Medical marijuana is derived from the cannabis plant and can help treat conditions such as anxiety, arthritis, epilepsy, and cancer-related nausea. Its many forms include CBD (cannabidiol) oils and edibles and products containing both THC and CBD. Do you need a medical marijuana card to buy CBD oil? You're not alone if you've been asking yourself this question! Here, we explain all! Learn more about medical marijuana, which conditions are approved for it, and how to get a medical marijuana card in your state.
What Are Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol (CBD)? Everything You Need to Know
The cannabis plant, from which marijuana is derived, is often smoked for recreational purposes. But people are increasingly using marijuana to treat medical conditions — and this medical marijuana is not always smoked. It comes in many forms:
- Marijuana cigarettes containing the cannabinoids (chemical compounds) tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD), or both THC and CBD
- CBD oils, edibles, tinctures, creams, and capsules
- Cannabis-derived pharmaceutical products approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Studies suggest that the medical use of marijuana may help treat the following conditions or help alleviate the following symptoms: (1)
- Anxiety, particularly social anxiety disorder
- Chronic pain
Some research has suggested that the cannabinoids in marijuana could also be useful in managing these conditions: (2,3,4,5,6,7)
- HIV/AIDS like Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
According to a 2017 report from the National Academies of the Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering (NASME), the strongest scientific evidence so far has been found in support of using marijuana for chronic pain, cancer-related nausea and vomiting, and MS-related spasticity. (1)
This NASME report, one of the largest of its kind, looked at more than 10,000 studies published since 1999.
How Does Marijuana Affect the Body?
It depends on whether THC or CBD is the cannabinoid at work. They produce similar effects, but there are differences in intensity because they each affect a different neural pathway.
THC is thought to engage with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which helps regulate physiological functioning. THC is similar to a chemical that’s present in this system, and when these two chemicals meet, the similarity allows THC to exert an influence on the body and brain in ways that alter coordination, memory, decision-making, appetite, and mood.
The endocannabinoid system also helps regulate gastrointestinal functions, and this may explain why medical marijuana seems to help digestive disorders like IBS.
CBD, scientists think, affects the brain because of the way it interacts with the neurological pathways that regulate serotonin, the hormone that regulates anxiety, pain, nausea, and appetite.
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How Can Marijuana Help Opioid Use Disorder?
Some individuals use marijuana instead of addictive opioids to treat pain. In these cases, marijuana may actually be responsible for a decrease in the use of — and deaths from — these prescription drugs.
A study published in May 2018 in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that prescriptions for opioids decreased in states that have medical marijuana laws. Researchers looked at Medicare data from 2010 to 2015 and found that states with active dispensaries saw 3.742 million fewer daily doses of opioids filled by pharmacies. (8)
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Another study, published in October 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that states with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower annual overdose rate than states without such laws. (9)
Some states, like Pennsylvania and New York, now consider opioid use disorder as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana use. New York, for example, allows people who qualify to use medical marijuana instead of opioids to treat pain.
What Is Cannabidiol and How Will It Affect Me?
Cannabidiol is the cannabinoid in marijuana that, along with interacting with the brain’s serotonin system, may also help relax and calm you, but it doesn’t alter your perception or affect physical reactions too much. CBD may be particularly effective for: (10)
- Anxiety disorders
- Nausea and vomiting
- Psychotic disorders
- Non-cancer-related pain
- Sleep problems (Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome)
Staci Gruber, MD , is an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston and the director of the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, which is researching the neurological effects of medical marijuana use.
In a large study that she’s conducting on the use of medical marijuana, Dr. Gruber says the second most commonly reported use of medical marijuana among subjects is for anxiety. She’s also about to begin an FDA-approved clinical trial of a CBD sublingual (administered under the tongue) tincture, consisting of CBD in a coconut oil base, for the treatment of anxiety. (Tinctures are medicines — in this case CBD — dissolved in a liquid like alcohol or glycerine.)
Indeed, anecdotal evidence points to the effectiveness of CBD as an anxiety and stress reducer, as well as a sleep aid. Eric*, a busy sales executive in San Francisco, has been sleeping more soundly since he started using a high-CBD, low-THC product via a vaporizer three months ago for work-related stress and anxiety.
“The quality of my sleep is better, I’m sleeping longer and deeper, and I now have no problem falling and staying asleep,” he says. “It has changed my life.”
In addition to being a potentially powerful treatment for anxiety disorders, a growing body of research is suggesting that CBD may help treat symptoms of neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease . (11,12)
Scientists think that CBD acts in yet to be determined ways that protect the brain against inflammation and oxidative stress. (13)
Research also points to CBD as a potential treatment for psychosis and schizophrenia . (14,15)
Medical marijuana may also be effective in palliative care. In one Canadian case study, published in 2013 in Case Reports in Oncology, physicians reported that CBD oil, administered orally, was a successful treatment for a 14-year-old patient in palliative care with an aggressive form of leukemia. (16)
Do I Need a Medical Marijuana Card to Buy CBD Oil?
