Research Paper: Medical Marijuana as More States Begin Allowing

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Medical Marijuana

As more states begin allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes, many have begun to question the medical benefits of this drug. The federal government still considers marijuana a Schedule I substance, which allows the federal government to prosecute users of marijuana even in states where it is permitted for medical purposes. Opponents of legalizing marijuana cite concerns that it is addictive and may lead to other drug use. However, many medical organizations have publicly supported the medical use of marijuana. This paper will examine the debate about the medical use of marijuana including the medical benefits, risks, and recommendations from medical agencies.

The use of marijuana for medical purposes is not a new phenomenon. According to Gillman marijuana, which is known by the scientific name of Cannabis sativa, is an herb related closely to hops, which are used in brewing beer. Weiss (517) explains that the history of marijuana use dates back to 4000 BC, when it was grown in China for the hemp fibers. According to oral tradition, marijuana was used medically in China as far back as 2700 BC. Mills (3) adds that the ancient Egyptians used cannabis suppositories to relieve hemorrhoid pain. In the medieval Islamic world, physicians discovered the analgesic and anti-emetic properties of the drug. In the early 18th century, British doctors used the drug to treat rabies, tetanus, and epilepsy (Mills, 3).

In the U.S., according to Weiss (517) marijuana was used in the 1900s as a cure for morphine addiction. In 1937, cannabis used was banned with the Marijuana Tax Act (Mills, 3). The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 made marijuana a Schedule I substance. Gilman explains that Schedule I substances have a high potential for abuse while having no acceptable medical use. Other drugs categorized a Schedule I substances include heroin and LSD. In 1972 the nonprofit advocacy group, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Legislation, attempted to have marijuana listed as a Schedule II substance. Schedule II substances include drugs such as cocaine and morphine, which are addictive but also have medical uses. This attempt was unsuccessful. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) asserts that marijuana should remain a Schedule I substance because any medical benefits of the drug could be met more effectively with drugs that are already available commercially (Gilman).

However Cohen (657) argues that there is now considerable evidence that smoked marijuana has legitimate therapeutic and palliative uses that are not accompanied by dangerous side effects. Trossman (7) adds that marijuana does not meet the legal definition of a Schedule I drug because it has accepted medical use. According to Mills (3) there is a national petition to change the classification of marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III. Schedule III includes drugs such as codeine. In fact, Gilman explains that Marinol, the synthetic pill version of marijuana, is classified as a Schedule III substance.

Recognizing the medical benefits and limited risks, in 1996 California passed the first law permitting the medical use of marijuana (Gilman). Dresser (7) adds that by mid-2009, fourteen states permitted the use of medical marijuana in certain circumstances. However, according to the Genetic Science Learning Center, in June of 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that individuals in all states, regardless of the legality of medical marijuana in the state, can still be prosecuted under federal law. This means that the federal government can destroy homegrown plants and arrest anyone possessing marijuana, even those using the drug under a doctor's supervision.

According to the Genetic Science Learning Center the active compounds in marijuana are similar to chemicals in human bodies called endocannabinoids. Trossman (6) explains that research has shown that the endocannabinoid system has receptors throughout the body. This system affects how we eat, sleep, relax, protect, and forget. Gilman adds that these chemicals in marijuana are called cannabinoids. The most active of which is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Both the compounds found in marijuana and in human bodies bind to receptors called cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are located in the brain and throughout the body and impact the human immune system, mood, memory, appetite, sleep, and movement (Genetic Science Learning Center). According to Gilman, THC binds to receptors in the brain and creates the euphoric high associated with pot. The human body produces chemicals similar to THC which stimulate appetite and help control pain.

Mills (3) asserts that marijuana has documented analgesic, antiemetic, appetite stimulation, and anti-inflammatory properties. According to Trossman (6) medical marijuana has long been recognized for its efficacy with cancer pain, glaucoma, spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, and other conditions. Cohen (657) cites several studies which have demonstrated that the drug is safe and effective in controlling nausea and other adverse effects of chemotherapy, relieving multiple sclerosis-induced spasticity, easing certain types of pain, and ameliorating weight loss accompanying AIDS.

