Medical marijuana is a controversial subject in the U.S. Since 1996 (beginning with California), 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis. Colorado and Washington State have even legalized the drug for recreational purposes. Regardless, marijuana’s medical benefits and risks are still widely debated today, and healthcare professionals should be aware of both the good and bad when it comes to medical marijuana use before prescribing it to patients.
Former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders stated in 2004 that, "The evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer, and AIDS -- or by the harsh drugs sometimes used to treat them. And it can do so with remarkable safety. Indeed, marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day."
The British Lung Foundation, however, did not find medical cannabis to have favorable effects on patients, stating the health risks associated with smoking medical marijuana (2002):
Three to four cannabis cigarettes a day are associated with the same evidence of acute and chronic bronchitis and the same degree of damage to the bronchial mucosa as 20 or more tobacco cigarettes a day. Cannabis smoking is likely to weaken the immune system. Infections of the lung are due to a combination of smoking-related damage to the cells lining the bronchial passage and impairment of the principal immune cells in the small air sacs caused by cannabis."
These are just some examples of the divergent medical perspectives regarding cannabis use. Nevertheless, marijuana has many strains and should be researched further. The plant also differs from its capsule form (dronabinol) in that the capsule only contains synthetic delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), whereas the plant has over 400 chemicals in it.
So what are your thoughts on prescribing medical marijuana to patients? Do you support the use of marijuana for conditions in which research has demonstrated its efficacy, or do the risks outweigh the benefits? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.