As the push for the legalization of medical marijuana has intensified into one of the more popular topics of discussion in the United States, advocates have been putting increasing pressure on more states to legalize cannabis entirely. Currently, recreational marijuana is legal in only ten states, but as an industry, cannabis has had an incredible year of growth.
This incredible growth has got a lot to do with the increasing popularity of cannabidiol (CBD). The most popular used form of CBD is CBD oil, but there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the legality of these products.
Despite the fact that the majority of states have legalized some of, or all forms of cannabis use, on a federal level, the DEA still classifies CBD as a schedule 1 drug. This means that it’s considered to provide no accepted medical use and has a high potential for abuse. According to the law, this is how the cannabis plant as a whole, including CBD, is classified.
However, at the end of last year, the 2018 Farm Bill was passed which has legalized industrial hemp on a federal level. The act states that industrial hemp and its derivatives (including CBD) are now legal on a federal level. This development is a real game-changer for the CBD industry. But it has added a bit more confusion to the issues surrounding the legality of CBD oil. While cannabis-derived CBD oil is still not legal in all states, hemp-derived CBD oil is now fully legalized.
The Difference Between Cannabis-Derived CBD Oil and Hemp-Derived CBD Oil
Broadly speaking, in the botanical world, there are two kinds of cannabis – hemp plants and drug plants. This differentiation is also often referred to as marijuana and hemp. Both are cannabis plants, but they have very different purposes. Hemp plants are typically grown for fiber and seed oil, while drug plants include non-intoxicating CBD-rich plants and intoxicating THC-rich plants.
Hemp is Cannabis sativa, and marijuana is either Cannabis indica or Cannabis sativa. Essentially, hemp is the well-known and legal term for cannabis that contains less than 0.3% THC, and marijuana is the well-known and legal term used for cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC.
The main difference between drug plants and hemp plants is the resin content. Industrial hemp plants are low-resin plants, while drug plants are high-resin plants. Initially, the U.S. federal law defined marijuana in terms of its resin content. Here’s the definition of marijuana as encoded in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act (CSA):
“The term marihuana means all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L. [sic], whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin. Such term does not include the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil or cake, or the sterilized seed of such plant which is incapable of germination.”
So what does all this mean? Well, essentially, certain parts of the cannabis part, including “mature stalk” and “sterilized seed” were exempt from the legal definition of marijuana. Hemp seed oil is derived from the seeds of the cannabis plant.
Here’s what you need to understand about the difference between CBD that is hemp derived and CBD that is cannabis/marijuana-derived. Marijuana is harvested for its buds, which include psychoactive properties, like THC, which is known to produce stoned effects. Hemp, on the other hand, is harvested from the stalk and seeds of the crop. These hemp plants don’t contain enough THC to make anyone high. Ultimately, for cannabis to be considered as hemp, it should contain no more than 0.3% THC.
Is Hemp-Derived CBD Oil Legal?
Hemp CBD oil products are legal to purchase without a prescription throughout the U.S and in at least 40 other countries around the world. Essentially, provided that products are made from oil that has been extracted from hemp and not marijuana, you are able to buy it in all 50 states without a doctor’s recommendation or medical marijuana card.
It all boils down to the difference between hemp and marijuana, as explained above. While THC and marijuana are prohibited under federal law, CBD isn’t specifically listed under the Controlled Substances Act. Since the definition of marijuana according to federal law (as stated above), excludes the oil extracted from the seeds, as well as the mature stalks of the plant, hemp CBD is classified as legal. This means that CBD products that are hemp-derived/originate from these parts of the plant aren’t prohibited under federal law.
In 2018, President Trump passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which effectively removed hemp from the list of schedule 1 substances and reclassified it as an “agricultural commodity.” According to the new bill, the law states that if the CBD is derived from hemp and adheres to the below regulations, it’s removed as schedule 1 substance and is considered legal:
- The hemp has less than 0.3% THC
- The hemp adheres to the shared state-federal regulations
- The hemp is grown by a properly licensed grower
The 2018 Farm Bill also withdrew restrictions on the sale, possession, and transportation of hemp-derived CBD products. This means that hemp-derived CBD products can be transported across state lines as long as it adheres to the regulations above.
Is Marijuana-Derived CBD Oil Legal?
This is where things get complicated again. Since marijuana-derived CBD originates from a plant that is still classified as illegal, things are not that straight-forward.
In states where the use of recreational marijuana is legal, like California and Colorado, marijuana-derived CBD is obviously also legal. However, in some states, marijuana is only legal for medicinal purposes. In these states, you are only allowed to use medical marijuana/marijuana-derived CBD under certain conditions, meaning that you would need a medical marijuana card to purchase CBD oil. In other states, marijuana is strictly prohibited, and thus, so is marijuana-derived CBD oil.
There are currently 15 states where cannabis – including both hemp and marijuana – are completely legal for both medicinal and recreational use. These states are:
- New Jersey
- South Dakota
If you are lucky enough to live in one of these states, you are legally allowed to buy any kind of marijuana and CBD products, regardless of where it is derived from.
