Cannabis, hemp, or commonly known as marijuana, the third most widely used drug in the United States, is a drug made from its dried leaves and flowers smoked in cigarettes to produce a narcotic effect (Barnhart 1272). Marijuana is not only smoked, but also used in cookies, brownies or tea (Hermes 49). Marijuana, an illegal drug, has harmful side effects, but in the United States it is being prescribed as medication for relief from some diseases.
The main active chemical in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabiol (THC). The THC percent in marijuana has increased since the 1960's from 0.1% to containing at least 13.49% in the early nineties (Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons 355). At least 68.5 million Americans have tried marijuana once; 18 million in the past year. In 1994, 137,564 people were under treatment because of abusing the drug (NIDA 1). What are some harmful side effects of marijuana use?
Of course, because marijuana is smoked, it will cause lung cancer. One to three "joints" a day is the same risk as five times as many cigarettes. It destroys nerve cells and can cause problems in the brain's limbic system which controls learning, memory, emotions, and motivation in a person (NIDA 2-3). According to J. H. Williams, marijuana causes "anxious personality traits" in healthy people, may cause "magical thinking", and after a long term use a person could develop schizophrenia (869-870). Marijuana brings about changes in emotions, such as: anxiety, panic, depression, depersonalization, bizarre behaviors, delusions, illusions, and hallucinations. Physical effects can include faintness, dizziness, drops in skin temperature, bronchitis, decrease of sperm count in males and the GH levels in females, and weakening of the immune system. Use of marijuana can result in a sense of well-being, relaxation, laughter, talkativeness, and increased sociability. Mental effects can be loss of short-term memory, difficulty in concentrating, and dreamlike states. It also can cause a change in a person's perception of time and distance, as well as the impairment of driving because of slow reaction time and loss of peripheral vision ("Workshop on the Medical Utility of Marijuana" 16-17). Then, with all of these side effects, why do doctors want to prescribe it to their patients?
Marijuana was first documented as being used as a medication in China (Hermes 50). Use of the drug also appears in Egyptian Ebers back in 1600BC (Zias 215). In the Aryan culture it was used in religious ceremonies (Hermes 50). There is also mentioned usage of the drug in Assyrian texts and as a minor drug in Greek and Roman texts (Zias 215). It was given to women for relief during labor (Zias 215) , for headaches, insomnia, and menstrual cramps (Hermes 51). Marijuana was used as a drug until the 1930's. Use stopped because people began abusing the drug (Crystal 210).
Present day research on the effectiveness of the drug has been done in a lab setting. Testing is mostly done on young males who are usually experienced with the drug. Females and older people have rarely participated. In the testing, people afflicted with serious diseases have hardly participated. Through all of the studies done, marijuana clearly relieves pain for patients ("Workshop on the Medical Utility of Marijuana" 12).
Marijuana can suppress vomiting in a person who is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer (Crystal 210). It is also used for patients who are unable to take sumatiptan succinate for migraine headaches (Voelker 802). There have been no controlled studies of patients with HIV but smoking of any kind increases the risk of developing bacterial pneumonia. For patients with appetite related diseases, it will increase food enjoyment. Marijuana lowers intraocular pressure of patients with glaucoma and relieves spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury in patients with neurological and movement disorders. It is also used in the treatment of epilepsy ("Workshop on the Medical Utility of Marijuana" 5-14).
Medical marijuana comes in three forms, as a "joint", pill, or IV. Smoking marijuana has better effects on a patient than the pill does ("Workshop on the Medical Utility of Marijuana" 5-14). Marijuana is more efficient when smoked because the aerosol goes straight to the brain and is absorbed within seconds. On the other hand, smoking has greater physical and psychological consequences than if it is taken orally or through IV (Workshop on the Medical Utility of Marijuana 13-14). The dosage for each patient will range because each patient will react differently to the drug. Doctors prescribe marijuana because it provides relief to their patients. Yet, for all the disorders that marijuana has been tested for, there is already an alternate drug being used as treatment for the disease ("Workshop on the Medical Utility of Marijuana" 7).
There is currently an issue of legalizing this drug. It is up to the states to decide whether the drug will be legalized for mediclinal usage. It has already been legalized in California. In response to California's legalization of the drug, George J. Annas, J.D., M.P.H. wrote:
Virtually no one thinks it is reasonable to initiate criminal prosecution
of patients with cancer or AIDS who use marijuana on the advice of
their physicians to help them through the conventional medical
People in other states are afraid of legalizing marijuana because they think it might give the wrong message to children (Annas 368). In the United States today, only eight people can legally smoke marijuana ("Seeing Through the Haze" 60).
Marijuana has been used as a medicine for many years. Until 1930, it was legal to use the drug. "A recent Harvard survey of oncologists showed that almost half would prescribe marijuana if it were legal (Ingfei Chen et al 23)." It is an illegal drug because of its harmful side effects. Marijuana affects a person physically, mentally, psychologically, and emotionally. By using marijuana patients get relief from diseases such as glaucoma, cancer, migraines, and eating and movement disorders. Marijuana is harmful in some ways, but also a helpful medicine. Legalizing marijuana will help patients that need the drug to have better access to use marijuana. But, legalizing marijuana can also cause problems because of people that abuse it. Whichever each states' government chooses to do, the use of marijuana will still be present in a medical environment or on the streets.
Annas J.D., M.P.H., George J. "Reefer Madness - The Federal Response to California's Medical Marijuana Law", The New England Journal of Medicine. Aug. 1997: 337 (6) 435-439.
Barnhart, Clarence L. and Barnhart, Robert K. The World Book Dictionary Chicago: William H. Nault, 1993: 1272.
Chen, Ingfei et al. "Should Marijuana be Legalized for Medical Uses?", Health. Nov./Dec. 1993: 23.
Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopedia, Cambridge University Press. 1992: 210.
Hermes, William J. Substance Abuse, New York: Chelsea House Publishers. 1993: 15- 18, 47-53.
NIDA. "Marijuana Update" Netscape. Sept. 1997: 1-6. http://www.nida.nih.gov/NIDACapsules/NCMarijuana.html
"Seeing Through the Haze", Newsweek. Jan 13, 1997: 60.
The Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Complete Home Medical Guide, New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. 1985: 313, 355-356
Voelker, Rebecca. "'Decent Research and Closure Needed on Medical Marijuana,' Says Head of NIH Panel", JAMA. 1997: 278 (10) 802.
Williams, J.H. et al. "Cannabis Use Correlates with Schizotypy in Healthy People", Addiction. 1996: 91 (6) 869-877.
"Workshop in the Medical Utility of Marijuana" Netscape. 1998: 1-54.
Zias, Joe et al. "Early Medical Use of Cannabis", Nature. 1993: (363) 215.