In 1972, the U.S. Congress named marijuana a Schedule 1 controlled substance because of its unsuitability for use in the medical field. However, 24 years later, California became the first state to accept marijuana as a legal form of medication for certain health conditions.
The debate about medical marijuana rages as more states consider legalizing it, and two states have now even legalized it for recreational use. Are the medical uses of marijuana legitimate? How far do they go?
Claims for Marijuana
Advocates of medical marijuana claim it can relieve pain, relax muscles and improve appetite for patients in danger of wasting away from no appetite. Medicines exist that include THC, the major active ingredient in marijuana. The reliability of smoked marijuana may vary because the concentration of compounds varies with different strains of the plant.
Here are some of the major conditions for which patients use medical marijuana, and the evidence for the use:
- AIDS. Pain from peripheral neuropathy is common with AIDS, and many AIDSantiretroviral drugs cause nausea and vomiting. Marijuana helps ease the discomfort and reduces nausea.
- Cancer. The drug Marinol (which includes THC) helps patients regain their appetites while undergoing cancer treatment. Some people say smoking marijuana is more effective than the Marinol pill.
- Epilepsy. Scientists recently tested the marijuana compound cannabidivarin (CBDV) on rats and mice that had epilepsy. CBDV controlled their seizures without causing side effects of epilepsy drugs, like tremors.
- Glaucoma. Glaucoma is associated with increased eye pressure that can damage the optic nerve. Smoking marijuana lowers eye pressure for a few hours after it is smoked. Glaucoma medications are more effective at lowering pressure.
- Multiple sclerosis. Some studies have shown THC or smoked marijuana can relieve some of the painful muscle stiffness associated with multiple sclerosis.
As with any other prescribed drug, there are also drawbacks, and many people feel that these cons outweigh the pros.
Consequences of Marijuana Use
The negative aspects of using marijuana are sometimes overlooked. As effective as it may be in treating some symptoms, marijuana can also create dangerous problems. Long-term use of marijuana may cause psychological addiction, which is more likely when the person started smoking it at a younger age.
Marijuana has many compounds other than THC and their effects are not fully understood. As a result, the FDA does not consider the whole marijuana plant medicinal. Marijuana slows mental functions and affects memory. Pregnant women who use marijuana risk premature birth, birth defects and low birth weight for their babies.
Another problem is that medical marijuana challenges ethics, especially when it comes to the younger generation. For example, we teach children that drugs are bad, so how do you rationalize the use of medical marijuana? It may be for medicinal purposes, but if it’s “bad,” then how can a bad substance be good for you? Talk about mixed messages!
Also, the legalization of marijuana–even if it’s for medical use–broadens the access that children have to it.
Doctors’ Opinions on Medical Marijuana
What do the doctors, the ones who hold this power to prescribe, think about medical marijuana?
Recently Dr. Ed Gogek commented on a Massachusetts Medical Society blog that the idea of patients using medical marijuana disturbs him. He does not consider marijuana to be a medical treatment. It is just a reason to push for the legalization of the drug, in general. He wishes more doctors would speak up in opposition to medicinal marijuana.
On the other hand, Dr. Craig Blinderman said that medical marijuana wouldn’t be out of the question for him (if it were legal). In fact, he disagreed with New York State Senator Diane Savino that chronic pain doesn’t qualify a patient for the prescription of medical marijuana. As Dr. Blinderman told the Metro: “It should include all types of chronic pain, I think.”