Medical Marijuana: What Is It Good For?

By Justine Alford, IFL Science

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Interest in medical marijuana is growing steadily, fanned by a large political movement that aims to increase its availability and legality. But what’s it actually good for? Inaccurate, uncited memes claiming its efficacy in treating everything from cancer to epilepsy travel on social media like wildfire, but what does the science actually say?

Marijuana, or Cannabis sativa, is an annual plant originally from Central Asia that has been used for medicinal purposes for at least 3,000 years. The biologically active compounds found in the plant are called cannabinoids; at least 66 have been identified so far. These interact with two types of receptor; CB1 receptors which are found predominantly on cells in the brain and spinal cord, and CB2 which are found in various immune cells. The most potent cannabinoid is thought to be delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

It is thought that cannabinoids may be useful in treating a variety of ailments, namely glaucoma, pain, nausea, muscle spasms and loss of appetite. It is also being investigated in cancer patients as a way to alleviate the side effects of cancer therapy, but some laboratory tests are also investigating antitumor properties.

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