Doctors can recommend cannabis to treat these 15 conditions

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Under the federal Controlled Substance Act, cannabis remains an illegal schedule 1 drug. But 33 states and the District of Columbia have legally approved medical cannabis. Though new policies have been established at the state level, doctors cannot legally prescribe cannabis to their patients without potentially losing their license. But the ruling of Conant v. Walters, a case decided by the United States Courts of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, affirmed that a doctor can legally recommend the use of cannabis for patients suffering from chronic and debilitating medical conditions.

Every state has its own definition of what qualifies as a debilitating illness. Here are a few conditions that officials agree a doctor can recommend cannabis for.

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Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, occurs when the body's immune system attacks the central nervous system, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The myelin, or "fatty" substance encompassing the body's nervous system, is damaged, causing problems concerning the brain, spinal cord and eyes. There is not currently a cure for MS, but comprehensive studies have evaluated the effects of cannabis consumption on MS patients. According to a study conducted by the American Academy of Neurology, oral cannabis can benefit patients experiencing pain, spasticity and urinary frequency. MS is a medical condition that cannabis can be recommended to treat where medical marijuana is legalized.

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HIV/AIDS

HIV targets the immune system and, if left untreated, can develop into AIDS. HIV and AIDS, along with the medications generally prescribed for treatment,  can cause nausea, vomiting, chronic pain and rapid weight loss. The Federal Drug Association, or FDA, has approved dronabinol, a synthetic form of cannabis, as a drug that can be recommended to patients suffering from appetite and weight loss because of HIV or AIDS.

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Cancer

In 2018, an estimated 9.6 million people died from cancer. It is the second-leading cause of death behind heart disease in the U.S. Chemotherapy is a common treatment for cancer patients. While working to stop or slow the development of cancer cells, chemotherapy can cause appetite loss, fatigue, weight loss, chronic pain and nausea. The FDA approved several synthetic and man-made forms of cannabis, such as dronabinol and nabilone, to combat chemotherapy symptoms. Evidence suggests that when inhaled, marijuana can help with chronic pain caused by nerve damage in cancer patients.

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Parkinson's disease

According to the Parkinson's Foundation, an estimated 60,000 Americans are diagnosed annually with Parkinson's disease. The disease causes the nervous system to deteriorate. Those affected experience slow movement, known as bradykinesia as well as tremors; and limb stiffness, among other symptoms. Parkinson's disease remains incurable, but studies have found that the use of cannabis may improve tremors and bradykinesia in patients. Parkinson's disease is explicitly defined as a qualifying condition to become a medical marijuana patient in states like Illinois, and its symptoms are qualifiable in others.

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Crohn's disease

Crohn's disease is a lifelong condition in which the digestive tract is inflamed. People suffering from this chronic illness may experience debilitating symptoms ranging from intense abdominal pain to delayed growth. According to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, studies have shown that the use of cannabis in patients with Crohn's disease can contribute to a decrease in intestinal inflammation and improve sleep. Crohn's disease is a qualifying condition for medical cannabis in all states where its usage has been legalized.

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder experienced by people who have undergone or observed a traumatic incident. Individuals with PTSD often have nightmares, depression or intense fear or anger. While psychotherapy and medication are the most common treatments for PTSD, studies, like the one conducted by the Canadian Forces Health Services Centre, found that cannabis has beneficial effects. Specifically, cannabis can reduce nightmares. PTSD is a qualifying condition for marijuana in all states where it is medically legalized.

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Huntington's disease

Huntington's disease, or HD, is a genetic disorder that causes a person's mental capabilities to deteriorate due to the disintegration of nerve cells located in the brain. Patients with HD experience uncontrolled muscle movements and slurred speech. Currently, there is no cure for Huntington's disease and no treatment to reverse the progression of the disease, but studies have shown that the use of cannabis may help improve motor function and relieve stress and anxiety in patients. States like New York and Pennsylvania have signed bills to legally qualify HD as a medical condition that can be treated by medical cannabis.

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Glaucoma

Glaucoma is caused by the build-up of fluid in the front of the eye. The excess fluid increases pressure and causes damage to the optic nerve, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Those with glaucoma may have severe eye pain or blurred vision or experience nausea and vomiting because of intense discomfort. The use of cannabis as a treatment for glaucoma is a topic heavily debated by ophthalmologists, but research published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology has shown that cannabis does help alleviate pain and vomiting experienced by patients, especially those with late-stage glaucoma. Glaucoma is a qualifying condition in every state where medical marijuana has been legalized.

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Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a chronic condition that causes a person to suffer from recurring seizures. Approximately 3 million Americans live with the disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The benefits of cannabis have frequently been studied in the search to effectively treat epileptic patients. The FDA approved Epidolex, a cannabidiol, or CBD, oral treatment for seizures. Epidolex is currently the only federally approved medical CBD product. And a study conducted by the American Epilepsy Society found that the use of the cannabinoid for Treatment-Resistant Epilepsy was promising. Cannabis can be recommended to patients suffering from epilepsy in all states where medical consumption of the drug is legal.

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Alzheimer's disease and dementia

Dementia is not a disease, but a syndrome used to describe a group of symptoms that reduce an individual's mental capabilities. North Dakota is currently the only state that directly lists dementia in its medical marijuana policy. In comparison, Alzheimer's disease is a type of dementia and medically defined as an irreversible disorder in which neurons in the brain die. Thirteen states allow doctors to recommend cannabis to treat Alzheimer's. Cannabis does not slow or stop the progression of dementia or Alzheimer's disease, but research has shown that it can help manage agitation, aggression and other behavioral issues.

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Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a chronic mental disorder characterized by the inability to distinguish between real and unreal experiences. Symptoms of schizophrenia are divided into three categories - positive, negative and cognitive - and can range from trouble focusing to hallucinating. According to research published in Translational Psychiatry, an online medical journal,  the use of CBD may be an effective way to diffuse social withdrawal and cognitive deficits experienced by schizophrenic patients. Currently, schizophrenia is not directly listed in any states' medical marijuana policy, but some of its symptoms are.

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Tourette's syndrome

Tourette's syndrome is a neurological disorder that affects motor or phonic abilities. Individuals with the disorder may have repetitive, uncontrollable movements or make uncontrolled sounds, according to the Tourette Association of America. Studies have found that CBD-based formulations help reduce tics and calm patients suffering from obsessiveness or irritability. Several states explicitly list Tourette's syndrome in their policies for medical marijuana recommendation and usage.

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Depression

Distinguished by intense feelings of sadness or worthlessness and a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, depression, or major depressive disorder, is a treatable medical illness. According to the American Psychiatric Association, an estimated one in six people will experience depression and its symptoms in their lifetime. Studies done by scientists at Washington State University found that, after smoking cannabis, individuals reported having reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.  Depression, when associated with a terminal illness, only qualifies for a medical marijuana recommendation in Delaware.

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Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is an autoimmune disease that causes the body's immune system to attack the joints. The tissue lining the joints becomes inflamed, resulting in swelling and intense pain. Current solutions for RA include over-the-counter prescriptions and, in more serious cases, surgery. Recent studies have suggested that joint inflammation and pain are reduced when patients use CBD oil. Further nerve damage is also prevented in affected joints. Arthritis, and specifically RA, is listed in medical marijuana policies for eight states, including Connecticut and Hawaii.

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Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by pain felt all over the body. In addition to intense pain, individuals may be fatigued and have difficulty concentrating. Studies like one published in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology have concluded that oral cannabis alleviates pain significantly in patients with fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is listed in medical marijuana policies for five states. Its symptoms can qualify individuals for a medical recommendation in all states where cannabis has been legalized.  

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