A Guide To The Health Benefits Of Cannabis

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Many people have been making claims about the health benefits of cannabis for decades. People have been smoking and consuming cannabis for centuries. As cannabis becomes legalized in more and more areas, it is becoming more and more popular. When it was once a contraband item that many people went to prison for (and still do), in some areas it is as popular as having a beer in the evening, if not more so.

There have been many studies into the health benefits of cannabis, however, these have mostly been into the health benefits of CBD. CBD is a cannabinoid. This is one of the chemicals which make up cannabis but it is not what causes a “high”. The high is caused by THC, tetrahydrocannabinol. But, even these studies have been difficult to provide any conclusive evidence due to the fact that cannabis is illegal in so many areas. 

So, are the claims that have been made by people for decades (if not centuries) true? And is there a way to consume cannabis that is both safe and healthy, and doesn’t negatively impact others? What about the negative impacts of cannabis? It cannot be argued that cannabis, or any other drug whether medicinal or not, has no side effects. To answer all of these questions and more, here is our guide to the health benefits of cannabis.

Is Marijuana the Same as Cannabis?

A man sampling a CBD bottle

Essentially, yes. Marijuana and cannabis can be used interchangeably. So, if you see claims made about marijuana, the same can be said for cannabis. Usage will change depending on local parlance, age, and general ease. As with most other drugs, there are a huge number of different names used for marijuana. 

Generally speaking, people will use “cannabis” when referring to any kind of cannabis product. The name of the plant which is used to produce marijuana products is also called the Cannabis plant. “Marijuana” is more commonly used to refer to products made from the leaves, stems, seeds, or flowers of the cannabis plant. But, as mentioned above, they can be used interchangeably.


The difference between marijuana and cannabis is only preference and both refer to the same drug. But when it comes to THC and CBD, the difference is very important. The most important difference to consider is that THC causes a “high” and CBD does not.

Marijuana is made up from a number of different chemical compounds, two of which are THC and CBD. If you were to go into a grocery store in most states and countries around the world and see a product with a cannabis leaf on the front, this is very likely a CBD product. Legal limitations are still present in many places to control the use of CBD, despite the fact that it does not cause a high nor get you “stoned”. CBD is usually sold as an oil or infused into other products. If you are looking at dried plants, this is not CBD and likely THC. 

If you are in a store in states or countries in which marijuana is legalized, then there will be a much wider range of products available. In these areas, it is especially important to determine whether you are buying CBD or THC. CBD is more commonly used by people looking to cure some physical and mental ailments. Whereas people who buy THC are more commonly looking to get high. That said, medical marijuana can be either THC or CBD, or a combination of the two. CBN is another cannabinoid compound sometimes used for its health benefits but it is not nearly as popular as CBD.

What is Medical Marijuana?

A common claim by some people, whether ill or not, is that their marijuana is “medicinal”. But what is the difference between medicinal marijuana and the kind you can find in the store (or get from someone on the street)? 

In the US, the use of marijuana as medicine is legalized in 36 states. It is used for several different reasons, with pain relief being the main one. Some studies also show evidence that cannabis can be used to improve mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. People often use CBD oil to help with some problems. However, especially in areas where marijuana is still illegal, it can be difficult to find CBD which has a strong enough cannabinoid content to have any kind of effect. 

Medical marijuana can be THC, CBD, or CBN. Marijuana can be prescribed by a doctor, so they will make a decision on which type of cannabinoid will best suit a patient’s symptoms. There are many different health benefits of marijuana but it’s important for people to only take as much as they need and still have it regulated.

What is Medical Marijuana Used For?

Marijuana has some potentially impressive health benefits. It has only recently become widely used for medicinal purposes. Campaigners have spent an incredibly long time trying to get marijuana to be more easily accessible, especially for medicinal use. These campaigns have been successful as marijuana has been legalized in seventeen states. (It should be noted that legalization of marijuana for medical use is legal in far more states than for recreational use.)

Due to the laws surrounding the use of marijuana, both within the US and internationally, there is still limited information. The laws make studying the effects of the drug difficult. But some studies have shown evidence that there are a number of benefits.

Chronic Pain

This is one of the primary reasons why people support the use of medical marijuana. Chronic pain has a number of different causes. Many chronic illnesses cause chronic pain. Illnesses such as endometriosis and diabetes can cause regular if not constant pain. Other chronic illnesses can cause pain in flare-ups, such as arthritis and migraines. 

THC helps relieve chronic pain as it stimulates the brain’s cannabinoid receptors and activates the brain’s reward system. These cannabinoid receptors are found in peripheral nerves that detect pain sensations. Cannabinoids have been shown to block the pain experienced by these nerves. However, in some studies, THC has been shown to actually increase people’s sensitivity to pain.

