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RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – Don’t be thinking that the possibility of legal use for marijuana in medical treatment is going to make it easier for you to get high.

The North Carolina Senate could consider a bill as soon as Thursday morning that would legalize medical marijuana, which would be a landmark in the state, but that has nothing to do with the recreational weed that has spawned new industry in many western states, much of New England and, soon, Virginia.

The unanimous approval by the Senate on Tuesday of the Farm Bill, which in perpetuity decriminalizes hemp as a commercial crop for certain uses in North Carolina, is a first step in all of this. There is a June 30 deadline to confirm that fact and align North Carolina under the rules adopted by the USDA.

But Senate Bill 711 is a bipartisan measure drafted and originally approved last year. It has to clear the Senate Rules Committee, but Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) told The News & Observer that he expects that to happen later this week. He also said he plans to vote for the bill.

That 26-page bill would allow a doctor to recommend medical marijuana products for specified conditions and maladies, with patients 18 and older being issued registry identification cards to verify their allowed use of the products. Patients younger than 18 require a more stringent approval and treatment process. There would be licensed dealers/vendors that would be open only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., and smoking prohibitions would apply.

Violators would be subject to felony prosecution. A state board would be created and appointed to oversee the process, sort of like a state board of elections.

If the Senate does approve this bill, that doesn’t mean it would become law this year. The state House has not considered this bill and may not in this short session.

Still this would be a significant step in moving forward medical opportunities for residents of North Carolina. Here are five key things to know about that.

1. States vary greatly on allowances for marijuana.

Based on information gathered and updated by DISA, a company that helps employers design and administer drug testing and treatment, there are only four states in the U.S. where marijuana remains FULLY illegal:

  • South Carolina
  • Kansas
  • Wyoming
  • Idaho

There are 19 states where marijuana is fully legal for all uses. Seven states allow CBD oil only for medical uses, but North Carolina and Nebraska are the only states where medical usage in some form is not legal. All other states have medical approval.

2. How marijuana from hemp plants is used medicinally.

Marijuana produces 100 chemicals called “cannabinoids,” WebMD reports. Each has a different effect – you may have heard that THC is the chemical that causes the high in recreational marijuana – and Delta-9-THC and CBD are the primary chemicals used medically. They can be ingested by smoking, using an inhaler, eating it in foods or via a pill, using a skin application or drops under the tongue.

3. Here’s what medical marijuana treats

You may have heard two key elements that receive a lot of public comment: glaucoma and the side effects of chemotherapy. But WebMD lists Alzheimer’s disease, appetite loss, various cancers, Crohn’s Disease, HIV/AIDS or MS, epilepsy, PTSD and more general effects such as nausea, seizures, muscle spasms and pain. There also is a sense that CBD might help with anxiety and have greater impact on side effects (such as chemo).

4. What do physicians have to say about using medical marijuana?

Some physicians are reluctant to comment on the viability of medical marijuana. Dr. Peter Grinspoon, who teaches at the Harvard Medical School, wrote in a blog published by the school: “My advice for doctors is that whether you are pro, neutral, or against medical marijuana, patients are embracing it, and although we don’t have rigorous studies and ‘gold standard’ proof of the benefits and risks of medical marijuana, we need to learn about it, be open-minded, and above all, be non-judgmental. … I often hear complaints from other doctors that there isn’t adequate evidence to recommend medical marijuana, but there is even less scientific evidence for sticking our heads in the sand.” The FDA doesn’t regulate medical marijuana with the scrutiny it does other prescription drugs. That means the strength of ingredients is loosely monitored by states and can vary significantly, WebMD warns.

5. There are side effects and cautions

WebMD reports that bloodshot eyes, depression, dizziness, fast heartbeat, hallucinations and low blood pressure have been documented. Inhaling could lead to more incidents of bronchitis. Because this is a chemical, it could impair judgment and coordination and have stronger effects on young people. Prolonged use at elevated levels could lead to addictive habits in some individuals.