It has often been called the plant of life and also been attributed with many anti cancerous properties yet marijuana or cannabis sativa is one of the most debated drugs in world. Even Francis Young the Drug Enforcement Agency judge in the United States has declared that in its biological form marijuana is one of the safest substances for medical therapy. Experiments done by the agency have shown that to achieve a lethal dose a human being will have to consume more than 20,000 to 40,000 times the normal amount. In fact overdose of cannabis has never been linked as a direct cause of death. (Gieringer, Rosenthal, & Carter, 2008). On the other hand this once common weed has been attributed to a variety of mythically adverse effects and its use for both medical and recreation had therefore been criminalized in most parts of the world including the United States. But in the past 20 years there has been a colossal movement amongst governments, doctors and other private organizations to try and legalize the medical usage of this plant. (Birchard, 2010). Presently patients suffering from debilitating ailments such as pain, nausea and loss of appetite are legally allowed to use medical marijuana in 14 states of the United States of America (Cadrain, 2010). This number is growing as more states begin to apply for legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. (Ferguson, 2010) On the other hand there is a community that is in complete opposition to the legalizing of medical marijuana and their arguments sprout from the deep rooted fear spread by misinformation and propaganda during the prohibition years. (Bonnie & Whitebread II, 1970).
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In this essay I argue in support of the legalization of Marijuana for medicinal and therapeutic purposes in the United States. I back my view by presenting three positive results of legalization that far outweigh any of the disadvantages. The most significant of these is the actual benefits of using marijuana over other prescription drugs. In addition to this I show the advantages legalization has to the economy and governance of states.
Marijuana or cannabis sativa is a weed that grows in a variety of environments and come in both female and male varieties. Humans have used every part of this plant since ancient times. Some uses for it involve production of fibre, clothes, food, medicine, and recreational smoking. The main medicinal and recreational value of marijuana arises from its psychoactive ingredient tetra hydro cannabinol or THC. Recreation is the most common use of the plant but is often considered to be a form of misuse.
Effects of Marijuana
Marijuana's main chemical constituents are called cannabinoids which as psychoactive drugs that alter the consciousness of a user. Cannabinoid receptors are found in the major brain systems thus affecting the user's recognition of pain, hunger, control and mood. It brings a state of increase attentiveness to environmental stimuli while creating a dreamlike state where ideas flow rapidly. Dual consciousness and feelings of nirvana are also associated with the drug's use. As is the case with all drugs, marijuana if abused can have adverse effects and can even be dangerous (Gieringer, Rosenthal, & Carter, 2008).
The number of people who smoke marijuana is estimated to be between 200 and 300 million people. (Woody & MacFadden, 1995). It is the most commonly used illicit drug in both Canada and America. The use of the drug in this case is mostly recreational and it still does not signify the true number. Smoking marijuana is considered to be a socially undesirable behaviour and users will rarely admit to it. (Earleywine, 2002). Because of propaganda on its effects the drug has not been able to gain a popular front in medicine for a long time. Some of the effects are addiction and abuse.
Addiction to marijuana is compared to that of caffeine as it is the only drug that has weak withdrawal or dependence. In addition this it is also very difficult for users to build up a tolerance for it. Experts rank that only hallucinogens rank lower than marijuana when it comes to the ability of a drug to hook a person. Addiction itself can be associated with more than one action. One type of addiction is when a user is compelled to use cannabis leading to a loss of control over the drugs influence on their lives. Medical doctors have made addiction into a disease which they believe must be cured only through biological intervention. But studies conducted on users show that marijuana addiction of this manner cannot be considered biological and should be interpreted rather as psychological (Earleywine, 2002, p. 38). This is because it is the effects of the drug that a user begins to depend upon and not the drug itself. After recurrent use people tend to build a tolerance for both the good and bad effects of the marijuana but not at the same level as other psychoactive drugs. Some of the symptoms of dependence are withdrawal, in ability to reduce, exceeding the fixed dosage, losing time because of drug fixation, reduction in activities and continuous use even at the onset of problems. But on comparing all these to other drugs including pain medication such a Vicodin the problems and fixations are far less. (Earleywine, 2002).
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A small portion of this group does not qualify for dependence related misuse of marijuana but are more in common with substance abuse. The symptoms that show abuse are marijuana intake influencing major responsibilities, drug usage in unlawful and unsafe settings, legal troubles and chronic use even when in a dilemma (Earleywine, 2002).
Though the adverse of marijuana are very low compared to other drugs it still has the potential for addiction and abuse. On the other hand it is not entirely appropriate to take the studies at face value. This is because most of the time diagnosis into the usage of the drug has been influenced by political agendas and therefore the studies are not as scientific as they should be. Abuse and dependence are not natural symptoms but are in fact made by man. (Earleywine, 2002)
Marijuana misuse can produce adverse physical effects such as dizziness and vomiting and mental effects such as paranoia, anxiety and disorientation. Unlike other drugs marijuana's side effects easily wear off after sleep.
