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Woman doctor holding branch cannabis and test tube with natural hemp oil marijuana Premium Photo

Hemp oil that is paired with hemp on a brown wooden floor.

Hemp extracted from marijuana, the marijuana peaks grown on a green natural .

Cannabis, cannabis seeds, cannabis oil placed on a wooden floor with a green tree in the background.

Cannabis, cannabis seeds, cannabis oil placed on a wooden floor with a green tree in the background.

Hemp oil that is paired with hemp on a brown wooden floor.

Cannabis, cannabis seeds, cannabis oil placed on a wooden floor with a green tree in the background.

Cannabis, cannabis seeds, cannabis leaves, cannabis oil placed on a green board on a wooden floor.

Cannabis, cannabis seeds, cannabis leaves, placed on a green board on a wooden floor.

Cannabis, cannabis seeds, cannabis leaves, cannabis oil placed on a green board on a wooden floor.

Cannabis, cannabis seeds, cannabis leaves, placed on the green board and there is hemp oil beside on the wooden floor.

On the wooden floor there is hemp oil, hemp seeds. and the green board is blank to put text.

Young woman growing marijuana plants inside a farm

Concept of cannabis plantation for medical, a scientist holding a test tube and laptop to analysis on cannabis farm

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Homemade muffin with cbd cannabis and leaf garnish treatment of medical marijuana for use in food

Cannabis cbd oil, medical cannabis concept, hand of holding magnifying glass looking at hemp leaf. formula cbd (cannabidiol)

Large number of cannabis flowers the hands of medetsinsky employee concepts of profuse cultivation

Herbal extract and cannabis leaf in green transparent bottle dropper. rose quartz face massage roller, concept for natural eco cosmetics.

Making Medicine From Marijuana

NIDA. “Making Medicine From Marijuana .” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 15 Sep. 2014, https://archives.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/making-medicine-marijuana.

NIDA. Making Medicine From Marijuana . National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://archives.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/making-medicine-marijuana. September 15, 2014.

This is the second post of a 3-part series on the science of medical marijuana. Check out Part 1: What’s Wrong With “Medical Marijuana”? and Part 3: Medicines or Poisons?—Why Cannabinoids Can Both Help and Hurt You.

What people usually mean by “medical marijuana” is use of an unprocessed (raw) plant to treat illness—or herbal medicine, in other words. Unprocessed means the leaves, stems, or seeds are just taken off the plant and used.

Before the 20 th century, that’s mostly what medicine was.

But science has made a lot of progress in the last several decades, and generally it hasn’t looked back. It’s because we now have ways of picking out the specific chemicals that are useful from plants and putting just those parts in a pill, without all the unwanted chemicals that might cause side effects or even be toxic.

This is what a lot of scientists are busy doing right now with marijuana—trying to figure out which chemicals in the plant really are useful in treating health problems and then finding ways to deliver them safely and effectively to patients to treat their conditions.

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Turning Marijuana into Medicine

At the last count, scientists have found over 500 separate chemicals in the marijuana plant. The main chemical that gives users the “high” is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, but there are over 100 other chemicals in marijuana that have a similar molecular structure to THC. This family of chemical compounds is called cannabinoids.

So far, there are two FDA-approved medications containing THC for treating nausea and appetite problems caused by cancer chemotherapy and AIDS. Other drugs with THC in them have been approved already in other countries for treating symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) and are now being carefully tested before being approved in the United States.

Another marijuana chemical is cannabidiol, or CBD. News reports have highlighted some families who are living in states where medical marijuana is legal so their children with bad forms of epilepsy can get special high-CBD marijuana extracts to help control seizures.

These extracts probably still contain other, possibly harmful ingredients. But a medicine only containing CBD is now being tested in the United States. If the science finds that CBD really is a good treatment for seizures, eventually patients may be able to take that or another safe, CBD-based medication. This could help people get the safe treatment they need.

Cannabinoids and Other Diseases

Lots of different cannabinoid chemicals are being studied to see whether they have beneficial effects on conditions ranging from addictions and other mental health problems to pain and other serious conditions. Most are still a long way from being studied in humans and going on to become medications.

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In Part 3, we’ll look at why chemicals in the marijuana plant could be so helpful even though they may also be harmful. It turns out, marijuana’s not unique in being two-faced!