Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug, especially among adolescents and young adults. Changes in marijuana policies across states legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use suggest that marijuana is gaining greater acceptance.
Thus, it is particularly important for people to understand what is known about both the adverse health effects and the potential therapeutic benefits of marijuana. This NIDA Research Report serves as a useful summary of what the most up-to-date science has to say about marijuana and its effects on those who use it.
The term medical marijuana refers to using the whole unprocessed marijuana plant or its basic extracts to treat a disease or symptom. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not recognized or approved the marijuana plant as medicine. However, scientific study of the chemicals contained in marijuana, called cannabinoids, has led to three FDA-approved medications that contain cannabinoid chemicals: Marinol (dronabinol) and Cesamet (nabilone) both come in pill form while Syndros (dronabinol) is an oral solution. All three are used to treat severe nausea and wasting in patients with HIV and cancer. Continued research may lead to more medications. For more information about medical marijuana you can download NIDA Drug Facts.
Synthetic cannabinoids - herbs that have been sprayed with chemical additives to mimic the psychoactive effects of botanical marijuana - are sold for recreational drug use. Synthetic cannabinoids are marketed under more than 500 names around the world, with "K2" or "Spice" as the most common brands. In contrast to cannabis, it is inexpensive and can be easy to get as a commercial product through convenience stores, tobacco shops, or head shops and the adverse effects are often much more severe. Many compounds have been banned in the U.S. and other countries, yet loopholes permit new products to enter the market on a regular basis. For more information on synthetic cannabinoids you can download this infographic.