CBD also stimulates these cannabinoid receptors and can help to relieve pain, as well as inflammation, in a similar way. CBD is often preferred as it does not cause a high.


As mentioned above, diabetes is a chronic condition that most people are familiar with to some extent. It can be managed with regular insulin injections and diet controls, but it can still be a difficult illness to cope with. While there are conflicting studies on the impact marijuana use can have on developing type 2 diabetes, there have been some promising signs that it can benefit those with type 1 diabetes.

One of the main claims is that marijuana can stabilize blood sugars. Normally, blood sugar levels are controlled by the hormone insulin, this is something that the bodies of people with diabetes cannot produce. This means that being able to stabilize blood sugar with marijuana would have a huge impact. Especially when the ease with which marijuana can be smoked or ingested, which is much easier than the regular insulin injections that people with diabetes must give themselves. 

There are other benefits for people with diabetes, but this is the one that will have the biggest impact. Unfortunately, the evidence so far is primarily anecdotal. This means that scientific studies are necessary to understand the potential benefits and drawbacks of medical marijuana use for people with diabetes.


Cancer is not always terminal nor is it chronic but it does cause incredible levels of pain, as do some of the treatments for the disease. Many people suffering from all kinds of cancer choose to use marijuana to ease the pain. This is especially true for people who are suffering from terminal cancer and use the drug to ease their pain and general suffering toward the end of their life.

There is, however, currently no evidence to show that marijuana or any of its individual chemical compounds can treat, cure, or delay cancer itself. There are many claims, primarily online, that marijuana can cure or treat cancer. The evidence for this is currently very limited and more often than not, the people offering these products and treatments are looking to make money from those who are ill and suffering. 

Cancer is a varied disease but it is debilitating in all its forms. Marijuana, primarily CBD oil, can help to relieve the pain and nausea caused by the disease and its treatments. Some studies have shown that marijuana can potentially block the growth of cells and even kill them. But the evidence for this is still incredibly limited.

Regulate Seizures

CBD has been shown to help regulate the seizures of people who have two particular kinds of epilepsy (Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.). The oil is called Epidiolex and is currently the only CBD product that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that, while marijuana can be prescribed by a doctor, any store-bought CBD oil is unlikely to have a significant effect and the claims of their manufacturers should be taken with a grain of salt.


This is another use of marijuana for which the evidence is purely anecdotal, but is being considered by doctors and researchers. While the evidence has mostly been shared on online forums, primarily Reddit, researchers have used these accounts to survey whether marijuana is beneficial for treating ADHD.

It is important to note that all of the evidence is anecdotal and there have been no clinical trials to find evidence that marijuana in any form can be used to treat ADHD. In fact, some forum users dispute the claims of others and find that marijuana not only doesn’t help but instead makes their ADHD worse. Marijuana can have a calming effect on some people, whereas in others it can cause them to have difficulty concentrating and remembering things.

In fact, a 2016 study showed that people with ADHD who regularly used marijuana performed worse in cognitive, verbal, memory, decision-making, and processing speed tests than those who did not use it.

Anxiety and Depression

Several studies have shown that marijuana, specifically CBD, is effective in reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression. However, as mentioned above, research is still limited due to legal issues surrounding marijuana. There are, as yet, no large-scale clinical trials that can provide enough evidence to promote the use of marijuana as a treatment for mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. 

It is also important to note that these studies looked at the effects of CBD specifically, not THC or smoking or ingesting the cannabis plant itself. As mentioned above, CBD does not cause users to feel “high” nor “stoned”. So, while there is evidence to suggest that some marijuana compounds can help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression, there is no evidence to suggest that regularly getting high from marijuana provides any help. Indeed, one of the most common side effects of THC is paranoia and anxiety.


Glaucoma is an illness for which medical marijuana is regularly prescribed. Glaucoma is a common eye condition where the optic nerve is damaged. The optic nerve connects the eye to the brain and so is an incredibly important part of your body. 

Unlike other conditions for which medical marijuana is used, glaucoma does not cause pain. It is often referred to as the “secret thief” of sight, as it can be difficult to notice the damage before vision starts to fade.

Treatments for glaucoma help to manage the pressure placed on the eye. Research emerged in the 1970s that suggested marijuana could be used as a treatment for glaucoma as it helped to relieve the pressure on the eye. This was preferential for some people during the 1970s as other treatments had a range of side effects.

However, today, there are a range of treatments that no longer have difficult side effects and actually work better for pressure management than marijuana. In fact, some studies have shown that marijuana can actually impair people’s vision.


