Medical marijuana is now legal in Australia.
While recreational marijuana is controversial, many people agree — and now the government — believes that the drug should be legal for medical uses.
The new legalisation will also help researchers study the drugs’ medicinal uses, and better understand how it impacts the body.
Keep in mind, though, that there are negative effects of smoking too much pot or using it for non-medicinal purposes. When overused or abused, pot can cause dependency and mess with your memory and emotions.
There are at least two active chemicals in Marijuana that researchers think have medicinal application. Those are cannabidiol (CBD) — which seems to impact the brain without a high — and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — which has pain relieving properties.
Also keep in mind that these same health benefits can be gained by taking THC pills, Dronabinol, which in some ways is more effective than smoked marijuana.
Randy Astaiza contributed to an earlier version of this story.
According to a study published in Journal of the American Medical Association in January 2012, marijuana does not impair lung function and can even increase lung capacity.
Researchers looking for risk factors of heart disease tested the lung function of 5115 young adults over the course of 20 years. Tobacco smokers lost lung function over time, but pot users actually showed an increase in lung capacity.
It's possible that the increased lung capacity may due to taking a deep breaths while inhaling the drug and not from a therapeutic chemical in the drug.
Marijuana use can prevent epileptic seizures, a 2003 study showed.
Robert J. DeLorenzo, of Virginia Commonwealth University, gave marijuana extract and synthetic marijuana to epileptic rats. The drugs rid the rats of the seizures for about 10 hours. Cannabinoids like the active ingredients in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (also known as THC), control seizures by binding to the brain cells responsible for controlling excitability and regulating relaxation.
The findings were published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.
During the research for his documentary Weed, Gupta interviewed the Figi family, who treats their five-year-old daughter using a medical marijuana strain high in cannabidiol and low in THC.
Their daughter, Charlotte, has Dravet Syndrome, which causes seizures and severe developmental delays.
According to the film, the drug has decreased her seizures from 300 a week to just one every seven days. Forty other children in the state are using the same strain of marijuana to treat their seizures -- and it seems to be working.
The doctors who recommended this treatment say that the cannabidiol in the plant interacts with the brain cells to quiet the excessive activity in the brain that causes these seizures.
As Gutpa notes, a Florida hospital that specialises in the disorder, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Drug Enforcement agency don't endorse marijuana as a treatment for Dravet or other seizure disorders.
The 2006 study, published in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics, found that THC, the active chemical in marijuana, slows the formation of amyloid plaques by blocking the enzyme in the brain that makes them. These plaques are what kill brain cells and cause Alzheimers.
Marijuana may ease painful symptoms of multiple sclerosis, a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in May suggests.
Jody Corey-Bloom studied 30 multiple sclerosis patients with painful contractions in their muscles. These patients didn't respond to other treatments, but after smoking marijuana for a few days they were in less pain.
The THC in the pot binds to receptors in the nerves and muscles to relieve pain. Other studies suggest that the chemical also helps control the muscle spasms.
Other types of muscle spasms respond to marijuana as well. Gupta also found a teenager named Chaz who was using medical marijuana to treat diaphragm spasms that were untreatable by other, prescribed and very strong medications.
His condition is called Myoclonus diaphragmatic flutter (also known as Leeuwenhoek's Disease) and causes non stop spasming in the abdominal muscles which are not only painful, but interfere with breathing and speaking.
Smoking marijuana is able to calm the attacks almost immediately, as it calms the muscles of the diaphragm.
Treatment for Hepatitis C infection is harsh -- negative side effects include fatigue, nausea, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and depression -- and lasts for months. Many people aren't able to finish their treatment course because of the side effects.
But, pot to the rescue: A 2006 study in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that 86 per cent of patients using marijuana successfully completed their Hep C therapy, while only 29 per cent of non-smokers completed their treatment, possibly because the marijuana helps lessens the treatments side effects.
Marijuana also seems to improve the treatment's effectiveness: 54 per cent of Hep C patients smoking marijuana got their viral levels low and kept them low, in comparison to only 8 per cent of non smokers.
Marijuana alleviates pain, reduces inflammation, and promotes sleep, which may help relieve pain and discomfort for people with rheumatoid arthritis, researchers announced in 2011.
Researchers from rheumatology units at several hospitals gave their patients, sativex, a cannabinoid-based pain-relieving medicine. After a two week period, people on Sativex had a significant reduction in pain and improved sleep quality compared to placebo users.
Medical marijuana is being used to treat the autoimmune disease Systemic Lupus Ertyhematosus, which is when the body starts attacking itself for some unknown reason.
Some chemicals in marijuana seem to have a calming effect on the immune system, which may be how it helps deal with symptoms of Lupus. The rest of the positive impact of the marijuana is probably from the effects on pain and nausea.
