As of now, marijuana is still classed as a Schedule I drug and considered illegal under Federal criminal law. This means that those caught with marijuana can still receive hefty fines, and in some states, can even still serve jail time.
Regardless of individual state laws, ALL forms of cannabis are still illegal at the federal level.
Despite marijuana being illegal on a Federal level, though, individual states have of course adopted different laws that allow patients to consume medical marijuana for a wide variety of diseases and conditions. Some states have taken it one step further, even, and have permitted the recreational use of weed. (Please note however that using marijuana is subject to not only the state you reside in, but also the county or township. In some cases, it may be even further defined by the city).
Qualifying Conditions for Medical Marijuana: The Turning Point
2009 was a major turning point for the marijuana industry as President Barack Obama announced that the federal government would not seek to arrest or prosecute medical marijuana users and suppliers, as long as they conformed to state legal laws.
I don’t think [smoking marijuana] is more dangerous than alcohol…
-President Barack Obama, January 2014
This newfound “leniency” led many states to give the green light as far as implementing a medical marijuana program, as they knew millions of dollars in potential state tax revenue loomed once a valid program – with licensed dispensaries – was up and running. Moreover, independent agencies within each state’s Department of Health were tasked with coming up with a list of qualifying medical conditions – an assignment that, if you can imagine, is no small task.
In this article, we’ve compiled a list of the most common medical conditions that are eligible for MMJ use in the United States. As you’ll see, most states have a pretty similar list, which makes sense considering that doctor recommendations are based on the availability of scientific research and clinical trials that show positive results on each condition.
There are additional qualifying conditions other than the ones listed below, and in fact, most states with an MMJ program allow conditions to be added under special circumstances and case-by-case bases. Therefore, if you suffer from a condition not stated below, we recommend contacting your state’s Department of Health to see if any exceptions can be made.
The Most Common Qualifying Conditions for Medical Marijuana in the U.S. (Update for 2021)
*[Please note that these are only the most common qualifying conditions for medical marijuana in the U.S. – not all states will include every condition listed below].
ADD/ADHD is a condition associated with a wide range of symptoms, including:
Over the years there hasn’t been much research on medical marijuana and ADHD, but several initial studies have provided evidence that cannabis may be able to be used as an effective treatment for this disorder.
Despite no clinical recommendations [existing] that support the beneficial effects of cannabis use for ADHD, online discussions indicate that cannabis is [indeed] considered therapeutic for ADHD.
2) HIV / AIDS
Contrary to what most people think, AIDS is not a virus in itself but rather a set of symptoms that are caused by the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and destroys helper-T cells (aka CD4 cells, a type of white blood cell), then clones itself inside the cells in order to replicate non-stop.
AIDS is the term used when a patient with HIV can no longer fight the infection due to a weakened immune system. This causes them to develop certain defining symptoms and illnesses, and is also the last stage of HIV, when the infection is very advanced.
From “Marijuana as Medicine? The Science Beyond the Controversy” (2000):
While cannabis is NOT known to reverse the actual effects of HIV, it is commonly used to help treat symptoms of the virus, including relief from nausea and vomiting, wasting syndrome, appetite loss, pain, and decreased mood.
Anorexia divides into different types, with Anorexia and Anorexia Nervosa being the most common. It is a potentially a life-threatening eating disorder, and is often accompanied by a severe psychological disorder.
In general, anorexia:
- Is a general loss of appetite or a loss of interest in food
- Is a serious mental illness – patients do not necessarily lose interest in food, but intentionally restrict their food intake because of an irrational fear of being or becoming fat (anorexia nervosa)
As of now, Anorexia has no single cause but it does have several risk factors, including:
- Having a tendency towards depression
- Being overly worried about one’s weight and shape
- Having had an anxiety disorder during childhood
Marijuana is known to help those that suffer from Anorexia, and it has been classed by some marijuana doctors as an effective treatment.
Arthritis is of course very common, but it is unfortunately still a condition that is not very well understood – particularly rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, “arthritis” is a general term used to describe over 100 different types of conditions that are related to joint pain or joint disease.
