Cannabis Sativa is a flowering plant indigenous to South and Central Asia. Cannabis is also referred to as marijuana, pot, hemp, hash, and weed – to name a few. Renowned for the euphoric “high” it causes, marijuana is a chemical cocktail. THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol, is one of the 400 chemicals in the plant and the main psychoactive ingredient found in the plant. THC interacts with a system, called the endocannabinoid system, which is built into the brain. While cannabis is a plant, its widespread use as an illicit drug has caused controversy in areas as diverse as medical science, religion, and personal liberty.
For thousands of years, cannabis has been used recreationally and medically. The Chinese were the first to discover the plant as medicine in 1500 BCE, Hebrews used cannabis in anointing oils in the bible, and Egyptians recognize Cannabis as a treatment to glaucoma, inflammation, and menstrual pains. Recognition of the drug continued to spread to Greece in 200 BCE and Rome around 30 AD. (Historical Timeline) In 1611 AD, Jamestown settlers brought hemp, a strain of cannabis with little to no THC, to North America for the first time. (Historical Timeline) Hemp became a vital export during colonial times with famous figures growing crops of the plant themselves, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Queen Victoria was a user of medical marijuana for her menstrual pains in 1840; shortly thereafter, marijuana became a prominent medicine in the civilized world. (Historical Timeline) In 1850, cannabis is recognized in the U.S. Pharmacopeia with a wide variety of treatments for illnesses including gout, alcoholism, insanity, typhus, and even rabies. (Historical Timeline)
However, in 1911, things took a turn; Massachusetts became the first state to outlaw the plant. (Historical Timeline) This time period can be marked by a movement of big government prohibitionists who were tackling prohibition of alcohol, prostitution, and gambling. Following the example set by Massachusetts, ten more states prohibited marijuana over the next decade including Texas, Oregon, Washington, and New York. Due to wide acceptance of the drug, the laws to ban cannabis were not caused by concern, but instead were used to discourage future use. Though the drug had already been outlawed in several states, the federal government continued to grow approximately 30 tons of cannabis for medical use annually. (Historical Timeline) In 1925, the League of Nations decided that cannabis is to be used for medical and scientific use only. (Historical Timeline) Public view on the drug continued to decline until 1942 when it was removed from the U.S. Pharmacopeia. In 1970, the U.S. federal government classified the plant as a schedule one drug with no accepted medical use.
14,000,000 people are diagnosed with cancer and another 8,000,000 die from the disease each year. (“World Cancer Day”) There are 50,000 HIV infections discovered yearly, with 32,000 cases progressing to AIDS. (“HIV/AIDS Statistics Overview”) With diseases and infections growing, it is necessary to assess all viable treatment options. Even a barbaric treatment like smoking cannabis sativa should not be eliminated if it has proven medical use. In the past, marijuana has been used to treat physical ailments – such as anorexia, arthritis, and sprains – and mental ailments like depression, anxiety, and insomnia. (259 Medical Conditions) If civilizations repeatedly associated cannabis as a medicinal remedy, why is it now considered a drug with no medical use? I seek to answer four primary questions: Should cannabis be legalized for medical use? Are there viable alternatives? If so, how do the alternatives compare to marijuana? Should cannabis be legalized for recreational use?
In my paper, I will discuss the actual science behind “getting high”. I will then discuss marijuana as a treatment option and how THC relates to a chemical called cannabidiol. Afterwards, I will talk about the alternatives and the pros and cons of those alternatives. Finally, I will take a look at recreational marijuana, why it should be legalized, and the consequent effects it will have.
Michael Bostwick wrote “Blurred Boundaries: The Therapeutics and Politics of Medical Marijuana”, an unbiased article on the medical and political stances of marijuana use as well as the science behind the drug. When discussing the endocannabinoid system and how cannabis relates to opium, Bostwick quotes Baker Pryce: “In both instances, studies into drug-producing plants led to the discovery of an endogenous control system with a central role in neurobiology.” Baker was relating the endocannabinoid system to the recently discovered opioid system. (Bostwick) While these systems are related, they do vastly different things. The endocannabinoid system plays a role in memory, appetite, metabolism, mood, sleep, and even pain.The endocannabinoid system is also what causes the brain to release more dopamine – the euphoric chemical released when our brain’s reward system is activated – to achieve a high. This system can be activated by ingesting THC in any form. In addition, medical marijuana can be immensely different from recreational marijuana. For one, the source of the plant is not the same. For example, cannabis that is bought from an unauthorized seller cannot guarantee quality or safety of use. Authorized vendors and their wholesalers are subject to standardized regulations. “Street drugs” are drugs that have been purchased illegally, and usually from an underqualified seller. These drugs can contain other ingredients including, but not limited to, psychoactive drugs, herbs, and vegetation. Buying from an authorized vendor can ensure that one’s medical marijuana is safe for use. Medical companies have begun experimenting with synthetic THC as well.
