While medical marijuana may not always be used for strictly health-related reasons, it is not an oxymoron.

Scientifically rigorous proof of the benefits of cannabis is not always available due to limits on legal research by the federal government. After researchers jump through the hoops to convince the feds that their research is worthwhile, they have to depend on a single strain of cannabis produced at one government-approved pot farm.

Anecdotal, experiential evidence—conducted by desperate people looking for help for their chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, chemotherapy-induced nausea—has led many to seek respite through weed. In many cases they first have tried conventional remedies such as prescription painkillers only to learn that:

  • They don’t work for all people
  • They lose efficacy over time as their body develops tolerance
  • They have negative side effects, such as addiction.

Marijuana is not an unalloyed good:

  • It also doesn’t work for everybody.
  • It is psychoactive and will get you “high”, which some find unpleasantly disorienting.
  • While the best evidence suggests that it isn’t addictive in a physical sense, it can become habit forming, requiring marijuana rehab.

If you’re not sure about using marijuana but you’re curious about the possible health benefits, there is an alternative: cannabidiol, better known as CBD and available as an oil. It is the second most abundant cannabinoid in marijuana, after the better-known tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but there are some important differences:

  • Like marijuana as a whole, THC is psychoactive. CBD is not.
  • While THC may contribute to the health benefits of marijuana (something called the entourage effect), CBD is responsible for most of the benefits.

The law is confusing about CBD, in part due to there being two main types of CBD: hemp derived and marijuana-derived.

In some places where even medical marijuana is still illegal, marijuana-derived CBD is allowed. In other places, CBD oil is sold over the counter as a dietary supplement in health food stores, though this is hemp-derived. It turns up in cosmetics, too.

Because the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate supplements, the quality of hemp-derived CBD can vary greatly, too, and even be toxic. Marijuana-derived CBD is better regulated, and with a tiny amount of THC (not enough to get high) and other cannabinoids, may work better, too.

With greater marijuana legality—another dozen states may vote this fall, and a few are expected to pass, and both the federal government and the World Health Organization beginning to consider changing marijuana’s illegal status—also comes better CBD and better CBD availability.

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