Many people use cannabis and cannabis products as a treatment for chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, and mental health conditions. However, research has identified both benefits and risks to using cannabis as a medicinal treatment.

The medical benefits of cannabis most commonly come from cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). These are two compounds found in Cannabis sativa plants.

In states where it is legal, medical professionals may prescribe dried cannabis, oils, tablets, and other products containing CBD and THC to treat a range of conditions. These are broadly referred to as “medicinal cannabis.”

The effects of these treatments are well-studied and typically well-tolerated for their intended use. However, using cannabis products outside of their prescribed use or using cannabis from unlicensed distributors can carry great risk.

In this article, we look at the scientific evidence weighing the medical benefits of cannabis against its associated health risks.

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Over the years, research has yielded results to suggest that cannabis may be beneficial in the treatment of some conditions. These are listed below.

Chronic pain

A large 2017 review of more than 10,000 scientific studies found that cannabis, or products containing cannabinoids — which are active compounds in cannabis — are effective at relieving chronic pain.

Medicinal cannabis may be of particular use in reducing neuropathic (nerve) pain.

Alcoholism and drug addiction

Some people use CBD oil to reduce or replace their intake of prescription pain medications. Furthermore, a 2017 review suggests that using cannabis may help people with alcohol or opioid dependencies treat their addictions.

A 2022 Canadian study also found a distinct correlation between medicinal cannabis use and a reduction in alcohol use.

While cannabis may help some people reduce opioid and alcohol use, taking cannabis excessively or not as prescribed can lead to a cannabis use disorder.

Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety

Authors of a 2017 review found some evidence supporting the use of cannabis to relieve depression and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

However, researchers cautioned that cannabis is not an appropriate treatment for some other mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder and psychosis.

While research into the efficacy of medicinal cannabis as a treatment for psychiatric disorders is promising, it is still in its early stages. Further research is required to fully assess the role of medicinal cannabis in treating mental health conditions.

Depression resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and in-depth resources on depression.

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Evidence suggests that oral cannabinoids are effective against nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, and some small studies have found that smoked cannabis may also help alleviate these symptoms.

Multiple sclerosis

The short-term use of oral cannabinoids may improve symptoms of spasticity among people with multiple sclerosis, but the positive effects are modest.


In June 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of a medication containing CBD to treat two rare, severe, and specific types of epilepsy — Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome — that are difficult to control with other types of medication. This CBD-based drug is known as Epidiolex.

A study published in 2017 found that the use of CBD resulted in far fewer seizures among children with Dravet syndrome compared with a placebo.

However, studies show that CBD use in epilepsy treatment is associated with an increased risk of side effects such as drowsiness, decreased appetite, and increased body temperature.

While medicinal cannabis may aid in the treatment of several health conditions, it is not without its risks.

Mental health problems

Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of short-term psychosis and long-term mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia.

Some evidence also suggests that people who regularly use cannabis are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, and there is a small increased risk of depression among cannabis users.

Cannabis use may also exacerbate existing symptoms of bipolar disorder among people living with it.

Learn more about cannabis use and bipolar disorder.

Testicular cancer

Research suggests a causal link between long-term cannabis use and an increased risk of testicular cancer.

Respiratory disease

Smoking cannabis can cause scarring in the respiratory system, damage blood vessels in the lungs, and lead to bronchitis.

However, medicinal CBD products that a person does not inhale via combustion, such as oral CBD oils, do not carry the same risks.

There is evidence that demonstrates both the harms and health benefits of cannabis. Yet despite increasing studies in the area, more research is needed to determine the public health implications of rising cannabis use fully.

Many scientists and health organizations — including the American Cancer Society (ACS) — support the need for further scientific research on the use of cannabis and cannabinoids to treat medical conditions.

However, there is an obstacle to this: Cannabis is classed as a Schedule I controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which imposes strict conditions on the researchers working in this area.

Research shows that cannabis and cannabinoids can help manage chronic pain, nausea, and some MS symptoms.

However, it is difficult to accurately assess the safety of cannabis as a whole due to the wide range of forms it comes in and the varying chemical compositions of different strains.

For example, prescription CBD oils may be well tolerated when taken orally, whereas inhaled dried cannabis can cause irreparable lung damage.

It is essential to only ever take cannabis or cannabinoid-containing products or medications as directed by a healthcare professional.