There are currently 47 states (including the above 10), where marijuana-derived CBD oil is legal for medical purposes. The specific regulations vary from state to state, but most states allow the use of medical marijuana for a broad range of conditions. However, there are those states that set specific requirements for approved use. For instance, the CBD must contain less than a certain percentage of THC, or the patient must suffer from a specific condition.
The specific requirements for a person to use marijuana-derived CBD vary from state to state. Before purchasing CBD oil in any of these states, you are encouraged to research the regulations. In one state, chronic pain may qualify you to obtain a medical marijuana card, and in another state, it may not. This is why it’s important to look into the specific laws for each state.
Final Thoughts: Do You Need an MMJ Card to Buy CBD?
Ultimately, what you should understand from this article is that the legality of CBD oil and whether you will need a medical marijuana card to purchase these products, all comes down to where the CBD is derived from. If the CBD oil is derived from hemp, you are legally able to buy it throughout the United States without a medical marijuana card.
However, if the CBD oil is marijuana-derived things are a little more complex. Unless you live in one of the states where recreational marijuana is legal, you will need a medical marijuana card to purchase marijuana-derived CBD oil. At the end of the day, it’s all about where the CBD oil originates from.
How To Get a Medical Marijuana Card in Your State
Medical marijuana is a common treatment for people with chronic pain or other conditions. While marijuana use remains illegal on the federal level, 29 states and Washington D.C. presently allow the use of medical marijuana by those who have a qualifying condition.
The term “medical cannabis” describes the derivatives of the cannabis sativa plant. Two of its active compounds are cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD has several benefits but does not cause you to feel high. The intoxication, or high, associated with marijuana comes from THC.
If your state allows medical marijuana for certain conditions, here’s what you need to know when it comes to getting a medical marijuana card.
Marijuana as Medicine
Medical marijuana is nothing new, as research has been carried out over decades to see how it can be used to treat various conditions. THC, in particular, has shown to have several benefits when it comes to treating nausea and lack of appetite in cancer patients.
Medicines derived from marijuana have been approved in several places around the world, including the U.S., Europe, and Canada. This includes pills, sprays, and liquids that contain THC. So far, researchers agree that these kinds of medicines are more effective than the whole marijuana plant when it comes to medicinal purposes. This is because the marijuana has to be purified before it can be used to make medication.
The most common use of marijuana as medicine is for pain relief. While medical marijuana isn’t strong enough to replace painkillers prescribed after surgery, it has proven helpful in alleviating chronic aches and pains, especially those related to aging. Medical cannabis isn’t as addictive as opioids and works as an alternative to ibuprofen or paracetamol.
Marijuana is used to help cancer patients cope with nausea and vomiting. It also helps stimulate the appetite of these patients along with those who have conditions like AIDS and anorexia.
The laws surrounding medical marijuana vary from state to state, including which conditions qualify for its use. In general, states that permit medicinal marijuana allow its use for treating:
- HIV and AIDS
- Crohn’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease
- Epilepsy and seizures
- Chronic pain
- Severe nausea
- Parkinson’s disease
Depending on your state, your primary care physician might recommend trying medical marijuana if you have chronic symptoms that impact your quality of life. This includes symptoms that prevent you from carrying out daily activities or that threaten your safety and mental or physical health.
Getting a Medical Cannabis Card
The first step to getting a medical marijuana card is to talk to your primary care physician. Your doctor will determine if your condition requires the use of medicinal marijuana and will discuss any possible risks or side effects with you. Once you have your doctor’s approval, you will be able to move forward with the process.
While the process varies by state, most will require you to sign up for the state’s medical marijuana registry, which you can likely do online. Part of the registration process will require you to provide proof that your doctor has approved medical cannabis to manage your symptoms.
To complete your registration, your state may ask you to create an online account where you can submit your application and doctor’s approval. Creating an account also saves your information in case you need to renew your medical marijuana card in the future. If you are applying for a card with a caregiver, your caregiver will also need to enter in their credentials.
You’ll likely have to pay the fee for your medical marijuana card. The price varies by state, but you should be able to make your payment online. Once you have your card, you can then buy medical marijuana.
Where To Get Medicinal Marijuana
Having a medical marijuana card allows you to buy marijuana from approved dispensaries in your state. Depending on the state, having a card can allow you to buy products with higher levels of THC or buy larger quantities of cannabis products. Depending on your condition and the state, you may even be permitted to grow marijuana plants in your home for personal use.
Having a card lets you buy medicinal marijuana in the form of:
- Oral solutions
- Topical creams or applications
- Oils for vaporizing
- Dried out leaves for smoking
Once you have your medicinal marijuana products, you can either administer them yourself or your caregiver can help you if this individual is listed as your caregiver on your medical marijuana card. How long it takes to feel the effects depends on the form of the marijuana and the severity of your symptoms.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment: “How to apply for a Colorado medical marijuana card.”
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: “Getting Medical Marijuana.”
Department of Cannabis Control California: “Medicinal cannabis.”
Harvard Health Publishing: “Medical Marijuana.”
Mayo Clinic: “Medical marijuana.”
National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Is marijuana safe and effective as medicine?”