Using Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana uses the whole, unprocessed marijuana plant or extractions from the plant to treat symptoms of illness or other medical conditions. To date, medical marijuana is legal in 29 states, the District of Columbia and the territories of Puerto Rico and Guam. Laws and restrictions vary by state. For example, California was the first state to pass a medical marijuana bill in 1996. With a recommendation from a California-licensed physician, patients with medical conditions are able to purchase cannabis at a licensed dispensary or cultivate it at home. Minors in California can use medical marijuana with permission from their parents.

On the other hand, some states have much stricter restrictions. Wisconsin allows only adults with a seizure disorder, who have a written certificate from a physician, to use cannabinoid– a component of marijuana. However, because the sale of marijuana for any use is illegal in the state, patients must travel elsewhere to buy medical marijuana.

It is important to note that using marijuana for any reason (recreational or medical) remains illegal under federal law. It is classified as a Schedule I narcotic. Federal law takes precedence over any state law in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Technically, federal law enforcement officials may prosecute medical marijuana patients, even if they grow their own plant and live in a state where medical marijuana use is protected under state law.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not recognized or approved the marijuana plant as medicine. However, scientific study has led to two FDA-approved medications that contain cannabinoid chemicals in pill form. Continued research may lead to more medications. Because the marijuana plant contains chemicals that may help treat a range of illnesses and symptoms, many people have a position that it should be legal for medical purposes.

Therapeutic Effects of Medical Marijuana

Older adults have many medical conditions and diseases in which medical marijuana may provide some benefit and relief:

  • Cancer. Reduce nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy treatment;
  • Seizure Disorders. May help control seizures;
  • Multiple Sclerosis. Medical marijuana can help lessen spasms, and help with mobility;
  • Dementia. May increase appetite;
  • Pain management. Studies show individuals who suffer from chronic pain due to arthritis and joint conditions experience a reduction in pain symptoms after using cannabis. Medical marijuana also reduces inflammation, swelling, and redness;
  • Mental Health Disorders. Seniors who have anxiety and depression may have some relief from their symptoms using medical marijuana. However, in some individuals marijuana may trigger a depressive or anxiety disorder.


If you are an older adult, to your physician or health care provider to find out if medical marijuana is the right choice for you. A health care professional will be able to determine if marijuana use for medicinal purposes is safe for you based on individual health history, medical conditions, and medications.


Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services



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