When driving the expressways that weave through Detroit, Michigan, one cannot help but notice the billboard advertisements for medical marijuana licenses. These messages doubtlessly attract more than a few curious stares each day. After all, medical marijuana sounds like an oxymoron in and of itself.
However, since the U.S. Congress placed marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act in 1972, 15 of 50 states, including Washington, D.C., have legalized the medical use of marijuana. Thus, a complicated and muddied debate has begun.
Grounds for Debate
Extract of Cannabis sativa (marijuana) was at one time among the top three most prescribed medicines in the United States. It fell under prohibition in 1937, at which time its use as a medicine became heavily restricted. Despites its illegal depiction, the medical use of marijuana continued, easing the symptoms of pain and nausea that often accompany chronic diseases.
Today, the use of medical marijuana has again been legalized in some states and for some patients. Each state individually regulates such details as allowable quantities and registration requirements. To further confuse matters, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June, 2005, that individuals in all states can still be prosecuted under federal law for marijuana use. This ruling maintains the Controlled Substances Act, under which medical marijuana is illegal.
Recently, significant questions concerning the medical properties of marijuana have risen. For example, advocates wonder if patients should be allowed to grow their own plants, rather than going to a licensed doctor. Those opposed, on the other hand, question if medical use may inevitably lead to recreational use. In addition, as some states have legalized patient smoking, a list of pros and cons has been designed specifically on behalf of marijuana use.
Arguments in Favor of Medical Marijuana
The active compounds in marijuana demonstrate similar properties as a class of molecules in the human body called endocannabinoids. Both bind to receptors in the brain and throughout the body. These receptors ultimately influence one’s immune system, mood, memory, appetite, sleep and movement.
Research suggests these receptors may effectively treat some medical conditions. Prime examples are as follows:
- Cancer: relieves nausea that often occurs during chemotherapy treatment.
- AIDS: increases appetite in some patients who experience severe weight loss
- Neurological disorders: reduces pain and spasticity resulting from nerve damage, as found in spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis.
- Inflammatory pain: cannabinoids appear to be more effective than opiates in treating long-term, chronic pain. These also are reportedly less addictive than prescription opioids.
- Autoimmune disease: suppresses the immune system, which may result in less pain and inflammation as often found with arthritic conditions.
Advocates of medical marijuana point to the senseless need for pain and suffering when a viable treatment exists. Temporary pain relief, it is argued, serves a patient better than no relief at all. “Should these patients suffer so?” asks Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws Foundation.
Arguments against Medical Marijuana
Despite the benefits that may be offered to patients, the social implications of medical marijuana are among the biggest arguments posed by opponents. They worry that legalizing medical marijuana may institute in teens the perception that this drug is safe for recreational use. If availability were to increase, demand may also, leading to widespread smoking outside the context of health.
Challenges may also be posed to law enforcement with regard to smothering drug use. Legalizing medical marijuana use, for example, may impair the regulation of drug production, distribution and sales. Many people further question how drug laws would be enforced and to what degree.
Finally, opponents argue that marijuana use is simply too dangerous for legalization in any realm. It lacks FDA approval and has, to this point, been deemed medically invaluable by the U.S. government. Health problems, including infertility, impaired judgment and lung injury, are among their concerns as well.
In light of such arguments presented by both sides, it may be difficult for people to determine where their own opinions lie. Laboratory studies support both the causes for and against medical marijuana. Until federal law changes, however, the decision to use medical marijuana is one that remains political, not personal.
References^ HelloLife™ Home (www.hellolife.net)^ Understanding the Medical Marijuana Debate (www.hellolife.net)^ http://www.youdebate.com/DEBATES/medical_marijuana%20.HTM (www.youdebate.com)^ http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/issues/marijuana.html (learn.genetics.utah.edu)^ http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/ (medicalmarijuana.procon.org)^