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From the Wikipedia article on medical cannabis:

The Cannabis plant has a history of medicinal use dating back thousands of years across many cultures. Its usage in modern times is controversial, and in recent years the American Medical Association, the MMA, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and other medical organizations have issued statements opposing its usage for medicinal purposes.

I hear a lot about how cannabis may have anti-cancer properties, or may help reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. A lot of the findings seem (to me, as a layperson) to be very early, or speculative, and the reporting seems to be frequently caught up in the political issues surrounding legalization of cannabis.

What is the current state of hard research into the health and medicinal effects of cannabis?

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Marijuana as medicine

Its usage in modern times is controversial, however studies of chemicals in the plant (cannabinoids such as THC, CBD) has lead to two FDA-approved medications and more research may lead to more medications.

Marinol which has been approved by FDA is used for the treatment of anorexia in HIV/AIDS patients as well as for nausea and vomiting of patients undergoing chemotherapywiki.

THC increases appetite and reduces nausea. It may also decrease pain, inflammation and muscle control problems. CBD does not affect the mind, but it can be useful in reducing pain and inflammation, controlling epileptic seizures and possibly treating mental illness and addictionsNIH 2014.

Treatment for cancer

Marijuana (whole unprocessed plant or its basic extracts) kills cancer cells and it has been confirmed by US government. The federal government funded research was carried by NIDA and the publication admits that cannabis has medicinal value2014:

Recent animal studies have shown that marijuana can kill certain cancer cells and reduce the size of others.

Evidence from one animal study suggests that extracts from whole-plant marijuana can shrink one of the most serious types of brain tumors.

Research in mice showed that these extracts, when used with radiation, increased the cancer-killing effects of the radiation.

The U.S. Food and FDA conducted studies to determine the benefits and risks, however not recognized or approved marijuana plant as medicine for cancer, because researchers did not conducted enough large-scale clinical trials which showed the health benefits.

A molecular biologist from Spain, Dr. Christina Sanchez explains has been studying the anti-tumor effects of THC for over a decade and she explains how it kills cancer cells entirely. See the video for more details.

Health benefits

Other potential health benefits can include:

  • Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants.

    Patent US6630507 by 3 scientists from the Department of Health and Human Services which describe in abstract:

    Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This new found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and HIV dementia. Nonpsychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabidoil, are particularly advantageous to use because they avoid toxicity that is encountered with psychoactive cannabinoids at high doses useful in the method of the present invention.

  • Nonpsychoactive CBD anti-tumor activity.

    Study published in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics state that cannabis having anti-tumor effects and found it could be the answer to the increasing number of treatment-resistant cancers.

    Italian researchers published a study in The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics which tested cannabidiol on human brain tumor cells and they've found that the non-psychoactive cannabis compound to have detrimental effects on the viability of these cells, inhibiting their growth “significantly”.

  • Antiproliferative action on brain tumour cells.

    A study found in the British Journal of Cancer found that THC and other cannabinoids were able to inhibit the growth of brain tumors. In two out of nine patients, the compounds were able to decrease the number of tumor cells, all without psychoactive effects.

  • The cannabinoid system can serve to protect the brain against neurodegeneration.

    The Journal of Neuroscience contains another study from 2001 in which THC-treated rats received neuro-protective benefits. Neuro-degeneration refers to progressively worsening brain function commonly found in age-related dementia but also when the brain is damaged. The researchers found that rats treated with THC were protected against such damage, indicating it as a potential solution for slowly progressive neurodegenerative disease and also acute damage that could occur as a result of directed tumor treatment.

  • Antibacterial effects of cannabinoids

    A 2008 study led by Appendino et al. demonstrated that cannabinoids have antibacterial activity even on MRSA. They stated that:

All five major cannabinoids (cannabidiol (1b), cannabichromene (2), cannabigerol (3b), Delta (9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (4b), and cannabinol (5)) showed potent activity against a variety of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains of current clinical relevance.


As a side note, in Hindu texts cannabis was known as ‘sacred grass’. It has also been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.


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