Thursday, October 28, 2010

Medical Marijuana

As a child, I was always told that the reason marijuana is deemed illegal is because of the dangers it poses to my health. However, as I got older, I found out that marijuana is sometimes prescribed legally by physicians after certain kinds of medical procedures or for specific medical conditions. If marijuana is so harmful to a person’s health, why is it that doctors prescribe it for medical purposes? Are doctor’s putting their patients at risk? I decided to research what the medical uses of marijuana are, how they positively and negatively affect the patient and how effective its use medicinally is.
The first thing I looked into was the history of marijuana use in medicine. According to Sula Benet in her paper “Early Diffusion and Folk Uses of Hemp” (hemp being another name for the cannabis drug), the drug originated in Asia and Africa, working its way into Europe as a kind of “cure-all” medicine because of the properties it had on the user. It was used after pregnancies, for headaches, earaches, tranquilizer, prevent convulsions, and even fevers. For a very long time, marijuana was used only for medicinal or spiritual purposes. It was not until very recently that people began using it recreationally and the question of health risks came into play.
I felt that I needed more current information about how marijuana is used in the medical field now. On I found out that it is used for a variety of different diseases and medical conditions from Tourette’s , migraines and arthritis to more serious diseases like multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and AIDS.  Basically the calming effect of the cannabis drug helps these patients by subduing some of their more severe and uncomfortable symptoms of their disease such as getting rid of migraines by releasing pressure built up from stress, behavioral problems, nervous tics, and even, surprisingly enough, balance. 
The Americans for Safe Access (ASA) states in a booklet of theirs, “Cannabinoids have been shown in animal models to measurably lessen [multiple sclerosis] symptoms and may also halt the progression of the disease. In Maria Ceballos, PhD’s article “Prevention of Alzheimer’s disease Pathology by Cannabinoids: Neuroprotection Mediated by Blockage of Microglial Activation" published in the Journal of Neuroscience in February 2005, she argues that “cannabinoids succeed in preventing the neurodegenerative process occurring in the disease." However, Helen Phillips in her 2009 article, “Medical Cannabis Is a Blunt Tool,” published in New Scientist magazine states that THC, the chemical in marijuana that has such a controversial effect on humans, creates problems between the signals from our brain to our nervous systems and other parts of our bodies affected by these diseases using prescription marijuana.
As a kid and teenager, many “effects” of marijuana were told to us about the effect of marijuana on our bodies and to our health by our parents, teachers, and the media. For example, if you smoke, then your DNA will change. If you smoke, then your grades and attitude about life will go down, or if you smoke, you will get fat. Also, if you smoke, you will become addicted. After a lot of research I found that the only one myth that I had been told was true: if you smoke, you take the risk of acquiring a respiratory infection or even developing lung cancer.  According to a survey done by Joel Simon Hochman, M.D. in his book Marijuana and Social Evolution, many college students saw an increase in their grades mostly because of their positive outlook on life after they started smoking on a regular basis. B.R. Elejalde disproves the myth that using marijuana can change your chromosomes in his article “Marijuana and Genetic Studies in Colombia: The Problem in the City and in the Country.” What did cause abnormalities in those who smoked were those that also tried more synthetic drugs like LSD. The problem there is that marijuana is sometimes seen as a “gateway drug” but it does not actually do the damage of the drugs most commonly tried after it. In fact, Elejalde proves that marijuana has no negative effects on DNA, reproductive capabilities or libido whatsoever.
Different views exist on whether the use of cannabis as a medicine is safe or not, however I feel that the arguments made against have not been very strong or well-informed. For example, in the Eagle Forum, the brochure “Facts You Need to Know About Marijuana” mentions that it has ill effects on a person’s chromosomes, reproductive organs, and lungs. On the other hand, Frank Lucido, M.D. says in his article "Implementation of the Compassionate Use Act in a Family Medical Practice” that cannabis has historically been safe and effective as far as medicine goes, that it might be a more cost-effective solution than other pharmaceutical drugs, and it might possibly have less negative side-effects.
Finally, to conclude my research, I went straight to the source of my questioning: an officer who helps out with the D.A.R.E. programs at schools. I confronted him with the research I had found regarding marijuana use, the ill effects, and positive effects. Then, I asked him whether there would honestly be any problem with using marijuana, as far as a person’s health is concerned, as long as it was not smoked, but rather taken orally. His opinion was that, although he felt that it should not be used medicinally, the health effects would be greatly decreased because the chances of developing lung cancer would diminish.
After conducting all of my research I was able to determine that marijuana is a natural drug that has been used for centuries all over the world to cure all sorts of ailments that affect humans on a regular basis. I found that studies are being conducted to see how helpful the cannabis drug can be in preventing, stopping or halting the acceleration of more serious medical conditions and that thus far, not enough studies have been made or completed. I also was able to discover that many of the effects told to us as children are not true and have been scientifically proven so.
My research has led me to think that more research should be done regarding the medicinal uses of cannabis. Perhaps those in the past were right and this natural drug is an answer to all our problems. Or maybe it just can help ease the pain and comfort those that have serious ailments. However, I do feel that it should not be handed out to just anyone who gets a headache, or at least should have some laws that come with it. Just like alcohol, marijuana does impair the user and therefore no one should drive or operate heavy machinery while under its effects. Also, if more research is done, scientists may be able to find a way to use marijuana without any harmful effects to a person’s long-term health.


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