Considerable controversy exists regarding the role of marijuana as a therapeutic agent; however, many practitioners are taught very little about existing marijuana data. The authors therefore undertook a comprehensive literature review of the topic. References were identified using textbooks, review and opinion articles, and a primary literature review in MEDLINE. Sources were included in this review based primarily on the quality of the data. Some data exists that lends credence to many of the claims about marijuana's properties. In general, however, the body of literature about marijuana is extremely poor in quality. Marijuana and/or its components may help alleviate suffering in patients with a variety of serious illnesses. Health care providers can best minimize short term adverse consequences and drug interactions for terminally ill patients by having a thorough understanding of the pharmacology of marijuana, potential adverse reactions, infection risks, and drug interactions (along with on-going monitoring of the patient). For chronic conditions, the significance and risk of short and long term adverse effects must be weighed against the desired benefit. Patients who are best suited to medicinal marijuana will be those who will gain substantial benefit to offset these risks, and who have failed a well-documented, compliant and comprehensive approach to standard therapies.