Two decades ago, the phrase “medical marijuana” first entered the public scene. 1996, California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana with the approval of Proposition 215. Oregon, Washington, and Alaska followed suit just two years later passing their own medical marijuana measures in 1998.

Since then, more than half of the United States has decriminalized or legalized cannabis in some way. Only three states prohibit marijuana use entirely, without any laws allowing usage or possession.

As recently as 2018, Oklahoma legalized medical marijuana there a state ballot measure. Oklahoma is the most recent state to enact a medical cannabis program, making it the 33rd state to do so.

With medical marijuana programs starting in states throughout the nation, many people want to know what the facts, basics, and benefits are of using cannabis. This guide will discuss the truth behind medical marijuana, cannabis has benefits for people with chronic illness or injury, and the reasons why many states are implementing medical marijuana programs through ballot measures and legislature.

What is medical marijuana?

Medical marijuana is the use of cannabis to treat physical or mental health conditions by relieving the user’s symptoms. Contrary to popular belief, there’s no difference between recreational marijuana and medical marijuana. Both types produce the same natural chemicals, active ingredients, and terpenes, although medical cannabis may be subject to stricter harvesting laws in states which allow both recreational and medical grow operations.

What are the active ingredients in medical marijuana?

Marijuana contains thousands of natural chemical compounds, each playing a role in its distinct psychoactive effect. However, there are two active compounds which are responsible for the most commonly sought effects from medical cannabis. These compounds are known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

THC is the most widely known psychoactive compound in marijuana. Researchers believe it’s responsible for the popular “high” feeling people seek when they use cannabis recreationally.

CBD is growing in popularity throughout the United States as research confirms it’s medical benefits. Unlike THC, CBD is not responsible for any psychoactive effects and is widely considered to be more medically beneficial than other natural chemicals in marijuana. For example, CBD is famously useful for treating epilepsy, as evidenced in the new cannabis-derived prescription drug Epidiolex that’s undergoing clinical trials.

What are common uses for medical marijuana?

Depending on the state, a person must exhibit one or more conditions that may be treated with medical marijuana to legally purchase the substance. Approved conditions vary between states, but the most common reasons people use medical cannabis include treatment for:

  • Chronic pain
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Clinical depression
  • Epilepsy
  • Muscle spasms
  • Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases
  • Insomnia

According to recent studies, CBD offers anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant, neuroprotective, antioxidant, anxiolytic, antipsychotic, and antiemetic properties. For these reasons, some medical professionals suggest CBD may be beneficial for patients with Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease, fetal hypoxia, and other movement disorders or neurodegenerative conditions.

However, it’s important for individuals to remember that medical cannabis is still in its earliest stages of research due to historical bans on studies with the substance. Studies may suggest a wide range of benefits from using medical cannabis, but further clinical research is needed to confirm many of these claims.

Does medical marijuana have side effects?

Relatively minimal side effects are one of the major reasons some patients pursue medical cannabis treatments as an alternative to prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. However, there are a few adverse effects users should be aware of if they treat their conditions with medical marijuana, especially at higher doses.

When used in low or moderate doses, medical cannabis can lead to side effects like dry mouth and fatigue. These effects will pass over the course of the drugs duration, and shouldn’t have any long-term impact on the user’s health.

At higher doses, medical marijuana can cause side effects like:

  • Paranoia
  • Dizziness
  • Visual or auditory hallucinations
  • Mood changes

Some medical professionals have expressed concerns about medical marijuana use among teenagers because of the increased risk to their immature brains and neurological systems. If a person’s neurological functions are not fully developed, they may have an increased risk of schizophrenia or a relative loss of IQ if exposed to marijuana. For this reason, most medical professionals agree adolescents should avoid medical marijuana use.

Additionally, there is widespread public concern about driving under the influence of medical cannabis. Using medical marijuana can reduce a person’s reaction time similarly to alcohol, leading to a higher rate of motor vehicle accidents among drivers who are under the influence of cannabis.

Is medical marijuana legal?

At the time of writing, 33 states have legalized medical cannabis. In these 33 states, individuals with qualifying health conditions can receive a medical marijuana card to present at licensed dispensaries, letting them purchase cannabis according to the state’s restrictions.

However, cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug as determined by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). this makes cannabis illegal at the federal level, both medicinally and recreationally.

In states where medical cannabis programs are legal, participant are still required to get authorization from a medical professional stating that cannabis will adequately treat their medical conditions, and they must receive a prescription. It is illegal for a person to purchase medical marijuana in states with qualifying programs if they haven’t legally obtained a medical marijuana identification card.

How do patients purchase medical marijuana?

In states where medical cannabis is legal, specialized shops – commonly known as dispensaries – are licensed to sell campus. These dispensaries sell marijuana products in many forms, which may include Edibles, extracts, oils, and plant matter. Dispensaries are legally required to sell cannabis within the licensing state’s regulations and must require customers to present their medical marijuana cards before making transactions.

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