those described here. Most of these less common uses of medical marijuana, such as in patients with Crohn's disease and asthma, are based on a few anecdotal reports. However, since many different disorders share symptoms such as pain, nausea, and muscle spasms, it is possible that a wide variety of patients may be helped by medicines derived from marijuana.

All of the clinical trials we discuss share a common characteristic: they are intended to test whether marijuana or cannabinoids can improve specific symptoms, not whether marijuana-based medicines can cure disease. Although marijuana 's potential usefulness appears to be limited entirely to relieving discomfort, preliminary evidence indicates that it can provide relief to at least some patients.

Taken as a whole, the results of both basic research and clinical research on marijuana and cannabinoids suggest a variety of potential applications for marijuana-based medicines. Cannabinoids appear to be especially strong candidates for use in pain relievers, antinausea drugs, and appetite stimulants—or perhaps in broad-spectrum medications designed to treat all of these symptoms simultaneously, as they occur in AIDS patients and people undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. Most encouraging marijuana-related clinical studies reflect the therapeutic potential of a single cannabinoid: THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Weaker but still favorable scientific evidence supports the use of cannabinoids to treat muscle spasticity in patients with multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injury. The least promising indications discussed here include movement disorders, epilepsy, and glaucoma; nevertheless, animal experiments on movement disorders appear favorable enough to warrant continued exploration in the clinic.


1. Grinspoon L, Bakalar JB. 1997. Marijuana: The Forbidden Medicine. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; Mathre ML, ed. 1997. Cannabis in Medical Practice. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

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