People of all ages can have arthritis, and it is the leading cause of disability in America. Common symptoms of arthritis include:
- Swelling in the joints
- Joint pain and inflammation
- Decreased the range of motion
DID YOU KNOW: Arthritis is the leading cause of employment disability in the U.S.?
In 2000, researchers found that marijuana contains anti-inflammatory compounds, as well as natural analgesics (pain relievers) which can make it a very beneficial arthritis treatment for a wide range of patients.
From a 2017 publication in Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology:
…preclinical data exists indicates that the use of cannabis should be taken seriously as a potential treatment of joint pain.
5) Cachexia (wasting syndrome)
Cachexia is essentially a condition which denotes an excessive loss of weight. It most commonly happens due to depletion of adipose tissue and muscle mass in individuals suffering from a chronic disease such as cancer or HIV.
Cachexia is also known as “wasting syndrome,” and it is known for causing excessive muscle wasting, weakness, fatigue, and loss of appetite in patients. The word “cachexia” originates from the Greek terms -kakos, meaning “bad,” and -hexis, which means “condition.”
From the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN):
The NCCN guidelines cautiously mention cannabinoids as a breakthrough treatment for chemotherapy-induced nausea, [as well as] vomiting not responsive to other antiemetics…
6) Cancer (and cancer treatments)
Cancer is classed as a group of diseases characterized by out-of-control cell growth. As of now, there are well over 100 different types of cancer, each being classified by the specific type of cell that it affects.
Cancer alters cellular growth and reproduction, and may cause lumps or masses of tissue (tumors) to form. If untreated, tumors can grow and interfere with the digestive, nervous, and circulatory systems, and may even release hormones that alter body function.
Research in mice and rats has suggested that cannabinoids may inhibit tumor growth by:
- Causing apoptosis (programmed cell death)
- Blocking cell growth
- Blocking the development of blood vessels needed by tumors to grow.
Other research on animal models has shown that cannabinoids may be able to kill cancer cells, though this is not the reason why some states include cancer and cancer treatments within their list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.
From Dr. D.I. Abrams (San Francisco General Hospital, Integrative Oncology) in a 2016 report for Current Oncology:
Cannabis and cannabinoids are useful in managing symptoms related to cancer and its treatment.
Current Oncology, 2016
7) Chronic pain
About 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain – pain that is defined as lasting longer than six months – on a daily basis. The most common sources of pain stem from:
- Joint pain
- Acute/traumatic injury
- Back pain
- Sinus pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Studies on chronic pain with both neuropathic and inflammatory origins have found marijuana to be an effective treatment, as cannabinoids are known to release endogenous opioids which moderate the pain response system. While some studies have suggested that cannabis is no more effective than codeine in controlling pain, the side effects of marijuana versus narcotic pain relievers show that marijuana is a much safer option to use.
From “Cannabis and Pain: A Clinical Review” (2017):
As more patients turn to cannabis for pain relief, there is a need for additional scientific evidence to evaluate this increase.
8) Epilepsy / Seizures
Epilepsy is a group of neurological disorders characterized by intractable epileptic seizures, which are defined as episodes of uncontrollable electrical activity in the nervous system that can last from just a few seconds to several minutes.
Marijuana has anti-convulsant properties thanks in part to the presence of cannabidiol (CBD), a compound found at higher levels in hemp and some rare strains of marijuana. This makes cannabis an excellent treatment for epilepsy, as it helps to control spasms associated with the condition without providing any kind of psychoactive or intoxicating effects.
In fact, in June 2018 Epidiolex became the first-ever CBD-based drug to gain FDA approval for Dravet syndrome, which is a rare form of intractable epilepsy.
From a 2016 report in Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience:
The endocannabinoid system has a role in neuronal balance and ictal control … [and there] is clinical evidence of success in diminishing seizure frequencies with cannabis derivatives.
Glaucoma is a disease that affects and damages the eye’s optic nerve, as it tends to happen when pressure from intraocular fluid accumulates behind the retina.
Glaucoma is actually a leading cause of blindness in people over 60 years old, and forces many thousands of patients each year to undergo optic surgery. Current research has shown that there are cannabinoid receptors within the eye, implying that the endocannabinoid system may have dictation over aqueous humoural outflow and production.
