Legalized medical marijuana has gained tremendous ground throughout the United States in the past decade, especially in recent years. Although it is still classified by the federal government as an illegal drug without medicinal value, a total of 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes as of June 2014. Doctors in these areas prescribe marijuana for a wide range of illnesses and health conditions, from glaucoma to rheumatoid arthritis to anxiety and epilepsy. But they're doing so without sound medical evidence that marijuana is effective for many ailments — at least according to The New York Times.

Federal funding for medical marijuana has been mostly nonexistent

The Times takes a look at the paucity of research on medical marijuana's health effects, interviewing doctors and advocates across the country who agree that there should be more studies done on the drug. However, the Times only glancingly mentions a major reason why there isn't more scientific basis for medical marijuana at present: the prohibitive legal climate in the United States. Up until recently, American doctors wishing to study marijuana could only count on one major legal supplier, itself encumbered by red tape. Federal funding for medical marijuana has been mostly nonexistent over the past 50 years due to marijuana's classification as a Schedule One drug in the Untied States, the strictest classification that also includes heroin and LSD, which most health experts and law enforcement officials consider to be far more dangerous drugs to individuals and society writ-large. And as the Times itself previously reported, the federal government actively discouraged doctors from studying medical marijuana.

Still, hundreds of studies on the medical efficacy of cannabis have been conducted throughout the world over the years. In fact, the US Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit organization that is partially funded by and makes recommendations to the US government, reviewed many of the available studies and concluded that the active ingredient in marijuana, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is beneficial for patients suffering a diversity of symptoms. As it wrote in a 1999 report: "Scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs, primarily THC, for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation," later adding "The psychological effects of cannabinoids, such as anxiety reduction, sedation, and euphoria can influence their potential therapeutic value."

"Scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs."

The report goes on to note that smoking marijuana — the traditional method of ingestion for recreational users — may not be the best way to go about deriving its medical benefits: "smoked marijuana, however, is a crude THC delivery system that also delivers harmful substances." That interpretation, which comes from some of the nation's most trusted physicians, would seem to back the rationale behind the New York state legislature's recent decision to legalize marijuana for medical use in non-smokable forms (oil and edibles). At the national level, the legal restrictions preventing more medical marijuana research may close to changing as well: the US Food and Drug Administration is reportedly analyzing a request from the Drug Enforcement Agency to downgrade marijuana's classification to a more permissive one.