8 Facts You Might Not Know About Medical Marijuana

Not that long ago your local pharmacy sold pot-based meds, and the government collected a tax.

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Marijuana as medicine is nothing new, despite the current groundswell of laws making pot legal for medical uses. Here's a quick fact file on cannabis and its medical history, makeup, and legality.

[Read Medical Claims for Marijuana—Just Blowing Smoke?]

  1. "Marijuana" is a Mexican term that originally was applied to low-quality tobacco.

  2. The plant was cultivated in China for therapy (and recreation) over 4,700 years ago.

  3. More than 20 prescription medicines containing marijuana were sold in U.S. pharmacies at the turn of the 20th century. Pot-based medications were commonly available until 1942, when cannabis was stricken from the U.S. Pharmacopeia, the official compendium of drugs considered effective. From 1937 to 1942 the federal government collected a tax of $1 per ounce for such drugs.

  4. More than 20,000 studies on marijuana and its components have been published, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, an advocacy group. Of these, around 100 have looked into therapeutic value on human subjects.

  5. The federal government is in the pot-growing business. Under a federal contract, the University of Mississippi in Oxford cultivates marijuana for use by researchers, who have to be cleared by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

  6. The plant has nearly 500 chemical compounds, more than 60 of which are called cannabinoids.

  7. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. But patients in these states face federal prosecution for using it—or for growing or possessing pot for medical purposes.

  8. Federal law prohibits physicians from prescribing or otherwise actively supplying patients with the drug. But in 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court backed an appellate court ruling that physicians who discuss it with patients, or provide oral or written recommendations, are protected.

Corrected on : Corrected on 07/01/10: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the number of studies on marijuana and its components and those involving human subjects. The number of cannabinoids has also been clarified.