Marijuana for Medicinal Purposes in the US

Introduction

First, it was medical marijuana; next, it will be alcohol and so on and so forth. The problem the country faces with medical marijuana is similar to the one it faces when the issue of legalizing abortion nationwide or physician-assisted suicide came into view. Both of these areas are examples of emotionally charged issues that have more to do with morals and less to do with protection and entitlement.

I strongly believe that using marijuana in any medical procedure and thereby legalizing it is a big issue of morality because marijuana is strongly linked to highly addictive substances. By allowing its use, it would only imply that society (and even the law) is tolerating addiction, however minor it can be.

Lawmakers and even a number of medical professionals have admitted that the use of marijuana for medicine is still questionable because there is scientific evidence of its negative aftermaths. I personally think that if ever it would discover that using marijuana as a form of medicine gives some form of positive advantage, the number of its negative effects are still dominant and should not be taken for granted.

Lastly, if we are to allow medical marijuana, it should also be expected that very soon, abortion and physician-assisted suicide will also be tolerated. The use of marijuana for medicine is exactly like abortion and/or physician-assisted suicide, all these three are believed to provide benefits to the patient himself, but morality and legality-wise, there are still big issues to consider. More so, the number of benefits has been all shadowed by more number of negative effects.

Marijuana and its medical benefits

The medical benefits of marijuana and its regulated use are now being discussed in some medical institutions, laboratories, and other healthcare facilities. In fact, the Institute of Medicine has released medical research findings that attest to the medical benefits of moderate marijuana smoking in effectively treating pain, nausea, vomiting, AIDS-related appetite loss, and even short-term treatment for glaucoma. The therapeutic potentials of marijuana are quite modest but it has not been proven yet on whether it will really benefit patients (Gorter et. al, 1992). Voters in several states in America were recently asked to decide whether marijuana can be used as a medicine.

They made their decisions on the basis of medical anecdotes, beliefs about the dangers of illicit drugs, and a smattering of inconclusive science. In order to help policymakers and the public make better-informed decisions, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to review the scientific evidence and assess the potential health benefits and risks of marijuana (Gorter et. al, 1992).

More so, there are still some major concerns that are needed to be discussed. First, it should be noted that marijuana does have medical value, but its therapeutic components must be incorporated into conventional therapy to be truly safe and useful.

The IOM report, Marijuana, and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, released in March 1999, found that marijuana’s active components are potentially effective in treating pain, nausea and vomiting, AIDS-related loss of appetite, and other symptoms and should be tested rigorously in clinical trials. The therapeutic effects of smoked marijuana are typically modest, and in most cases, there are more effective medicines. But it is worth noting that a subpopulation of patients does not respond well to other medications and has no effective alternative to smoking marijuana (Clark, 2000).

In addition to its therapeutic effect and its ability to create a sense of well-being or euphoria, marijuana produces a variety of biological effects, many of which are undesirable or dangerous. It can reduce control over movement and cause occasional disorientation and other unpleasant feelings. Smoking marijuana is associated with an increased risk of cancer, lung damage, and problems with pregnancies, such as low birth weight. In addition, some marijuana users can develop dependence, though withdrawal symptoms are relatively mild and short-lived. To sum it up, marijuana, even if used for medical reasons, can still cause a much bigger problem that is really hard to prevent (Hiebert, 2001).

Because the chronic use of marijuana can have negative effects, the benefits should be weighed against the risks. For example, marijuana should not be used as a treatment for glaucoma, one of its most frequently cited medical applications. Smoked marijuana can reduce some of the eye pressure associated with glaucoma but only for a short period of time. These short-term effects do not outweigh the hazards associated with regular long-term use of the drug. Also, with the exception of muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis, there is little evidence of its potential for treating movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease or Huntington’s disease.

But in general, the adverse effects do not outweigh the hazards associated with regular long-term use of the drug (Greenberg et. al, 1976). The report says that although marijuana use often precedes the use of harder drugs, there is no conclusive evidence that marijuana acts as a “gateway” drug that actually causes people to make this progression. Nor is there convincing evidence to justify the concern that sanctioning the medical use of marijuana might increase its use among the general population, particularly if marijuana were regulated as closely as other medications that have the potential to be abused (National Review, 2005).

