Medical Marijuana for Chronic Pain

Marijuana, also known as cannabis, is increasingly being used to alleviate pain. This article discusses the chronic pain conditions that may be managed with marijuana and patient-specific considerations, such as choosing among the different strains, dosing, and keeping a cannabis journal.

See Complementary Health Approaches and Marijuana for Chronic Pain


Medical marijuana is not approved by the FDA
Critics of medical marijuana say that there have not been enough large-scale, long-term studies to prove marijuana’s efficacy as a medical treatment. It has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, 30 states and the District of Columbia currently have laws that legalize marijuana in some form, including for medicinal use.

Because medical marijuana has not been approved by the FDA it is not covered by health insurance.

Chronic Conditions Managed with Medical Marijuana

Pain relief is the most cited reason for using medical marijuana.1 Most states that have legalized medical marijuana have a list of specific conditions that are eligible for a physician recommendation. These conditions are called qualifying conditions. Generally, qualifying conditions are determined by state appointed medical boards that are then signed into law.

Qualifying conditions are typically characterized by chronic pain with one or more of these symptoms:

  • Severe nausea
  • Severe or persistent muscle spasms
  • Seizures or epilepsy
  • Wasting syndrome (severe weight or muscle loss)

Common qualifying conditions include:

While these are some of the most common qualifying conditions, each state is different. Some states allow doctors to approve unlisted conditions on a case-by-case basis. Patients and health care providers must understand their home state laws.


Getting authorization to use medical marijuana
If a person lives in a state where medical cannabis is legal, they typically need to acquire a medical marijuana card (or legal authorization) in order to enter a dispensary and purchase any related products. To do this, a person must be diagnosed with a qualifying condition on their home state’s list and obtain a recommendation to use marijuana from a doctor licensed in that state.

In states where recreational marijuana has been legalized, an adult does not need to obtain a medical marijuana card or legal authorization.


  • 1.Hill KP, Palastro MD, Johnson B, Ditre JW. Cannabis and Pain: A Clinical Review. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2017;2(1):96-104.