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What We Do and Don't Know About Marijuana

A new study published in May by The New England Journal of Medicine illustrated the results of the first test that used marijuana to treat one particular form of severe epilepsy in children. The study found that there is a component of cannabis – one that does not provide users with a high – that reduced the number of seizures in these children.

However, as it stands, all we have right now is a handful of analyses that have truly studied marijuana in depth. This past January, a U.S. advisory committee concluded that the lack of scientific information we have at our disposal about marijuana poses a risk to the public's health, and that we should be doing more to learn more, especially as the continues to be legalized throughout the country for both medicinal and recreational means.

This statement came on the heels of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's decision back in 2016 to leave marijuana as a Schedule I drug, which makes it comparable to heroin and LSD insofar as its federal legality. The problem is that because marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I drug, scientists find it incredibly difficult to study because of the struggles involved with getting federal approval for the research.

Despite the fact that we have so little information on marijuana, over two dozen states now allow it to be used for medicinal purposes. While federal regulators have not approved marijuana for medicinal use, they have allowed for man-made, chemically similar medicines to be used to treat the loss of appetite in people with AIDS, as well as for the treatment of the nausea and vomiting that accompany chemotherapy.

In a nutshell, here are some positives that we have come to learn about marijuana:

  • It can treat chronic pain.
  • It can treat the nausea and vomiting that come from cancer treatment.
  • It can treat muscle spasms and stiffness associated with multiple sclerosis.
  • It may improve sleep in people with medical conditions.
  • It may ease the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI).

However, smoking marijuana may also lead to negative effects that may outweigh its potential benefits, such as:

  • An increased risk in developing psychoses, like schizophrenia, with the risk increasing as use increases.
  • Traffic accidents.
  • More frequent and chronic bronchitis in long-term users.
  • Lower birth weights of the children of female users, in addition to other pregnancy complications.
  • Heart attacks, especially with chronic use.
  • An increased risk of developing a lung disease known as "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease."
  • Reduced performance in school.
  • Increase in suicidal thoughts and attempts, especially in chronic users.
  • Risk of developing bipolar disorder, especially in chronic users.
  • Development of PTSD.
  • Changes in symptoms of depression disorders.
  • Development or worsening of asthma.
  • Accidents while on the job.

As it stands right now, there's not enough to say for sure if marijuana can have the following benefits:

  • Cancer treatment
  • Relieve symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Relieve movement difficulties associated with Parkinson's disease
  • Improve the mental health of those with schizophrenia