Another problem arising from this is that users will be branded with label of mental ill ness if they represent a certain batch of symptoms. This could prove to be completely wrong because the whole picture will not be considered. (Earleywine, 2002).
Prohibition of marijuana in America began in the late 1920s and was a direct result of other social issues at the time. The beginning of anti-narcotics and prohibition can be linked to the temperance movement and their protests that lead to the banning of alcohol. Anti-Narcotics legislations were anticipatory actions that were put in place because of fear of protests. Before the 1900 and the criminalization of narcotics there were around half a million American who were addicted to narcotics. Most of these addiction were accidents and not recreational. Hospitals and drug companies used narcotics in over the counter medicine that was purported to cure all ailments but patients never knew because labels didn't contain information about the ingredients. Marijuana was included in the prohibitions acts in 1932 which further led to the marijuana Tax Act in 1937. The rationale for prohibition was not arrived at through any scientific studies but through the classing of drugs. In addition to this the temperance movement also back up the fact that marijuana could be used as a substitute for the banned alcohol. Over the year penalties for possession and being under the influence were increase gradually. In the same way that it was banned due to public opinion and culture marijuana is also being decriminalized in many states because of communities' interest in its medicinal values. (Bonnie & Whitebread II, 1970)
To support the legalization of marijuana for medicine it must possess exceptional value as a therapeutic agent. Some of the medical uses of marijuana include appetite stimulation, nausea suppression, anti-convulsion, pain relief, anti-depressant, treating glaucoma and as a substitute for more harmful drugs such as alcohol (Gieringer, Rosenthal, & Carter, 2008). The medical benefits of marijuana therefore far outweigh the unfavourable effects.
The main medicinal value of marijuana is derived from personal accounts and historic uses while scientific research into the drug is very less because of its classification. It was first used by the Chinese as a mainstay of their herbal medicines. The Chinese introduced it to the Arab traders who then spread it to Africa and the Middle East. Europe and the rest of the world were introduced to marijuana as a medicine from its use in Indian herbal treatments. (Mack & Joy, 2000).
Unlike most other medicine which undergo extensive testing and development, marijuana has become a therapeutic agent mainly because of its widespread use. Scientists find it very difficult to obtain and test marijuana for clinical research because of the large number of regulations that need to be followed. There several where medical marijuana is considered through research to be effective.
Treatment of pain
Pain is a direct response of the body when it contracts some form of disease or illness and it indicates that something is wrong with the body. Pain though can take many forms and the search for new pain suppression medicines is a never ending task for drug companies. Pain can be of two types; acute or chronic. For short term acute pain medical doctors usually prescribe opiates or it derivatives such as Vicodin. Though this works well in the short term users will get addicted and build up a tolerance when used for chronic cases of pain. (Mack & Joy, 2000)
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Marijuana on the other hand works differently from opiates but has the same effect for moderate pain. Unlike opiates people don't build up tolerance very quickly as long as the doses are controlled. Marijuana is less addictive and has less severe side effects like withdrawal in comparison to opiates. The most common use of marijuana as a pain killer is in cancer patients. Cancer causes pain through inflammation, tumours in bones and tissue and through injury to nerves. Studies conducted on patients with severe cancer have shown a major decrease in pain when compare to opiates (Mack & Joy, 2000, p. 81). The only side effects of this were sedation and disorientation. However none of the patients were affected by nausea and they experienced an overall increase in appetite. Patients were also less anxious and had higher feelings of wellbeing than when on opiates. Lastly marijuana can also be used as an excellent remedy for migraine. (Mack & Joy, 2000, pp. 82-83)
Alleviating Symptoms of AIDS, Chemotherapy and Hepatitis C
Marijuana has become very popular as a therapeutic drug to combat the symptoms of AIDS (Acquired immune deficiency syndrome). Some of the physical symptoms of AIDS are wasting of the body, dementia and nerve damage. In addition to this patients also undergo depression and anxiety over their conditions. Coupled with this is the side effect of the medicine people take to keep the HIV in check. These medicines often produce feeling of nausea and vomiting; both of which can be reduced by marijuana. Wasting syndrome is another common symptom of AIDS as infected people begin to lose appetite and begin to lose weight. Marijuana has properties that increase appetite and prevent wasting. In addition to this marijuana is also a mood enhancer and works effectively as an anti-depression drug. Hepatitis C also has similar symptoms and can be eased with marijuana. (Mack & Joy, 2000)
The same symptoms affect cancer patients under treatment. Although cancer is fatal many people nowadays live with it for quite some time as treatments are available for most types. The general treatment for most cancer is chemotherapy but it has three undesirable side effects; nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. Marijuana as in the case with AIDS can help alleviate these side effects. (Mack & Joy, 2000)
The most common use of marijuana as a medicine is in the treatment of glaucoma. Glaucoma is the second highest of cause of blindness in the world and is a gradual disorder that damages cells in the retina while degrading the optical nerve. This blinding disease is caused by pressure build up in the aqueous humor of the eye. Studies have shown that THC and other cannabinoids can reduce this pressure build up with the same effectiveness as other medications. The only problem with its usage is its side effects on the elderly. The short duration of the effect also means that marijuana must be consumed almost eight times in a day. (Mack & Joy, 2000)
Treating Neurological Disorders and Spasticity
Marijuana treats Neurological diseases of three types. The first of these is movement disorders which affects patients who have defects in the basal ganglia region of the brain. The patients suffer loss of control or motion in limbs, faces and body. Stress and Anxiety tends to increase the severity of the symptoms and marijuana is able to counteract both these. Epilepsy is another type neurological disorder that marijuana is able to control. It is brought about by concurrent stimulation of many nerves leading to convulsions, uncontrolled movements in focal regions and altered consciousness. Anti-convulsion drugs may be used but these have serious side effects like drowsiness, hair loss and tremors. Marijuana though not a complete replacement can be taken with other medication as an effective cure with less side effects. In addition to this it is also used to treat spasms causes by ailments such as multiple sclerosis and injuries to the spinal cord. Last but not the least marijuana can also treat the effects of Alzheimer's disease. This progressive disease is incurable and it affects the nervous system causing memory loss and changes in behaviour. Cannabis is used to stimulate appetite and treat the onset of depression.
