in relieving nausea and vomiting. Studies have shown that cannabis can decrease nausea caused by chemotherapy and almost eliminate vomiting.4
  • Muscle relaxant: Marijuana can relieve the muscle tightness that is sometimes associated with multiple sclerosis and paralysis.
  • Appetite: Marijuana can help treat appetite loss associated with conditions like HIV/AIDS and certain types of cancers.
  • Chronic pain: Marijuana can relieve certain types of chronic pain, including neuropathic pain, which is caused by nerve damage.5

And arguments in favor of using medical marijuana include:

  • It’s safer: Marijuana is safer than some other medications prescribed to treat pain. For example, some people may use it instead of opioids for pain management. Opioids are highly addictive and are typically not recommended for long-term use in treating chronic pain.6
  • You can use it in many ways: You do not need to smoke cannabis for its benefits. Products such as cannabidiol oil (CBD), topical pain relief treatments, edibles, and other non-smoking applications are now available.7
  • You don’t need to get high: As studies continue, researchers are finding benefits in the individual compounds in cannabis. When these chemicals are isolated—such as CBD has been—they can offer treatment options without the “high” produced by the compound commonly known as THC.8
  • It’s natural: People have used marijuana for centuries as a natural medicinal agent with good results.

The Cons

Although marijuana has many benefits, there are still some downsides. Some of the arguments from those who oppose its use include:

  • Memory: Frequent marijuana use can seriously affect your short-term memory.9
  • Cognition: Frequent use can impair your cognitive (thinking) abilities.
  • Lung damage: Smoking anything, whether it’s tobacco or marijuana, can damage your lung tissue.10 In addition, smoking marijuana could increase the risk of lung cancer.
  • Potential for abuse: Marijuana carries a risk of abuse and addiction.
  • Accidents: Marijuana use impairs driving skills and increases the risk for car collisions.11
  • Illegal: Marijuana is illegal under federal law. The federal drug scheduling system classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), alongside heroin.2 This classification says that the substances have no currently accepted medicinal value

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