Medical marijuana has been proven to alleviate symptoms related to HIV / AIDS, Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, symptoms related to cancer treatments, pain associated with many diseases, psychological conditions, and terminal conditions. The Genetic Science Learning Center explains that marijuana increases appetite in HIV / AIDS patients experiencing severe weight loss. According to Fogarty et al. (296) patients living with HIV / AIDS have reported as much as a 25 -- 35% increase in food intake. In addition to alleviating symptoms related to HIV / AIDS, medical marijuana has been shown to relieve pain and inflammation associated with arthritis by suppressing the immune system (Genetic Science Learning Center). Additionally, marijuana reduces pain and spasticity resulting from nerve damage in multiple sclerosis. According to Bowling (34), "One form of cannabinoid receptors is found in the brain and acts to decrease the activity of nerve cells that are firing excessively. Through this mechanism, marijuana could play a role in alleviating some MS symptoms, such as spasticity and pain. Another type of cannabinoid receptor is present on immune cells and acts to mildly decrease immune system activity. Through these immune-cell receptors marijuana could possibly slow down the disease the process of MS. Many studies have indicated that marijuana alleviates muscle stiffness, pain, sleeping problems, and bladder difficulties associated with MS."

Marijuana also relieves nausea resulting from chemotherapy. According to Gilman marijuana helps relieve nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy in addition to providing pain relief for cancer patients. Fogarty et al. (296) stress that marijuana and oral THC can also stimulate the appetite and have been associated with significant increases in weight in people with cancer.

In addition to cancer treatment, marijuana is also associated with pain relief for chronic conditions. Cannabinoids seem to be more effective than opiates in treating long-term, chronic pain than opiates (Genetic Science Learning Center). According to Fogarty et al. (296) people with chronic pain reported moderate relief after using oral THC. Trossman (6) adds that new research shows that medical marijuana can alleviate pain associated with endometriosis and other women's health issues.

In addition to chronic conditions, marijuana has been shown to be a beneficial treatment for patients with terminal conditions. Cohen (657) argues that for some patients marijuana may actually be more effective than currently approved drugs. He quotes the noted biologist Stephen Jay Gould who found that only smoked marijuana could alleviate the pain and nausea produced by treatments given him for the deadly form of cancer that eventually killed took his life. He wrote: "Absolutely nothing in the available arsenal of anti-emetics worked at all. I was miserable and came to dread the frequent treatments with an almost perverse intensity…Marijuana worked like a charm…The sheer bliss of not experiencing nausea -- and not having to fear it for all the days intervening between treatments -- was the greatest boost I received in all my year of treatment" (Cohen, 657).

Opponents of legalizing marijuana for medical use cite several risks including addiction, lack of dosage control, risk of lung cancer, and that marijuana is a "gateway drug" that may lead to other drug use. Mills (3) disagrees stating that medical marijuana, when used at recommended dosages, is less addictive than many Schedule II and Schedule III drugs. Mills (3) adds that government-grown marijuana delivers a consistent dosage in a cigarette form. Additionally, no overdose has ever been linked to cannabis.

According to Weiss (518) while some biologic evidence suggests that changes in lung tissue may result from smoking marijuana, there is no evidence that directly links marijuana inhalation to lung cancer.

Some suggest that increased availability of medical marijuana may lead teens to think it is safe for recreational use. However, some believe that legalizing medical marijuana will change the perception of it from a party drug to a medication, which may make it less attractive to teens. Mills (3) suggests that children and teens should be taught that all drugs present risks and medicine should be taken under a doctor's supervision. Finally, there is little evidence that marijuana is a gateway drug when specifically used for medical purposes under a physician's supervision. As with morphine, studies indicate that when marijuana is… [END OF PREVIEW]

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