In other words, specific marijuana strains have been known to reduce intraocular pressure inside the eye, therefore suggesting a potential ability to slow the progression of the disease.
From “Marijuana as Medicine? The Science Beyond the Controversy” (2000):
Glaucoma ranks among the most frequently cited reasons for using medical marijuana, and is one of the [conditions] for which the federal government once granted permission for compassionate marijuana…
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, aka PTSD, is an anxiety-based disorder that may develop after exposure to a traumatizing event in which significant physical or emotional harm occurred.
These events may include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat. Individuals that suffer from PTSD may:
- Have persistent frightening thoughts and memories
- Experience sleep problems
- Feel detached or numb
- Be easily distracted
Researchers have found that people with PTSD have lower levels of anandamide, which is an endogenous cannabinoid compound that works to regulate neurochemical balance within the central nervous system.
In fact, endogenous anandamide has been known to trigger the same receptors that are activated by THC (and other components of the marijuana), making PTSD a qualifying condition treatment for many states’ medical marijuana programs.
From “Medical Marijuana for PTSD: A Review of Clinical Effectiveness and Guidelines” (2017):
[Related Article: 3 Ways to Get a MMJ Card Online — Within Minutes!]
There is evidence from very low-quality studies that smoked marijuana, oral THC, and nabilone are efficacious in treating some symptoms of PTSD, particularly nightmares and sleep quality and quantity.
What About Anxiety and Insomnia — Are They Qualifying Conditions?
Even though anxiety, depression, and insomnia are some of the most common uses of cannabis among recreational patients, very few states actually include them in their list of qualifying conditions. This is due mostly in part to their ambiguous diagnostic nature; in other words, it can be difficult for a doctor to objectively determine (either through blood testing, tissue sampling, etc) whether or not a patient suffers from anxiety, insomnia, etc.
And in fact, few people know that cannabis with high amounts of THC will actually induce or worsen anxiety, which often leads to enhanced insomnia or even bouts of paranoia. CBD oil is a non-psychoactive extract that is being used more and more for the treatment of anxiety, as it seemingly possesses all of the therapeutic properties of whole-plant cannabis, without producing any high.
CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabis extract that is increasingly being used for anxiety and insomnia, as it appears to possess the therapeutic properties of cannabis WITHOUT producing a high.
Depression and Anxiety
Depression and anxiety are serious and common medical illnesses that affect how we feel. They negatively affect the way we think and how we act, and can lead to serious medical implications over time if not adequately dealt with.
Fortunately, depression and anxiety are also both treatable, and an increasingly common treatment over the last few years has been cannabidiol, or CBD. Unlike anxiolytics or antidepressant medications that are associated with a broad range of serious side-effects, CBD is classed as a safer, more natural alternative solution.
From a 2014 report in CNS: Neurological Disorders and Drug Targets:
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a Cannabis sativa [extract] with great psychiatric potential, including uses as an antidepressant-like and anxiolytic-like compound.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that affects millions of people across the globe. It is normally divided into three types:
- Transient Insomnia – Symptoms last from a few days to a couple of weeks.
- Acute Insomnia – Symptoms persist for several weeks.
- Chronic Insomnia – Can last for months, and sometimes years.
Insomnia is another neurochemical balance disorder that non-psychoactive CBD is increasingly being used for, due to its sedative therapeutic nature and the fact that it poses little side effects and no intoxicating cerebral changes.
From a 2017 publication in Current Psychiatry Reports:
Preliminary research into cannabis and insomnia suggests that CBD may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of insomnia…
Final Thoughts: List of Qualifying Conditions for Medical Marijuana [2021 Update]
Unfortunately, while marijuana is still classed as illegal on a federal level, there is no one set of rules that dictates the exact healthcare conditions under which a patient is eligible to be treated with marijuana. Simply put, this means that each state has its own exact list of qualifying conditions.
Of course, the conditions listed above are general ones that are accepted in most states — if you suffer from an illness or medical condition that is NOT mentioned on the above list, your best bet would be to contact your local physician and/or your state’s Department of Health to better understand the exact qualifications.