Arthritis is a difficult condition to live with. It is caused by an overuse of the joints and causes the tissue in the joints to break down. There is no cure for arthritis and the tissue cannot grow back. Arthritis is a painful condition and usually occurs as flare ups. 

Marijuana can be used to help with the pain, however, it should be noted that this is with CBD oil, not THC. 

A common and debilitating symptom of arthritis is swelling in the affected joints. This is difficult to cope with and causes additional pain. Marijuana, specifically CBD, has been shown to help reduce inflammation and joint pain.

How to Take Medical Marijuana?

Empty bottle of CBD

One of the downsides to taking medical marijuana is the smell and taste. Some people love it and some people hate it. It is an incredibly strong smell and flavor that is difficult to get rid of or overwhelm with other flavors.

That said, there are a number of different ways to take medical marijuana, one of which is the more traditional way of smoking it, but there are other options as smoking isn’t the healthiest option.


It is possible to smoke the dried cannabis plant itself. This is the most traditional way of consuming it. However, inhaling any kind of smoke isn’t a particularly healthy thing to do. Most of the health benefits associated with marijuana are possible to gain through CBD, which is usually provided as an oil. This means that smoking marijuana is not the only option nor the best.

Inhale it Using a Vaporizer

Vaping has become a common alternative to smoking. It is possible to gain the (potential) health benefits of marijuana through a vape. This is also a less antisocial option than smoking. It is possible to buy vapes which produce very little vapor, however, it is possible for others to inhale the marijuana through the fumes.

Ingesting It

Weed brownies are an incredibly well-known way to eat marijuana, but there are alternatives. If you go into a store in a state which has legalized weed, then you will see a huge range of what are known as “edibles”. These can be in gummies, lollipops, or other sweets. Marijuana can be mixed into a wide number of foods. This is another less antisocial option.

Apply to Skin in Lotion, Spray or Cream

This is an option, especially for localized pain. CBD infused lotions, sprays, and creams are available, however, they will usually have very small amounts of CBD. As mentioned above, there is only one CBD product that is actually approved by the FDA. It’s important to check the ingredients list and the concentration of any CBD or marijuana product. 

Some products might contain hemp, which is a cannabis plant with a lower THC content. This means that it is commonly used in lotions and potions but does not have many of the potential benefits of marijuana itself.


CBD oil is one of the most popular ways to use marijuana. It doesn’t produce a high and can be applied directly to an area of the body which is in pain, infused into drinks, or a few drops can be placed under the tongue.

Difference Between Medical Marijuana and Recreational Drugs

Cannabis plants are made up of over 400 different chemicals. 70 of these are chemical compounds known as “cannabinoids”. Two of the best-known and most widely used cannabinoids are THC and CBD. 

The main difference between medical marijuana and recreational drugs is the intended use. People take marijuana in a recreational setting in order to achieve a high. Whereas medical marijuana is used to treat the symptoms, usually pain and inflammation, associated with a range of illnesses and diseases.

As mentioned above, THC is the compound which gives a high, whereas CBD does not. There are so many legal restrictions on marijuana that studies into the benefits of medical marijuana are limited. However, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the main benefits of marijuana can be achieved through taking CBD. This means that a high is an avoidable side effect and taking THC is not necessary.

Can You Become Addicted to Cannabis?

Man sitting on the couch smoking cannabis

Unlike many other recreational drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, marijuana is not necessarily “addictive”. People can become dependent on marijuana which causes them to feel withdrawal effects if they stop using it. This is known as a “disorder” which is not an addiction. Data suggests that around 30% of marijuana users have a disorder.

This does not mean that a disorder cannot develop into an addiction. It is rare but it is possible to become addicted to marijuana. An addiction is when someone cannot stop taking a drug, even when it interferes with their life. It is estimated that around 9% of marijuana users are addicted.

Whether it is possible to be addicted to marijuana is controversial. It is very rare but it is no more addictive, or even less addictive, than many prescribed drugs and other medications. While there cannot yet be any conclusive claims around the benefits of using marijuana for medical use, and there definitely are negative effects of marijuana, addiction is not really a drawback that can be used to argue against it.

Cannabis and Risk of Psychotic Illness

Two person going psycho

One of the main drawbacks of marijuana is its impact on the brain. There are risks of psychotic illnesses, primarily schizophrenia. Using marijuana can also cause anxiety and paranoia. Psychotic illness is a very dangerous risk of using marijuana.

As with aspects of marijuana, this drawback is primarily due to THC. CBD does not seem to have the risks of psychotic illness. In fact, there are some theories that CBD might even be able to help treat illnesses such as schizophrenia. 

