Marijuana as Medicine:
More Harm Than Help
AP English Language and Composition
18 April 1998
Marijuana as Medicine:
More Harm Than Help
Joan Daly smokes marijuana. She is also a former member of the San Francisco Police Department. When Joan was diagnosed with cancer she began a rigorous chemotherapy program, which has left her in an almost constant state of nausea, to battle her disease. She, and many like her, claim that the only drug they have tried that works to ease their pain is marijuana (Lacayo np). Claims such as this have led to a national movement pushing the legalization of medical marijuana. Marijuana should not be legalized for medicine or any other purpose. (98)
Naturally, those who support the cause of legalization will have their arguments, which can be summarized into three main areas. The first is the claim that marijuana is an instrumental treatment for the nausea associated with chemotherapy in cancer patients. The next assertion is that marijuana is an effective controller of glaucoma. Finally, marijuana advocates claim that it is effective in stimulating the appetite for the prevention of AIDS wasting syndrome. (71)
Proponents of medical marijuana swear by its ability to ease the suffering of chemotherapy patients, however there is no research to back these staunch claims. To be sure, there is a large body of research regarding cannabinoids, the chemicals found in plants of the same type as marijuana- the cannabis family, but the overwhelming majority of those studies use the already USDA approved dronabinol, a synthetic pill version of marijuana's main psychoactive ingredient, THC (NIH np). The pill, claim legalization supporters, does not work to relieve nausea (Lacayo np). There is, in fact, only one study that has compared smoked marijuana and synthetic THC pills. Of the 20 patients studied, 9 had no preference, 7 preferred dronabinol, and only 4 preferred smoked marijuana (NIH np). Critics of the legalization
movement say that using the drug before its safety and effectiveness are determined is foolhardy ("Weed Wars" np). There is evidence enough to support this claim. The number of patients who have been clinically dosed with marijuana for research purposes is a staggering 56 (NIH np). That is an extremely small number to base such large claims on. The treatment of nausea debate generally focuses on the synthetic pill/smoked marijuana trade off. The simple truth is that treatments are available that much more effective than the pill in the form of ondansetron, granisetron, and others. Their effectiveness has not been rated against that of marijuana, but the vast majority of patients respond well to these new treatments, and the benefits of marijuana for the remaining few is simply not known (NIH np). (255)
Another use of medical marijuana, says advocates, is for the treatment of glaucoma, but this has not been in any way proven more effective than existing treatments. Glaucoma is a gradual reduction of optical capability caused by increasing intra ocular pressure (IOP), or the pressure of the eye's fluids against its outer walls. Marijuana is a proven IOP reducer, but so are many other legal drugs. The trick that makes marijuana advocates cite this benefit is that it seems to work for some patients whose current medicines do not. The problem is that researchers do not know what mechanism marijuana uses to lower IOP (NIH np). There are risks to using marijuana as a cure. It has been proven to lower blood pressure alongside IOP, apparently to the point where blood flow to the optic nerve can be cut off. This worried researchers enough that they created a topical form of marijuana to avoid side-effects, however the cream did not relieve IOP (NIH np). According to unbiased researchers at the National Institutes for Health, "if marijuana uses the same mechanism as other IOP reducing drugs, it would suggest an unfavorable benefit/risk ratio" (NIH np). In short, there are too many unknowns to make it an effective glaucoma treatment. (204)
Cleland 3 Marijuana advocates also claim that it prevents the wasting caused by AIDS when in fact it is likely to prove harmful. The number one cause of death in all AIDS patients is pneumonia, a fact verifiable in any number of publications. So why would a patient want to smoke in that kind of situation? Smoking of any kind is proven to greatly increase the risk of developing pneumonia in patients with compromised immune systems (NIH np). In several independent studies examined by the NIH, the effects of marijuana on appetite and weight gain were examined. Researchers discovered that the anecdotal "munchies" were just that- the widely renowned appetite increase is a social, not chemical effect. It is true that an appetite is gained, regardless of the source, but scientists in the same group of studies concluded that the weight gained was in water retention or fat, not lean body mass. It must also be noted that the vast majority of these studies used dronabinol instead of smoked marijuana, but no differences were reported in effects. (174)
The plight of cancer patients and others who suffer from glaucoma, AIDS, and related illnesses has not gone unnoticed and treatments are being developed, but in the meantime do not be fooled by the outward good looks of the marijuana treatment- treatment because it can never be a cure. Cancer and AIDS research develops more and more legal treatments each year, so why turn to an unproven and possibly unsafe drug when so many alternatives are available? Legalizing marijuana as medicine is a bad idea- the facts say so. Until more research is done and its superiority to current treatments is proven, marijuana remains an anecdotal cure with a lot of advertisement, and legalizing it for any reason is as senseless as dying of hemorrhoids. (125)
Lacayo, Richard. "Marijuana: Where There's Smoke There's Fire." Time 1996. Online. Pathfinder. 17 Mar. 1998.
United States. National Institutes of Health. Study on the Feasibility of Medicinal Marijuana.
Online. Internet. 17 Mar. 1998.
"Weed Wars." CNN Online. Online. Internet. 17 Mar. 1998.