Marijuana (also known as cannabis or THC) is emerging as an alternative treatment for a variety of medical and psychological conditions from cancer and arthritis to depression and insomnia. While the use of marijuana as medicine is still a subject of debate, a number of benefits of marijuana could make it a safer and better option for patients seeking alternative or supplemental therapies for their ailments.

Lack of Serious Side Effects: Despite the cultural and legal taboos of marijuana use, there are actually very few scientifically confirmed long-term side effects from marijuana use. A number of studies explain that unlike many prescription drugs, especially prescription pain killers, marijuana has a low potential for dependency. Even more importantly, consumption of marijuana cannot produce a fatal overdose.

A 1995 report prepared by the World Health Organization states, “There are no recorded cases of overdose fatalities attributed to cannabis, and the estimated lethal dose for humans extrapolated from animal studies is so high that it cannot be achieved.” The most common side effects of marijuana use include coughing, wheezing and bronchitis if marijuana is smoked. These side effects are easily remedied by the use of a vaporizer or by eating foods prepared with marijuana. Individuals with certain psychological conditions, cardiovascular problems or with a history of lung dysfunction may experience more adverse side effects and should consult a physician before using medical marijuana.

Price: A CBS news editorial by Dr. Mitch Earleywine mentions that medical marijuana can be markedly cheaper to use than certain prescription drugs. This is especially pertinent to patients in chronic pain who do not have medical insurance and need to pay out of pocket to see a doctor for a basic painkiller prescription. While THC, an active ingredient of marijuana, is available as the legal, FDA approved prescription drug Marinol, medical marijuana is substantially cheaper than Marinol.

Use by Inhalation: A number of prescription drugs are available to have the same benefits as marijuana. For instance, an active ingredient of marijuana is prescribed as the drug Marinol and is used in the treatment of nausea and loss of appetite. While Marinol is effective for treatment of nausea, it is taken as a pill, which can be a challenge for patients who have problems with ingestion, whereas inhalation of marijuana smoke or vapor poses no problem. Furthermore, it takes more time for orally administered drugs to cycle through the body to relieve pain, nausea and symptoms of glaucoma compared to inhaled vapor or smoke from marijuana.