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Medical marijuana has been used to treat various ailments for over 3,000 years, according to the National Institutes of Health. But not everyone agrees on how effective it may be, or whether it should be legal.
While it’s legal in more than 30 states, medical marijuana is not legal at the federal (national) level, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The National Library of Medicine reports that medical marijuana has been found effective for certain medical conditions, such as nausea. However, marijuana use has also been associated with memory and behavioral problems.
According to the National Library of Medicine, medical marijuana has been used to treat such conditions as nausea and appetite loss (for example, due to HIV/AIDS).
It has also been used to treat Parkinson’s disease (according to the Parkinson’s Foundation) and epilepsy (according to the Epilepsy Foundation). It has been tried for other conditions as well – such as multiple sclerosis, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
However, using a drug to treat a condition is different from proving that a drug effectively treats the condition. See below for information about how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approached medical marijuana.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved the use of medical marijuana, notes the FDA website. However, it has approved some drugs based on certain substances derived from marijuana for some medical conditions. For example, the FDA approved two prescription drugs in the cannabinoids class of drugs.
Cannabinoids (which come from marijuana, also called cannabis) are active ingredients in these FDA-approved prescription drugs, dronabinol and nabilone. Dronabinol and nabilone are used to treat nausea – for example, resulting from chemotherapy treatments, according to the National Institutes of Health.
According to the National Library of Medicine, opioids are a type of drug used to relieve pain. There are several prescription drugs that are opioids, such as fentanyl and oxycodone. These drugs sometimes come with the risk of misuse, addiction, or overdose.
A study of opioid use under Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) found that prescriptions for opioids decreased in states that legalized medical marijuana. This was reported by the American Medical Association’s JAMA website.
The JAMA website reported that an average of 23.08 million daily doses of opioids were prescribed in each state under Medicare Part D in a study that ran from 2010-2015. That daily average went down by 2.11 million doses in states where medical marijuana was legal, and even more when states had medical marijuana dispensaries.
Medicare doesn’t typically cover medical marijuana. However, more and more individual states are legalizing it, and laws can change. So, if your doctor feels you’d benefit from medical marijuana, it may be worth contacting Medicare to see if it can be covered in your case. Call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users call 1-877-486-2048. Medicare representatives are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
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