The debate over whether marijuana should be legalized has long troubled many American citizens. There are many political aspects that have to be taken into account when making a big federal decision such as this. However, long before America was even an idea, many cultures had harnessed the plant, and used it for many primitive medical procedures. Within certain states it is legal to use marijuana for medical treatments, but this is a relatively new idea in the United States. However, marijuana was not always deemed an illegal substance and because of its inherent medical value should be legalized at the federal level.
Many ancient civilizations have been unearthed and found to have used marijuana in medical practices dating all the way back to 8000 B.C. Some of the more notable civilizations who used the plant include the Egyptians who used it to treat sore eyes, the Indians who mixed marijuana and milk to create a primitive anesthetic, and the Greeks who found a way to remedy earaches with the plants properties(Webley 1). Even the Chinese emperor Shen-Nung was known to prescribe it as medicine to many people almost 5 millennia ago(Bostwick 173). Therefore, it can be argued that historically, marijuana has been a crucial influence on some modern day medical treatments.
It wasn’t until 1930 when a man named Harry J. Anslinger was given the position of Director of Narcotics did marijuana become an issue in American society. His initial role was to crack down on the use of opiates and cocaine but he feared that these two drugs were not enough to make his career. He introduced marijuana into his campaign, attributing it with what he called the degenerate races. At the time, America was still heavily racist and Anslinger used this to his advantage tying jazz music and other forms of entertainment to the corruption of America’s youth. In 1937 the Marijuana Tax Act was proposed and called for taxes to be placed on any products that had traces of marijuana. Anslinger wanted to create a problem where there initially was none regardless of its medical value. Up until this point the medical community had been using marijuana for special treatments and were astonished by the bold claims being made by Anslinger. They challenged him in court, stating he was falsifying information and that marijuana was safe to use medically. Unfortunately, Anslinger had already won over most of the public with his racist ideals and ultimately won in court over the medical community. As a result, Anslinger was able to create anti-marijuana propaganda for the rest of his career as the Director of Narcotics(Guither 1).
In 1970 the Controlled Substances Act classified marijuana as a schedule I drug. The term is given to drugs that have a high risk for potential abuse and have no medical value associated with them. This meant that marijuana was now being compared to drugs such as opiates and hallucinogens. However, the FDA, Food and Drug Administration, is actually the organization that regulates what is considered a drug for medical use, and their definition of a drug is vastly different. To the FDA, drugs are “articles intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease in man
or other animals;and articles(other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or any other animal.”(Cohen 3). Therefore, the FDA is acknowledging that marijuana is a drug as it affects the function of man, but they are also acknowledging that it has the potential to cure, treat, or prevent diseases. While not all schedule I drugs adhere to this, there is definitive proof from before marijuana was illegal that the plant can hold many medical properties.
Very recently though there have been many states that have actually legalized medical marijuana, and have seen first-hand the positive effects it can have on the community. The term medical marijuana can actually refer to three different forms the plant can be found. Endocannabinoids, Phytocannabinoids, and synthetic compounds(Bostwick 173). Endocannabinoids deal with the effects of the plant on neurotransmitters, while synthetic compounds are laboratory made compounds that resemble the chemical structure of the plant and act very similarly to the natural. However, the most medically relevant form is the Phytocannabinoid, which contains THC and cannabidiol. THC stands for Tetrahydrocannabinol and is directly linked with the psychoactive effects of the cannabis plant. While the cannabidiol, or CBD for short, is linked to the sedative effects. Common effects that can be observed from exposure to THC are mild euphoria, relaxation, perceptual alterations(time distortion), and the intensification of ordinary experiences. Some of these effects when used medically have been known to help people who suffer from chronic pain in joints and bones. Medicinally, the plant would be taken in small doses and only as needed; whereas, marijuana abuse is associated with daily usage more than once a day and more than is needed. The argument the medical community is stating is that, “all approved medications use in legitimate practice of medicine are associated with adverse effects; there is no a priori reason why marijuana should be different.”(Cohen 9). Therefore, the medical community is actually backing the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, and actually believes it can be of huge help in the treatment of many U.S. citizens thanks to its chemical properties.
Many people believe that the plant is not the problem, but the route of administration. The most common form of administration is smoking the plant and inhaling the smoke into the lungs which is big cause of respiratory illnesses(Earleywine et al 248). In order for the effects of the THC to be felt the plant needs to be heated up and exposed to the body. While there is no definitive proof that marijuana smoke causes lung cancer, cigarette smoke is known to be a leading cause. Thus, many people are under the assumption that smoking marijuana can cause lung cancer. As a result, many people don’t see the sense in smoking a substance to treat a sickness as it is not really an efficient form of medical treatment. You are essentially trading one ailment for another ailment. In some cases such as terminal cancers it can be justified, but for use in chronic pain it just does not seem like a good tradeoff. Luckily, there are safer, less controversial forms of administration. In order for the effects of THC to be felt the substance must be heated up to a high enough temperature where the THC can be absorbed. Smoking was the easiest way to acquire THC absorption until recently, where vaporization is quickly becoming the preferred method of administration. The act of vaporization allows for the plant to be heated up to the desired temperature without its smoky bi-product, and as such, it is much healthier for the body. It allows for more absorption of THC into the body as it is just pure THC being brought into the body.
