In Arizona, cannabis is legal for medicinal purposes, though it remains illegal for recreational use. Provided you have a legitimate medical reason to use it (and paperwork to back up your claim), you could easily drive to a dispensary in Arizona and purchase cannabis for personal use. 

But what, exactly, constitutes a “legitimate” medical reason? And is cannabis as effective as it’s often claimed to be? 

High-Level Effects of Cannabis

Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years, and there’s significant controversy around why it was ever made illegal in the first place. While there are some negative effects when using cannabis, such as lung damage (if you smoke it) and disorientation, for the most part these are milder than the negative effects of substances like alcohol and tobacco. 

Unlike alcohol and tobacco, cannabis has multiple positive effects on the mind and body, including:

Pain relief. Cannabis has been shown to reduce levels of subjective pain, and in many different scenarios. Acute pain, like a burn or a cut, can be reduced, as can chronic pain, which tends to occur over time. 

Relaxation. Most strains of marijuana also produce a calming or relaxing effect. For recreational purposes, this is enjoyable, but it has tremendous medical benefits for people who have trouble sleeping or reducing their anxiety. 

Euphoria. Users of cannabis report feeling euphoria. While this can’t directly treat any condition, it can bring a patient more positive feelings and help them get through tough events like surgery. 

Appetite and nausea. Though the subject of many jokes, cannabis truly can stimulate a person’s appetite. It can also alleviate nausea, which is associated with many diseases and conditions. 

Conditions Cannabis Can Treat

Through a combination of these effects, cannabis can be an effective form of treatment or management of the following: 

Chronic pain. Chronic pain comes in many forms, and it doesn’t always have a root cause. An injury or an accident could produce chronic pain symptoms, or it could manifest on its own in some mysterious, unseen way. Either way, chronic pain can be debilitating, and there isn’t a catch-all treatment or surgery that can eliminate it. The best a patient can hope for is some way to manage their pain, and cannabis works for many of them. 

Depression and anxiety (and related conditions). Cannabis is also an impressive tool to help people manage their mental and emotional health. Sufferers of depression and anxiety often turn to cannabis as a way to relax and feel euphoria, getting through some of the most challenging components of their illness. There’s also evidence to suggest cannabis is ideal for managing symptoms of PTSD

Eating disorders. Thanks to its ability to reduce anxiety and stimulate appetite, cannabis can be used to treat a wide variety of eating disorders. Those who experience nausea can also benefit. 

Cancer (and related treatments). There are many different types of cancer, but most of them are associated with some measure of chronic pain. The treatments associated with cancer, including chemotherapy, often come with their own host of side effects, like nausea, fatigue, and a different type of pain. Cannabis can be used to treat many of these symptoms and secondary effects of treatment. 

Glaucoma. One of the earliest known medical uses of marijuana is treating glaucoma and similar eye conditions. Appropriate use of cannabis can relieve pain associated with the condition, and may reduce eye pressure. 

Dementia. Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can’t be cured with marijuana (or anything, really), but marijuana can stave off certain symptoms, and provide users with more lucidity at least temporarily. 

Epilepsy and muscle spasms. There’s also evidence to suggest that the relaxing effects of cannabis can be beneficial for treating epilepsy, muscle spasms, and other conditions that involve loss of muscular control. Though not perfectly reliable or perfect in all circumstances, this is a promising area for exploration. 

These conditions are just the tip of the iceberg. Because cannabis has been classified as a Schedule I drug for so long in the United States, there’s still much we don’t understand about the drug—and much we have to learn about its effects. As the general public becomes more acclimated to the idea of medical marijuana, the drug will likely be increasingly available for testing and personal use. When it does, we’ll get the chance to learn even more about the benefits (and potential side effects) of the drug.