Marinol, or dronabinol, is a synthetic THC engineered specifically for medical use. Marinol was approved by the FDA in 1985; however, there is debate over its effectiveness compared to smoking cannabis. (“Historical Timeline”) It is currently used to treat nausea in chemotherapy patients, Wasting Syndrome in AIDS patients, chronic pain, and even severe migraines. On the other hand, the side effects include vomiting, drowsiness, confusion, and stomach pain. The drug does have its advantages and disadvantages of use.
The most obvious advantage Marinol has is that there is no smoke. Patients on Marinol are prescribed a specific, monitored dosage – another handy advantage. In contrast, the bloodstream delivery can take four to six weeks to take full effect. Even after waiting four weeks, patients that have previously used marijuana claim that Marinol does not have the same effect, or that Marinol has less of an effect. Even so, Marinol is federally legal, therefore making it safer to use than marijuana. However, Marinol is certainly not the only alternative.
CBD is a compound found in cannabis that can have positive medical effects without giving users a high or stoned feeling. CBD actually counters the psychoactive effects that THC has on our brains. CBD actually boosts the positive traits of THC and helps to lower the negative. Unfortunately, CBD was bred out of many strains of marijuana. The growers knew that THC was what their customers wanted. However, with the legalization of medical marijuana being such a big issue, the interests of many growers are changing. CBD is a profound chemical that has amazing positive effects on the body.
A study done at the University of Kentucky showed that CBD guards and even reverses effects of alcoholism. (Giddingson) Furthermore, the chemical has been proven to decrease social anxiety. This was demonstrated by a study on public speaking. The test group that was administered CBD had lowered anxiety, impairment, and discomfort. (Giddingson) However, the group that was given a placebo drug noticed greater anxiety and discomfort. Lastly, the chemical CBD can actually stop the growth of cancer. The CBD causes the cells to remain in a certain area which prevents the cancerous cells from metasizing, or growing. While this isn’t exactly curing cancer, CBD can be a great step in achieving that goal.
Today, there are two states out of the fifty that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. However, there are twenty two states that have legalized medical marijuana. Why is there such a difference in acceptance? The answer lies in recreational marijuana’s social acceptance, effects, and the politics behind the plant. Although precautions are necessary, recreational cannabis should be legalized for a variety of reasons. The first reason can be found in the past, specifically the history of alcohol and tobacco.
While cannabis was outlawed by the state of Massachusetts in 1911, banning marijuana was only an afterthought to the primary movement — the prohibition of alcohol. The problem was that social acceptance for alcohol had declined. While the prohibition of alcohol was eventually repealed, the same problem has occurred in the tobacco industry. Tobacco companies were criticized for advertising their products, especially in the cases of advertising to children. To this day, a tobacco company cannot advertise via television. The social acceptance of smoking has declined causing the government to impose laws and regulations on states and companies selling tobacco. This becomes a problem when a government imposes on a citizens personal freedoms.
The effects of marijuana can be diverse, sudden, and even dangerous. The first and most noticeable effect is the change in motor skills. Studies have shown that driving under the influence of cannabis makes a driver two times more likely to have an accident; although cannabis’ effect on motor skills is not as drastic as alcohol’s, driving while high is still unsafe. Another effect the drug has on the brain is memory loss. Carcinogens, which cause cancer, are also found amongst the 400 chemicals in the plant. On the other hand, there is no lethal dose of marijuana, as a lethal dose would require a human to smoke approximately 240 cannabis cigarettes in a short time frame. (Greydanus) Furthermore, use in young adults under the age of 18 can result in a permanent ten to twenty point drop in IQ later in life. (Bostwick) On the other hand, marijuana can provide the recreational user a relaxed and enjoyable experience when used safely and correctly. Furthermore, marijuana is not a gateway drug. This term was invented by anti-drug governments and radical prohibitionists to dissuade the use of the drug. However, it has no actual base in fact.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a whopping 102.4 million cases were filed, reopened, or reactivated in 2006. (State Court Caseload Statistics) That is approximately 200 cases per minute. Moreover, a person was arrested for marijuana related charges every forty-two seconds in 2012. (Nelson) With these conditions, is it really necessary to take the time out of the day to arrest someone smoking a joint as opposed to catching harder criminals? The resources consumed to keep up a drug war, incarcerate criminals, and arrest suspects is ludicrous. If marijuana were to be legalized for recreational and medical use, the U.S. government would cut spending and increase revenues by ten to fourteen million dollars per year. (Marijuana Policy Project) With these financial increases, states could create new hospitals, schools, and even jobs in the cannabis industry. The financial gain is one of the many reasons marijuana should be legalized.
