Amid debates over the criminalization and legalization of marijuana in some countries, there are those on both sides yelling about the detrimental effects or positive benefits of smoking weed. In reality, the truth is probably somewhere in between the two extremes; smoking marijuana won’t kill you as some anti-legalization activists claim, but smoking also isn’t a cure-all as some pro-legalization protesters may claim.

That being said, marijuana has been used as a medicine for centuries. Claims of the uses of marijuana vary from anesthesia and pain relief to epilepsy treatment to appetite suppressant. One thing is for sure: before legislation came into the game, people had been using the plant to treat all sorts of ailments. With modern science, we can now test the validity of these treatments, and see for ourselves the potential health benefits of marijuana. Remember, however, that too much of a good thing is still detrimental. People can become dependent on the positive benefits of marijuana just like they can become reliant on their daily coffee or ibuprofen. In addition, although products such as the glass tips by can make smoking marijuana a more enjoyable and smoother experience, there’s some debate about the negative effects of inhaling at all. Some suggest instead imbibing marijuana, through infused food or drink.

There are a number of physical medical conditions that can be helped with medicinal marijuana. Glaucoma, for instance, is a condition in the nerves of the eyes that cause progressive vision loss. Typically, the progression is so slow that people don’t really notice the symptoms until the condition has become severe. Currently, there are only treatments to slow glaucoma down; there are no cures. Among those treatments, however, studies have shown that marijuana can lower the pressure inside the eye. Since overly high pressure is the major contributor to vision loss in glaucoma, this is an effective treatment to slow the progression of glaucoma.

In addition, weed consumption or inhalation can be used as a treatment for epilepsy, a disorder that results in seizures — which may be both often and severe. Studies have suggested that marijuana can help control the seizures that accompany epilepsy. One problem with this treatment, however, is that epilepsy often begins showing symptoms in childhood, a time when many parents would be hesitant to move forward with cannabis treatment.

Marijuana can also be used to treat the physically painful symptoms of diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease affecting the body’s nerves. Although some individuals with multiple sclerosis may experience little pain, others experience excruciating and debilitating pain. Crohn’s — a disease causing chronic inflammation of the intestinal lining — can also cause debilitating pain, which can be lessened and managed by marijuana use.  

Perhaps less talked about in regards to medicinal marijuana is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative and genetically linked disease that manifests primarily in progressive memory loss. As it affects primarily — but not exclusively — older adults, an increasing percentage of people are developing Alzheimer’s as the average life expectancy continues to rise. As Alzheimer’s eventually eats away at ingrained and long-term memories, including the identity of family members and close friends as well as biographical memories, the disease can be crippling not only to the individual but to loved ones as well. Eventually, Alzheimer’s patients often die of secondary illnesses such as pneumonia, or pass away slowly as their bodies shut down. Clearly, Alzheimer’s is a debilitating disease, and as of yet there are no cures for it. Marijuana can be used as a treatment method, however, to remove damaging proteins from the brain and slow the advancement of memory loss.

Marijuana use doesn’t just help with physical ailments — it can help with mental health issues as well. Studies have shown that smoking weed can help individuals cope with anxiety and related mental health issues. This is because marijuana typically calms and relaxes people, especially if it is taken in a safe and stable environment. This is great news for those suffering from anxiety, and has long been used as a self-medicating approach. However, under the supervision of a doctor, the treatment is not only safer, but more effective as well.

However, there is still a problem with medicinal marijuana use, and that is the lack of research. A very low percentage of studies on marijuana investigate its potential as a medical treatment, making it difficult to determine the full range of possible effects, both positive and negative.

A few other benefits are clear even without medical studies, though. Smoking marijuana is a safer alternative than other drug choices, including hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine, but also including alcohol. The risks of heroin and cocaine are clear — such as physical addiction and damage to the body as a direct result of drug use. However, people often forget the dangers of alcohol consumption because of its ubiquity in modern society. Drinking, especially excessive or binge drinking, can result in dangerous behavioral patterns. The most common are drunk driving and risky sexual behaviors, both which can result in serious illness or injury and even death. These behaviors are less likely to occur under the influence of marijuana, especially is it is being consumed responsibly and in a safe environment.

In addition, both studies and common knowledge tell us that marijuana use can increase creativity, at least while you’re under the influence of the plant. Marijuana use opens up different thought patterns than you may have when you’re entirely sober, which can help creatives in a variety of fields to break through roadblocks or creative hangups.

Although marijuana isn’t a cure-all, and won’t magically make your life better, there are some benefits to the plant that can’t be ignored. And, in fact, that should be studied in greater depth and with greater seriousness.