It is definitely not a good idea to self-medicate for most ailments but especially more psychosis, so it’s not a good idea to test whether CBD oil has an impact without professional medical supervision.

Other Risks Linked to Smoking Marijuana

Twins smoking Cannabis

Smoking anything is dangerous. If you inhale something that is not oxygen then you are potentially damaging your lungs or negatively impacting your breathing. This might only be for short periods of time or irregularly, but the impact can be quick and potentially dangerous. 

This is especially true as marijuana is often combined with tobacco when smoked. This adds even more severe health issues as it is widely known and accepted that tobacco is incredibly bad for people. It can also damage the lungs of people who are around smokers through secondhand smoke. While the risks are less with just marijuana, it is still possible for people to inhale secondhand smoke from marijuana, with some studies showing THC in the blood of those who were near marijuana smokers in a well-ventilated room.

Feeling Wheezy or Out of Breath

This is one of the main problems with smoking anything, including marijuana. This is partly due to inhaling the smoke itself and blocking oxygen from entering the lungs. Smoking marijuana also causes phlegm production to increase and cause the throat to swell up.

All of these can cause a smoker to feel wheezy and out of breath. This is one of the problems with smoking marijuana for medical purposes. While it might help to an extent, it can get in the way of everyday life and potentially make the user feel worse in other ways.

Developing an Uncomfortable or Painful Cough

Coughing is a common side effect of smoking anything, including marijuana. Persistently coughing can cause pain in the chest, ribs, sides, and even back. Especially if the coughing is rigorous. This is, however, only temporary. 

People cough in order to try and remove something from the lungs or airways that should not be there. Some smokers will eventually become used to smoking and stop coughing when they actually smoke, but they can still have a cough the rest of the time. This is known as a “smoker’s cough” and can develop in marijuana users. However, not to the same extent as tobacco smokers.

Reduced Ability to Drive

This is mainly a problem due to the high caused by THC. Just as it is dangerous to drink and drive, it is dangerous to drive while high. When high, a person might not realise it, but their perception of space and cognitive abilities are impaired. Their sight can also be impaired, all of which will make driving difficult and dangerous for the driver, passengers, pedestrians, and other road users.

Making Asthma Worse

Asthma is caused by the inflammation of the lungs and smoking anything causes the lungs to become inflamed. This means that smoking marijuana can make asthma worse. So, even for medical purposes, smoking marijuana is not a good idea for asthmatics.

Marijuana and Pregnancy

Marijuana leaves next to a pregnant woman

As marijuana becomes more legalized and CBD products become more widely available, especially to treat ailments, it is being marketed towards pregnant people. As with other claims around marijuana, there is not much evidence to support claims that it can help with pregnancy side effects.

One of the main claims is that marijuana can help with morning sickness. There is some evidence that CBD oil can help reduce nausea. However, the research has primarily been carried out on cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, which often causes nausea and vomiting. This means that claims around CBD oil, and especially other cannabis compounds, should be treated very critically. 

As with other claims around marijuana, there has not been enough research to support the potential benefits which means that there is not enough research into the potential side effects and negative impacts. 

As with other drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco, it’s best to avoid marijuana when pregnant. It is known that tobacco will negatively impact any person who smokes it, especially pregnant people. There is still a lot of debate around alcohol, however, it is best to avoid it. This should be the same attitude toward marijuana. There is not enough evidence nor information around the effects which cannabis products might have on pregnant people and gestating babies, so it is best avoided. 

This is a problem when it comes to using marijuana for easing ailments. Some people who use marijuana for pain or anxiety would need to curb their usage while pregnant. This can be a problem as they will not be able to treat their illnesses as they normally would. This is not uncommon, however, as a lot of medication is not recommended for pregnant people. This means that, while it is best to be avoided, it should be acknowledged that alternatives will be necessary for many people.


Doctors Studying Cannabis

It is very difficult to make a conclusive statement on the health benefits of marijuana. This is primarily due to its illegality in many areas that make studying the effects of the drug very difficult. While there are many claims about its health benefits, there have been few large scale clinical trials to prove any of the anecdotal evidence.

This means that anyone who regularly uses marijuana to treat medical problems does so at their own risk. In areas where this is illegal, marijuana is used at the risk of legal ramifications. But even in areas where the drug is legal, the use of marijuana can have a negative impact on a person’s health. 

The lack of large scale trials on the health benefits of marijuana also means that there is very limited knowledge about the side effects and negative impact of marijuana use. Some illnesses and medical conditions might actually be made worse by regular and prolonged marijuana use. Some people might feel as though it helps them, particularly if they are in less pain, but they might be experiencing negative side effects that they are unaware of.