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Does Medicare Cover Medical Marijuana?

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Medical marijuana is nothing new. People have been using it as medical treatment for at least 3000 years, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

What is medical marijuana?

Medical marijuana means using the marijuana plant (cannabis) – parts of the plant, or all of it – for treating health conditions, according to the NIH. People sometimes use extracts from the plant, too.

What is medical marijuana used for? Does it work?

The NIH reports that medical marijuana is sometimes used to treat conditions and symptoms such as those listed below. Research about whether it’s effective is still going on.

  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Epileptic seizures
  • Multiple sclerosis symptoms

Researchers are studying medical marijuana’s effects on other symptoms and health conditions as well. The National Library of Medicine notes that there may be some undesirable side effects of using marijuana, like memory loss.

Some medical marijuana studies about cancer treatment are encouraging. For example, the NIH reports that in animal studies, medical marijuana extracts have:

  • Slowed cancer cell growth in certain brain tumors
  • Killed cancer cells, or made them smaller, in some case.

Is medical marijuana approved by the Food & Drug Administration?

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved medical marijuana as safe and effective for medical uses.

Marijuana contains chemicals such as CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the National Institutes of Health reports. The FDA has approved the following prescription drugs containing some chemicals that are found in medical marijuana:

  • “Purified” CBD for treatment of epileptic seizures
  • Dronabinol and nabilone to treat nausea from cancer treatments when other treatments have failed, according to the National Library of Medicine

How do you take medical marijuana? Do you have to smoke it?

There are a few ways people take medical marijuana, and smoking is just one of them, the NIH reports. People sometimes mix it into their food or inhale it using a vaporizer, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Of course, if your doctor prescribes or recommends medical marijuana for you, ask him or her for complete instructions, including how you should take it.

Does Medicare cover medical marijuana?

Before we get into specifics of Medicare coverage, note that Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) don’t generally cover prescription drugs you’d take at home. For prescription drug coverage, you can sign up for a prescription drug plan under Medicare Part D.

Medical marijuana isn’t approved by the FDA, and Medicare may not cover it. However, if your doctor prescribes one of the FDA-approved drugs listed above, you might want to contact your Medicare prescription drug plan and ask about it.

If your doctor believes medical marijuana would help your health condition, you can call your plan, or Medicare, to ask about it. Rules can change, so it may be worth asking. You can reach a Medicare representative 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048.

Are you looking for a Medicare prescription drug plan? Feel free to use the Browse Plans button on this page. If you prefer, you can call us and speak with one of our eHealth licensed insurance agents.

Data in this article was checked when the article was written and might not be updated as fast as newer data becomes available.

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