As previously stated, many are misinformed about marijuana being a gateway drug. There are a few reasonable explanations for the statistics; however, one cannot directly relate marijuana use to harder drug use in life or even crime rates. Doing so would create a logical fallacy known as false cause – presuming that a real or perceived relationship between things means that one is the cause of the other. One suggestion is as follows: since marijuana is illegal, recreational users must go through a street dealer. The cannabis smoker may be introduced to something harder because they are making an illegal transaction. Furthermore, since children and teens are often told marijuana is a gateway drug and are taught that cannabis is very unacceptable, a user may feel like this is untrue. In effect, this person could begin to believe that other, harder drugs may not be as bad as they were taught either. Another argument is that smoking marijuana can be an early experience in breaking the law. For example, once someone breaks the law without penalty, they are less likely to fear breaking other laws by doing harder drugs.
Medical marijuana, though useful, can be dangerous. However, it is the citizen’s responsibility to consume it correctly, safely, and responsibly. With twenty-two states legalizing cannabis for recreational use, more are sure to follow. Even though marijuana can be used to treat AIDS patients and cancer patients, cannabis is a psychoactive drug that needs to be properly regulated. With the right regulations and precautions, medical marijuana could be a game changer. It is important to note the economic and medical benefits of the drug. Moreover, when marijuana is legalized, the crime rate will drop significantly.
On the other end of the spectrum, recreational marijuana should also be legalized and regulated. With both the medical and recreational businesses in the cannabis industry, the U.S. would see an increase in jobs and revenue, as well as a decrease in crime and consumed resources. Furthermore, legalizing marijuana for recreational use can prevent regular smokers from having drugs laced. Alcohol and tobacco have been under the same criticisms before, but have survived to provide consumers with products that they want. Since the drawbacks of marijuana are not as significant as alcohol or tobacco – lung cancer, liver cancer, drunk driving, etc. – marijuana should be legalized.
In conclusion, marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the world. However, it is one of the least dangerous, even less dangerous than alcohol. Cannabis is a great treatment option for those suffering with certain physical and mental ailments, and can even be improved by the use of CBD. There is another alternative, but it is unclear as to whether or not Marinol can treat people to the same degree. Legalizing cannabis for medical and recreational use can give the economy a boost that the government has been waiting for. Furthermore, social acceptance of the drug is continuing to grow. While many campaigns have attempted to bury cannabis under a slew of misinformation, the truth about the plant is finally coming to surface. Myths like the gateway drug theory and marijuana being lethal are finally being thrown out and replaced by real information – good and bad. With the right regulations, science, and precautions medical and recreational marijuana have the potential to be a booming industry and provide relaxation for those who need it, and even those who do not.
Bostwick, J. Michael. “Blurred Boundaries: The Therapeutics and Politics of Medical Marijuana.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings (n.d.): 1-15. PubMed Central. Web. 3 Apr. 2014.
Giddingson, Jack. “Cannabidiol: The Side of Marijuana You Don’t Know.” Cannabidiol: The Side of Marijuana You Don’t Know. N.p., 20 Nov. 2013. Web. 02 May 2014.
Greydanus, Donald E., Elizabeth K. Hawver, Megan M. Greydanus, and Joav Merrick. “Marijuana: Current Concepts.” Frontiers in Public Health 1.42 (2013): 1-17. PubMed Central. 10 Oct. 2013. Web. 4 Apr. 2014.
Nelson, Steven. “Police Made One Marijuana Arrest Every 42 Seconds in 2012.” US News. U.S.News & World Report, 16 Sept. 2013. Web. 05 May 2014.
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