Contrary to stoner stereotypes, marijuana usage has actually been shown to have some positive mental effects, particularly in terms of increasing creativity. Even though people's short term memories tend to function worse when high, people get better at tests requiring them to come up with new ideas.
One study tested participants on their ability to come up with different words related to a concept, and found that using cannabis allowed people to come up with a greater range of related concepts, seeming 'to make the brain better at detecting those remote associations that lead to radically new ideas,' according to Wired.
Other researchers have found that some participants improve their 'verbal fluency,' their ability to come up with different words, while using marijuana.
Part of this increased creative ability may come from the release of dopamine in the brain, lessening inhibitions and allowing people to feel more relaxed, giving the brain the ability to perceive things differently.
Other research has shown that marijuana stimulates areas of the brain responsible for: pleasure, memory, learning, sensation, sensation of time and space, coordination, movement, appetite, and other drives.
Chron's disease is an inflammatory bowel disorder that causes pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, weight loss, and more. But a recent study in Israel showed that smoking a joint significantly reduced Chron's disease symptoms in 10 out of 11 patients, and caused a complete remission of the disease in five of those patients.
That's a small study, but other research has shown similar effects. The cannabinoids from marijuana seem to help the gut regulate bacteria and intestinal function.
Recent research from Israel shows that smoking marijuana significantly reduces pain and tremors and improves sleep for Parkinson's disease patients. Particularly impressive was the improved fine motor skills among patients.
Medical marijuana is legal in Israel for multiple conditions, and a lot of research into the medical uses of cannabis is done there, supported by the Israeli government.
The Department of Health and Human Services recently signed off on a proposal to study marijuana's potential as part of treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Marijuana is approved to treat PTSD in some states already. In New Mexico, PTSD is the number one reason for people to get a licence for medical marijuana, but this is the first time the US government has approved a proposal that incorporates smoked or vaporized marijuana, which is currently classified by the government as a drug with no accepted medical applications.
Naturally occurring cannabinoids, similar to THC, help regulate the system that causes fear and anxiety in the body and brain.
Research from the University of Nottingham shows that marijuana may help protect the brain from damage caused by stroke, by reducing the size of the area affected by the stroke -- at least in rats, mice, and monkeys.
This isn't the only research that has shown neuroprotective effects from cannabis. Some research shows that the plant may help protect the brain after other traumatic events, like concussions.
There is some evidence that marijuana can help heal the brain after a concussion or other traumatic injury. A recent study in the journal Cerebral Cortex showed that in mice, marijuana lessened the bruising of the brain and helped with healing mechanisms after a traumatic injury.
Harvard professor emeritus of psychiatry and marijuana advocate Lester Grinspoon recently wrote an open letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, saying the NFL should stop testing players for marijuana, and that the league should start funding research into the plants ability to protect the brain.
'Already, many doctors and researchers believe that marijuana has incredibly powerful neuroprotective properties, an understanding based on both laboratory and clinical data,' he writes.
Goodell recently said that he'd consider permitting athletes to use marijuana if medical research shows that it's an effective neuroprotective agent.
This is a complicated one, because it involves effects that can be both positive and negative. Marijuana disturbs sleep cycles by interrupting the later stages of REM sleep. In the long run, this could be a problem for frequent users.
However, for people suffering from serious nightmares, especially those associated with PTSD, this can be helpful. Nightmares and other dreams occur during those same stages of sleep. By interrupting REM sleep, many of those dreams may not occur. Research into using a synthetic cannabinoid, like THC, but not the same, showed a significant decrease in the number of nightmares in patients with PTSD.
Additionally, even if frequent use can be bad for sleep, marijuana may be a better sleep aid than some other substances that people use. Some of those, including medication and alcohol, may potentially have even worse effects on sleep, though more research is needed on the topic.
One of the most well-known medical uses of marijuana is for people going through chemotherapy.
Cancer patients being treated with chemo suffer from painful nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. This can cause additional health complications.
Marijuana can help reduce these side effects, alleviating pain, decreasing nausea, and stimulating the appetite. There are also multiple FDA approved cannabinoid drugs that use THC, the main active chemical in marijuana, for the same purposes.
Marijuana is safer than alcohol. That's not to say it's completely risk free, but it's much less addictive and doesn't cause nearly as much physical damage.
Disorders like alcoholism involve disruptions in the endocannabinoid system. Because of that, some people think cannabis might help patients struggling with those disorders.
Research in Harm Reduction Journal shows that some people use marijuana as a less harmful substitute for alcohol, prescription drugs, and other illegal drugs. Some of the most common reasons for patients to make that substitution are the less adverse side effects from marijuana and the fact that it is less likely to cause withdrawal problems.
Some people do become psychologically dependent on marijuana, and this doesn't mean that it's a cure for substance abuse problems. But, from a harm reduction standpoint, it can help.
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