The scientific name of marijuana is Cannabis sativa. In the United States, a chemical called THC derived from the plant is approved by the FDA only for medical purposes. It is generally used to ease nausea for cancer patients. It is also said to increase hunger so that patients do not enter states of malnutrition due to poor appetite. Some also claim that it slows tumor growth. Raw marijuana is not approved by the FDA for medical use, and it is illegal in the United States.
In the late 1990s, a review of studies over two decades was published. This review found that THC is one of the most effective drugs for alleviating chemotherapy-induced nausea. It also may be an appetite stimulant for AIDS patients. However, a further study claimed to find that THC is no more effective than more traditional, accepted methods for treating chemotherapy nausea. In 2006, a study attempted to find whether cannabis extract or THC increased appetite in cancer patients. Neither group reported a greater appetite increase than the placebo group, although the drugs were administered at low doses that were never increased, as is usually the case with THC treatment.
In 1999, the Institute of Medicine published its findings regarding the use of medical marijuana. It found that while THC did indeed suppress nausea, marijuana also delivered many harmful substances to the body that are in themselves carcinogens. A truly healthful use would require isolation of the good components while removing the bad. The same findings occurred in a study on whether marijuana use can slow the growth of breast cancer cells. Although it can indeed slow these cells’ growth, it would be necessary to obtain cannabidiol in its purified form to avoid other health risks.
Though, ostensibly, the use of medical marijuana is to alleviate nausea so that cancer patients can go about their everyday lives, the side effects of THC may prevent the patient from living a normal life. It can cause dizziness, euphoria, short-term memory loss, and the inability to complete simple tasks. Due to these side effects, one in 11 chemotherapy patients using THC stops taking the medication.
Though most medical professionals agree that marijuana contains carcinogens, most studies have not found increased cancer risk with its use. However, some caution that these studies may be invalid because many respondents may not be honest about their recreational marijuana use.