There are legal options for the active ingredients in marijuana, and researchers continue to explore new uses for these cannabinoid compounds. Both Marinol and Cesamet are oral capsules containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and are legally available by prescription in the United States. Sativex is a spray product containing both THC and cannabidiol (CBD), and is legal in Canada. Cannador is a capsule containing both THC and CBD, and is still in the testing phase. Marijuana itself contains at least 60 cannabinoid compounds, and is sanctioned for medical use in 14 states, but not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for any medical condition.
Inflammatory conditions that may improve with cannabinoid use include multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes. CBD is the component with the most demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties. It also reduces the psychoactive effects of THC. Unfortunately, CBD has been bred out of North American strains of marijuana, because the psychoactive effects are what many customers are looking for.
In the early 1990's, researchers discovered compounds produced naturally in mammals which bind to the same receptors as the cannabinoids from marijuana. Two of these are named anandamide and 2-arachidonyl glycerol. They are designated endocannabinoids, in analogy with the endorphins which bind to the same receptors as morphine. The discovery motivated researchers to explore the effects of cannabinoids on a wide variety of physiological functions. Marinol and Cesamet (the synthetic THC pills) are approved in the U.S. for treating nausea, weight loss, and poor appetite. Sativex is approved in Canada to treat cancer pain and multiple sclerosis.
For multiple sclerosis, clinical trials of cannabinoids demonstrated improvement in muscle spasticity, sleep quality, shakiness, sense of well-being, and mobility. Researchers hope that some combination of cannabinoids can actually slow the progression of the disease. A clinical trial of Sativex for multiple sclerosis is currently recruiting participants.