This is a safer and healthier form of administration because you are no longer being exposed to the harmful carcinogens associated with the act of smoking. Thus, if a patient were to be administered marijuana via vaporization they would feel all the positive effects without the potential for respiratory problems to form as a result of the treatment. If marijuana were to be legalized and administered via vaporization then many elderly people would be able to live out their lives in comfort without the negative drawbacks of respiratory problems.
A medical problem that has long baffled scientists to this day is a disease known as cancer and the lack of options available when treating patients. The disease multiplies and multiplies until it essentially shuts down or blocks many vital parts of the body that are needed to survive. Recently however, scientists have been able to use marijuana to fight many aggressive cancers that show up in humans. In September of 2012, scientists released an article detailing how marijuana can actually stop metastasis in aggressive cancers and actually return the cells back to their original states. Scientists have found that CBD, a non-toxic and non-psychoactive chemical compound found in marijuana, can actually turn off the ID-1 gene, gene that promotes cancer growth, prevalent in many aggressive cancers. Since it is a non-psychoactive component the patient does not experience the feelings associated with being high(Wilkey 1). The fact that this property of the plant is just being discovered means that there is high hopes that marijuana actually posses many medical properties that have yet to be discovered. If marijuana were legalized for medical use it would allow scientists to more easily acquire samples to run tests on in order to find more inherit medical properties. This study shows evidence to support the idea that marijuana may be able to medically treat one of the worst diseases known to man. Therefore, from a medical perspective if marijuana were legal it would be a lot easier and safer to treat many patients for many different ailments including the scourge of homosapiens, cancer.
If marijuana has so many positive potential capabilities from a medical perspective then why is there such a big debate over whether it should be legalized federally. Well, there are two different options to consider when thinking about legalization. Do we want to legalize it recreationally, medically, or both. Much of this debate has to do with how many people are not using marijuana for its intended medical purposes and are abusing the plant recreationally to acquire the psychotropic effects associated with THC. Heavy marijuana use has also been linked with cognitive impairment, psychosis, and in some cases even mental illnesses. To gain a sense of the controversy surrounding recreational use, scientists conducted a study on users who were smoking more than 4 times a week. The “study demonstrated that smoking four joints or more per week resulted in a decrement in mental test performance;subjects who had smoked regularly for a decade or more did the worst. The investigators found that long-term marijuana users were impaired 70 percent of the time on a decision-making test, compared to 55 percent for short-term users and 8 percent for nonusers.”(Cohen 12). A study like this may make people nervous about driving on the roads because there’s no telling who is and who isn’t impaired. However, only 8.8% of people at fault involved in car accidents were found to have marijuana in their system. While alcohol was found to have far greater numbers(Cohen 13). Thus, while marijuana may impair cognitive functions in long-term users it is not nearly as bad as the other legal alternatives already available such as alcohol, and if used medicinally would not be abused as many recreational users tend to do.
Medical marijuana is quickly becoming a hotly debated topic in society as it presents clear medical value with little to no drawbacks if used in the correct way. While abuse of the substance shows clear definitive issues, the same can be said about any substance including alcohol. Therefore, if regulated properly at the federal level there is really no reason why marijuana should not be legalized since it presents so many opportunistic ideas and answers to many people who suffer from chronic and terminal diseases. Do we really want to become a society that tells a terminally ill person that they can’t enjoy their last moments on earth in a pain free environment? Not to mention the advances in cancer studies that we have acquired thanks to marijuana. Thus, medicinally it is a good idea to legalize the plant. However, the question of whether it should be legalized recreationally is an entirely different issue altogether.
Bostwick, J., Michael. Blurred Boundaries: The Therapeutics and Politics of Medical Marijuana, Mayo -This website helped me learn when marijuana was first being used and how old it actually is. It has been around for thousands of years.
Clinic Proceedings, Feb 2012, Vol. 87 Issue 2, p 172-186, 15p.
Wilkey, Robin. Marijuana And Cancer: Scientists Find Cannabis Compound Stops Metastasis In Aggressive Cancers, Sep 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/19/marijuana-and-cancer_n_1898208.htm -This website talked about cannabis and cancer. How cancer patients benefit from the substance without it harming them. In fact, it has been helping them.
Webley, Kayla. Brief History: Medical Marijuana, Time, June 2010, Vol. 175 Issue 24, p22-22, 3/4p -This source also talks about how long marijuana has been used. Treaty sore eyes back in the day. Also, touches upon the great expansion of the substance.
Cohen, Peter J. Medical Marijuana: The Conflict Between Scientific Evidence and Political Ideology.Part One of Two, Journal of Pain & Palliative Care Pharmacotherapy, 2009, Vol. 23 Issue 1, p4-25, 22p -Here it talks about the fight between legalizing the drug and not legalizing. Defends marijuana on how it isn’t harmful but more beneficial then anything.
Earleywine, Mitch et al. Case Studies in Cannabis Vaporization, Addiction Research and Theory, June 2010, Vol. 18 Issue 3, 243-249,7p, 4 Charts.Here we talk about smoking cannabis using a vaporizing pen. Making the smell and evidence disappear in the air. Talks about the improvement of the device and how they work.