What Are the Top Uses of Medical Cannabis?

First legalized for medical use within the U.S. in 1996, cannabis—the dried flowers, leaves, seeds and stems of the Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa plants—has been increasingly prescribed for medical purposes in the decades since. In fact, according to the Center for Advancing Health (CFAH), 4.4 million registered patients used medical marijuana in the U.S. in 2021, and as of 2018, 67% of physicians were in favor of nationwide medical cannabis legalization. To date, 39 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis use for medical purposes. This includes Florida, which legalized medical cannabis in 2016.

Commonly referred to as “marijuana,” “pot,” or “weed,” cannabis has numerous medical uses. Indeed, the Florida Statutes currently state that patients diagnosed with any of the following conditions may qualify to receive medical cannabis or a cannabis delivery device:

  • Cancer
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • Positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Another medical condition that’s similar or comparable to the ones listed above
  • A terminal condition (this must have been diagnosed by a doctor other than the one issuing the physician certification for the medical cannabis prescription)
  • Chronic nonmalignant pain

Below, we explore some of the most common uses for medical cannabis in greater detail, explaining how cannabis can be used to treat each condition and noting when a particular strain is preferable. We also discuss the various ways that medical cannabis can be taken.

Medical Cannabis for Chronic Pain

According to the CFAH, approximately 64% of medical cannabis patients use it to help relieve chronic and severe pain. Indeed, many studies have shown that cannabis can help ease chronic pain resulting from nerve damage and/or inflammation. This is largely because it contains the compounds tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which stimulates the brain’s cannabinoid receptors and reduces pain levels, and cannabidiol (CBD), which interacts with the brain’s pain receptors to produce pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects.

Many people who use medical cannabis for chronic pain opt to use the indica strain, which reduces pain and anxiety and promotes relaxation and sleep. However, it’s important to note that the sativa strain—which typically boosts energy and mood—has also been shown to help relieve headaches and migraines.

Medical Cannabis for Cancer

About 6% of medical cannabis patients use the drug for cancer, per the CFAH. Medical cannabis is often used to treat the pain associated with malignancies. Although cancer doesn’t always cause pain, it can if a tumor begins exerting pressure on nerves, organs or bones. What’s more, despite the many benefits they offer, certain cancer treatments—including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy—can produce pain as a side effect. As was outlined above, the THC and CBD components of cannabis both help reduce pain.

In addition to relieving cancer patients’ pain, medical cannabis can also help reduce their nausea and vomiting, which might result from the malignancy itself or the therapies used to treat it. Patients who use medical cannabis for this purpose often opt for the sativa strain, which has been shown to relieve nausea and increase a person’s appetite.

Medical Cannabis for Epilepsy

Per the CFAH, about 2% of medical cannabis patients use it to treat seizures and epilepsy. Researchers are still working to determine exactly how cannabis helps reduce seizures, but studies suggest that it may reduce inflammation within the brain, slow down how quickly signals can be sent to the brain or change calcium levels within the brain that affect how signals are transmitted between cells. Many patients who use medical cannabis to manage their epilepsy opt for the indica strain, which has been shown to help reduce seizure frequency.

Notably, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Epidiolex—a mostly purified plant-based cannabidiol oil—to treat seizures associated with Dravet syndrome, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and tuberous sclerosis complex in patients 1 year of age and older. However, it’s important to remember that this drug is not appropriate for everyone.

How Is Medical Cannabis Taken?

Medical cannabis can be taken in numerous different ways. Patients can choose whether to:

  • Eat it (after it’s been infused into an edible food product)
  • Place a liquid form of it under their tongue
  • Smoke it
  • Inhale it through a vaporizer, which transforms it into a mist
  • Apply it to their skin using a cream, lotion, oil or spray

Each of these methods offers its own set of benefits—for example, smoking and vaporizing cannabis both produce desired effects much more quickly than eating it. However, certain techniques also present drawbacks—for instance, researchers are still trying to determine whether smoking cannabis could potentially lead to the development of lung cancer or other health problems. An experienced provider can recommend the approach that’s best suited to your specific needs.

A Trusted Provider Prescribing Medical Cannabis to Qualifying Patients

If you’ve been diagnosed with one of the medical conditions listed above and believe that you could benefit from using medical cannabis, you can turn to Florida Medical Clinic. With an office at 7760 Curley Road in Watergrass, our family medicine team proudly serves patients from across the Tampa Bay area, and we’ll be happy to meet with you and determine whether you’re a candidate for a medical cannabis prescription. And if you are, we’ll walk you through the certification process to help ensure that you receive the treatment you need as quickly as possible. Click here to request an appointment with Dr. Ayazo at our Watergrass location.

About Dr. Michelle Ayazo, MD

Born in Bogotá, Colombia, and raised in Florida, Dr. Ayazo studied neuroscience at the University of Miami, then went on to earn her medical degree at Florida State University. She completed a family medicine residency at the University of South Florida and has earned board certification from the American Board of Family Medicine and the American Board of Obesity Medicine. When out of the office, Dr. Ayazo enjoys spending time with her friends and family, traveling, participating in outdoor activities and partaking in Latin American and Mediterranean cuisine.

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