Medical Marijuana: Benefits, Risks & State Laws

Medical marijuana is legal in 26 states, the District of Columbia and Guam. Proponents of marijuana, backed by several studies, say the drug has many therapeutic uses. Opponents — and the U.S. government — however, say it has a high potential for abuse and no legitimate therapeutic value.

Marijuana’s medicinal uses can be traced back as early as 2737 B.C., when the emperor of China, Shen Neng, touted cannabis tea as a treatment for gout, rheumatism, malaria and even poor memory, writes Mitch Earleywine, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany who researches drugs and addiction, in “Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence” (Oxford University Press, 2005). The drug’s popularity as a medicine spread throughout Asia, the Middle East and then to Africa and India, where Hindu sects used it for pain and stress relief.

William O’Shaughnessy, an Irish doctor, popularized medical

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