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RIA expert Summary

Is Marijuana Medicine?

Published January 22, 2014

medical marijuana offerings

In January 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that, through an executive order, New York would become the 21st U.S. state to permit the medical use of marijuana. New York’s program would pave the way for up to 20 hospitals statewide to prescribe marijuana to people with certain serious or debilitating conditions. Since California became the first state to allow for medical marijuana use in 1996, 19 more states plus the District of Columbia have followed suit.

The use of medical marijuana has elicited strong opinions on both sides of the debate. Although the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” studies have shown that marijuana can alleviate symptoms of certain diseases, such as glaucoma, cancer and HIV.

First, the facts about marijuana

Marijuana is derived from the hemp plant Cannabis Sativa and is usually ingested by smoking. It is the most commonly used illicit drug in the U.S.

AAs a DEA-defined Schedule I drug, marijuana is considered to have the potential for severe psychological or physical dependence.

THC and CBD rings

The main active ingredients in marijuana are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is what causes the “high” from marijuana, as it acts upon the endocannabinoid system in the brain. Effects of marijuana can include distorted perception, impaired coordination, difficulty thinking and disrupted learning and memory.

Chronic marijuana use, especially if begun at a young age, has been shown to have a long-lasting negative impact on brain function.

What, if any, are the medical benefits of marijuana?

Recent research suggests that marijuana can offer relief for the following conditions:

  • Glaucoma – marijuana can lessen the pressure in the eyeball that leads
    to blindness
  • Cancer – marijuana can reduce nausea caused by chemotherapy
  • HIV/AIDS – THC is known to stimulate appetite (informally known as “the munchies”), which can be helpful for people who have difficulty gaining weight due to HIV/AIDS
  • Chronic pain – THC has a mild to moderate painkilling effect
  • Epilepsy – an oil derived from CBD has been shown to reduce seizures in children with a certain type of epilepsy
  • Multiple sclerosis – CBD may help control dystonia (involuntary muscle movements)
Prescription marijuana

Arguments for medical marijuana use

  • Studies have shown that marijuana can have a beneficial effect on certain conditions
  • Other drugs approved by the FDA for similar medicinal purposes, such as opiates like Oxycontin or Vicodin, are highly addictive
  • Many prescription drugs have the risk of overdose. Overdosing on marijuana is extremely rare
  • It would help alleviate pain and suffering for many people

What’s the down side?

  • Studies have shown that medical use of marijuana may “normalize” attitudes towards it and may lead people (especially youth) to believe it is not harmful at all – that it is, in fact, “good for you”
  • The normalization of medical marijuana could lead to an increase in risky recreational use
  • When medical treatment involves smoking marijuana, the side effects of the drug remain, including impaired judgment and slow reaction time. This can lead to risky situations, including affecting driving ability
  • Marijuana has not been shown to be a “cure” for any disease; it just alleviates certain symptoms
  • Marijuana can become addictive for some people
  • It can have its own health consequences, such as lung cancer
  • It can have adverse effects on some people with underlying psychiatric disorders, including bipolar disorder or schizophrenia

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