Marijuana (cannabis) is an illegal drug formed from the dried leaves and flowers of a plant called Cannabis sativa. The effects of this drug are produced by the active chemical found in marijuana--THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). The use of medical marijuana is focused on applying the beneficial effects of this drug to a patient in an effort to improve the patient’s overall quality of life. The beneficial use of medical marijuana continues to be highly contested--as of 2010, only the District of Columbia and 14 states have enacted laws to protect the rights of a patient to use medical marijuana.
One of the major benefits associated with medicinal marijuana use is the relief of chronic or neuropathic pain. A study published in February 2009 in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology examined the effect of medical marijuana treatment in HIV patients who experience neuropathic pain. In this study, Dr. Ellis and colleagues found that 46 percent of patients administered medical marijuana experienced at least a 30 percent reduction in pain. In contrast, only 18 percent of patients administered placebo achieved similar results.
Use of marijuana stimulates the body’s metabolism and causes users to experience an increase in appetite. Numerous disease states--including cancer and HIV--can cause symptoms of decreased appetite to develop in affected patients. If this occurs, patients often lose significant amounts of weight, which can be detrimental to the disease recovery process. The human body requires energy--in the form of ingested food--to fight infection and heal cell or tissue damage. In patients who experience decreased appetite due to a specific disease, medical marijuana may be helpful in appetite stimulation. Medicinal marijuana can signal a food craving within a patient’s body, encouraging the patient to eat to provide energy to the body.
Many patients experience nausea or vomiting due to certain diseases or treatments, such as chemotherapy. The National Cancer Institute reports that THC--the active ingredient in marijuana--may decrease symptoms of nausea or vomiting in certain cancer patients. Controlling such symptoms in diseased patients can improve a patient’s quality of life and may make certain patients more receptive to disease treatment.
Inhalation of marijuana smoke relaxes the muscles within the body. Patients who experience frequent muscle tightness or twitching (spasticity) often have difficulty completing normal tasks associated with daily activities. Such patients may benefit from the use of medical marijuana, as this drug can help reduce symptoms of muscle tension or muscular aches or pains. This form of treatment may increase a patient’s ability to move normally and can promote a more positive quality of life.