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Medical Marijuana

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22 September 2013

Medical Marijuana – What’s the Problem?

While the debate rages across the country about legalizing medical marijuana, or Cannabis (Cannabis comes from the plant Cannabis sativa, and is commonly referred to by the Mexican name “marijuana”), apparently the majority of U.S. residents have already made up their mind about it. According to a 2004 AARP poll, over 72 percent agreed with the statement, “Adults should be allowed to use medical marijuana for medical purposes if a physician recommends it.” Perhaps even more astounding are the results of a 2013 Gallup poll which showed that fifty eight percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, after both Washington State and Colorado legalized it in November of 2012. Those in favor of the drug claim that it is both an effective and safe treatment for many medical conditions, including; epilepsy, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, cancer, and more. They point to the long history of the use of marijuana medicinal purposes and back up their claims with studies, reports, and medical data.

So, what’s the problem? Why hasn’t medical marijuana been legalized in every state in the Union? Created in 1970, the Controlled Substances Act, an amendment to the Public Health Service Act, was enacted, making the “prevention of, drug abuse and drug dependence; to provide for treatment and rehabilitation of drug abusers and drug dependent persons; and to strengthen existing law enforcement authority in the field of drug abuse.” According to the World Health Organization, Cannabis is the most widely trafficked illicit drug in the world. This is no doubt, in part, why marijuana was listed as a controlled substance as part of the Controlled Substances Act. Since 1972, many attempts have been made to remove marijuana from this act. Across the country, since that ruling, the debate continues and slowly states are legalizing the drug, with 20 out of the 50 legalizing it for medical use.

While they increasingly find themselves in the minority across the United States, there still exists a strong and vocal opposition to legalizing medical marijuana. Many of these people discuss the threat of medical marijuana in broad terms, pointing to the threat it poses to the fabric of society. They claim that it will lead our youth astray, that it will encourage them to try drugs. They further point out that once it is tried, our youth will move on from marijuana to other drugs. It hasn’t been proven safe is another argument they like to manifest, claiming that it causes addiction, and damage to the body, much like nicotine. They say that other drugs can do what marijuana does and that the FDA has not approved it for use. Claiming it is a gateway drug, opponents say it can lead to other drug use and cause addiction. They point to the dangers it poses to the rest of the human body, including the brain. Most opponents will argue that legalizing medical marijuana is just a way to make it legal for recreational users to access the drug.

Increasingly, those who support the legalization of medical marijuana come from very important circles in the medical, educational, health, and even political field. From the US Surgeon General to prominent physicians andprofessors, proponents for the legalization of medical marijuana offer compelling arguments against those who would oppose legalizing the drug. Jocelyn Elders, MD, former US Surgeon General, said in an editorial in the Providence Journal in 2004, “The evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS – or by the harsh drugs sometimes used to treat them. And it can do so with remarkable safety. Indeed, marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day.”

As for the health risks the opponents argue medical marijuana poses, Lester Grinspoon, MD, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, had this to say in an LA Times article in 2006, “There is very little evidence that smoking marijuana as a means of taking it represents a significant health risk. Although Cannabis has been smoked widely in Western countries for more than four decades, there have been no reported cases of lung cancer or emphysema attributed to marijuana.” She goes on to say that poor air quality, a condition in much of the world, poses a far greater health risk than smoking marijuana, which amounts to less than a joint a day for most medical marijuana patients. Clearly, marijuana does not pose the same threat as cigarettes for addiction or disease.

There are those opponents who argue that marijuana has much the same affect on the body as nicotine and that it is very damaging to the internal organs. However, the physical and mental risks of marijuana damaging the user appear to be outweighed by the medical benefits. Arguments abound that the medical benefit of using marijuana for the terminally ill or those with devastating diseases like AIDS, far surpasses any risk associated with using the drug. AIDS patients who smoked marijuana and received marijuana pills as part of treatment saw greater immune system function, and also gained four pounds more than patients who were treated with placebos, according to Donald Abrams, MD, in an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2003. Consumer Reports in 1997 went so far as to say that medical marijuana should be legalized by states so that doctors could care for their patients “on a caring and compassionate basis.”

In much the same way, expert reports argue against the idea of medical marijuana being a gateway drug or causing addictiveness in users. This puts to bed the argument from opponents who say that using marijuana simply is the tip of the iceberg, claiming that it leads to use of much harder drugs. Andrew Morral, PhD, a researcher with the Rand Corporation said in an article in Addiction in 2002 that research has shown that marijuana is only a gateway drug for those who were predisposed to drug use in the first place and that marijuana is usually the first drug because it’s easily obtained. Most notably, other experts like Colin Blakemore, PhD, Dept. of Physiology, University of Oxford, argue that unlike other drugs, marijuana does not cause withdrawal symptoms, and only 10 percent of Cannabis users become addicted. It is very clear, then, that the opponents repeated claims that compare marijuana to nicotine are simply unfounded and that the two are very different drugs causing very different reactions in those who use them.

It appears that the trend in the United States is for not just medical marijuana to be approved for use, but perhaps even recreational marijuana. This is astounding given where we were at a mere 40 years ago when it was listed under the Controlled Substances Act. So, while a stiff opposition remains to the legalization of the use of medical marijuana in the United States, it appears their arguments are not holding weight at the ballot box. It is difficult to stop change when the medical, education, and legislators are on the side of legalizing medical marijuana. Clearly, those opinions expressed in this paper from such highly educated and accomplished people are affecting the general attitudes of the American people.

Works Cited
Abrams, D. “Short-Term Effects of Cannabinoids in Patients with HIV-1 Infection,” Annals of Internal Medicine, Aug. 19, 2003
Elders, J. “Editorial,” Providence Journal, Mar. 26, 2004
Grinspoon, L., “Puffing is the Best Medicine,” Los Angeles Times, May 5, 2006…...

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