In some limited situations, smoked marijuana should be tested in short-term trials of no more than six months that are approved by institutional review boards and involve only patients that are most likely to benefit. And because marijuana’s psychological effects, such as anxiety reduction and sedation, are probably important determinants of potential therapeutic value, psychological factors need to be closely evaluated in clinical trials (Clark, 2000). The goal of these trials should not be to develop marijuana as a licensed drug. Rather, they should be a stepping stone to the development of new drugs related to the compounds found in marijuana and safe delivery systems (Greenberg et. al, 1976).

If there are benefits that can be derived from using marijuana (specifically for the patients suffering from chronic pain), however irrelevant the proofs may be, then why is it a big issue on whether or not to legalize its use in the line of medicine? The answer, of course, is the fear that as people gain more experience with cannabis as medicine they will discover that its toxicity has been greatly exaggerated, its usefulness undervalued, and that it can be used for purposes the government disapproves of (Beal, et. al., 2000).

With the publication of its report in March 1999, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences grudgingly acknowledged that cannabis has some medical utility but averred that because smoking it was too dangerous to their health, patients would have to await the development of pharmaceutical products that would eliminate this hazard (Izzo et. al., 2000).

Another reason the authorities would have patients wait for the “pharmaceuticalization” of marijuana is to allow for the development of cannabinoid analogs that will be free of any psychoactive effects. This goal is based on the assumption that the psychoactive effects are both unhealthy and bad for the patient in the vague way in which the “high” is thought by the prohibitionists to be deleterious (Beal, et. al., 2000).

Conclusion

Marijuana would not be the first medicine to be admitted to the pharmacopeia on the strength of anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence commands much less attention than it once did, yet it is the source of much of our knowledge of synthetic medicines as well as plant derivatives. Controlled experiments were not needed to recognize the therapeutic potential of chloral hydrate, barbiturates, aspirin, curare, insulin, or penicillin.

However, it is very unlikely that marijuana will ever be developed as an officially recognized medicine via the FDA approval process, which is ultimately a risk/benefit analysis (Beal, et. al., 2000). Thousands of years of widespread use have demonstrated its medical value; the extensive multi-million dollar government-supported effort (through the National Institute of Drug Abuse) of the last three decades to establish a sufficient level of toxicity to support prohibition has instead provided a record of safety that is more compelling than that of most approved medicines.

And lawmakers are also looking at the idea that if we consider legalizing and continuing the use of marijuana in medical procedures, we are more likely to also patronage abortion and/or physician-assisted suicide. Marijuana for medical purposes is a very big moral issue like abortion and physician-assisted suicide. For example, the sound and fury over abortion are not about whether a woman is entitled to the procedure, but over the moral issue of where life begins.

It’s unfortunate that such issues engulf the public spotlight because they only serve to make the country feel more divided. Most people, like in America, tend to agree on most things, but there are some major issues that people disagree on, and it would be good if those issues were decided on a local level rather than a national level. Another classic example is physician-assisted suicide: some country’s citizens may feel that their doctors are going to be responsible and execute the will of the people, while some citizens may feel entirely differently.

Medical marijuana is the same type of issue. Some badly want it to be legal because they want to relieve the suffering of sick people while some maintain that no matter how much they care about peoples’ suffering (Clark, 2000), marijuana is so evil that you just can’t let suffering people have it.

To sum up, there is no strong evidence that will show its medical benefits. There are hundreds of studies conducted that however good the intention is, use of marijuana still brings negative aftermaths to the user (such as addiction, increased risk to other deadly diseases and so much more). The law doesn’t want to allow its use and they have very good reasons for it. And for these reasons, I am strongly opposing the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

References

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Gorter, R.; Seifried, M.; and Volberding, P. Dronabinol effects on weight in patients with HIV infection. AIDS 6:127, 1992.

Greenberg, I.; Kuehnle, J.; Mendelson, J.H.; and Bernstein, J.G. Effects of marijuana use on body weight and caloric intake in humans. Psychopharmacology 49:79-84, 1976.

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Izzo A, Mascolo N, Capasso F. Marijuana in the new millennium: perspectives for cannabinoid research. Trends-Pharmacol-Sci. 2000; 21(8): 281-2.

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