Although the medical benefits of legalizing marijuana are vast governments still need an addition incentive to pass the bill. However if the situation is studied closely we can see that legalizing marijuana will be beneficial to the economy and the people.
Effect on Economy
As in all markets in the economy of a country marijuana is also affected by supply and demand. At present with the supply and usage of marijuana considered a criminal activity this market is completely under the radar of the government in the United States. The demand for medical marijuana though is extremely high (Birchard, 2010) and the market is a truly untapped gold mine. According to neo classical economic theories the cost reduction and benefits to countries in favour of legalizing is staggering. By criminalizing the use of marijuana both drug users and non-users are affected equally.
The incentive by which governments deter consumption of marijuana is by imposing penalties. The success of incentives though depends completely on the intensity of the consequence and the cost of implementing it. (LaGrange, 2000). In addition to this prohibition of marijuana is enforced mainly on the suppliers side and the monetary incentive due to demand far exceeds the deterring incentive of punishment. Marijuana trade therefore remains uncontrollable by prohibition. (LaGrange, 2000)
Drug Control and Taxation
By legalizing the market governments can achieve two beneficial results. One is that the market will then come under the country's economic system and will thus become taxable. Thus governments will be able to achieve the necessary control because there will be less covert activity and get huge amounts of money in the form of tax at the same time. The second result that this will bring is that governments will be able to stop spending huge amounts of money in drug control and can put it for better use. (LaGrange, 2000). Criminalization has huge social implications as well because suppliers hike prices in an uncontrolled market and consumers end up losing a lot of money leading to poverty.
Social Implications of Legalization
Presently the cannabis industry is a covert industry that supplies under the radar of the government. The quality of the product and safety to the end user cannot be guaranteed. Suppliers can cut marijuana with other chemicals to increase potency and hike prices at the same time. This is very dangerous for consumers especially ones using it for medicine. In addition to this states have no control over the dosage of medication. By legalizing the system consumers will be protected and the quality and quantity of the dose can also be controlled. Marijuana is in fact safer than alcohol when it comes to public safety and law enforcement would have huge workload off their hands. (Fox, Armentano, & Tvert, 2009)
One place that marijuana has already been legalized for medical consumption is California. Legalization in California is in the long run theorised to be a success as it is set to bring in revenue of over a billion dollars from the new markets, while a half billion has been saved in law enforcement. (Vitiello, 2009). Opponents to the proposition in California theorised that legalization would ensure wide spread use especially amongst children. But this is not the case because suppliers wishing not to lose their licence have ensured that trade is controlled and children do not get their hands on it. In fact it would actually be more difficult to obtain marijuana under a legalized system. Another place that is set to follow in California's footsteps is Arizona.
Arizona is coming up with a system where physicians will be able to recommend marijuana to people affected by glaucoma, AIDS, Cancer and Hepatitis C. The registered patients will receive an identification card which they can use to receive up to two and a half ounces of cannabis every fourteen days. Arizona goes one step further by allowing the users to also grow 12 plants of their own (Fung, 2010).
Both these cases show huge potential and success in the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. The health benefits for using this drug when compared to other substitutes is very high. In addition to this the side effects of the drug are mild while addiction to it is also very unlikely. Marijuana doesn't build up a tolerance in the body like other psychoactive drugs and therefore can be used for medical purposes requiring chronic s
Legalizing cannabis therefore not only has health benefit but can also help economies. As an untapped market the medical marijuana trade can bring in billions of dollars in revenue to the economy. Taxing this can increase government wealth and also enable government to control market. Social Evils such as drug trafficking and underworld gangs will not have any incentives to carry out illegal activities as people will try to buy from safe, legal sources. Users as well as non users will thus be protected while law enforcement expenses drop. All things considered it is best if cannabis is legalized as a medical drug in the United States of America.