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Owners of the commercial establishments selling marijuana across Colorado say that they’ve already generated a combined total of roughly $5 million in sales since it became legal for adults to purchase and use marijuana for recreational reasons on January 1, 2014. The main reason shoppers give for buying it: “medical reasons.” 

But what really is medical marijuana?

READ: Marijuana & Testicular Cancer

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History

The marijuana plant is made up of more than 500 chemical compounds. Many of these compounds are cannabinoids, which bind to receptors in your body and then affect your immune system and brain. Researchers have pinpointed two main cannabinoids: THC and cannabidiol, or CBD—as beneficial to the human body. The biggest difference: CBD doesn’t make you high, but THC does.

Trouble is, when exposed to the high temperature (like that of a burning joint), the 500 or so chemical compounds in marijuana can produce hundreds or thousands of byproducts—many of which are thought to be carcinogens. Research suggests that marijuana smoke can contain up to 70 percent more carcinogenic materials than tobacco smoke. While many researchers think that—logically—marijuana smoke should cause lung cancer, studies remain inconclusive.

READ: Why Did The Air Force Ban Greek Yogurt?

In 1970, the government classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug—alongside heroin and LSD—as a substance with high abuse potential and no accepted medical purpose. But in 1967, medical doctor and researcher, Dr. Lester Grinspoon’s teenage son was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Chemotherapy left him with no appetite, vomiting spells, and nausea—“the kind you feel right down to your toenails,” the doctor remembers. The drugs that were supposed to ease the pain didn’t. So Dr. Grinspoon’s wife pulled up to Wellesley High School and asked her son’s friend for weed.

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