Marijuana is one of the oldest herbs known to humankind. Ever since ancient times, cannabis was used to make hemp, clothing, and medicine (Caulkins et al. 18). Its narcotic properties have also been discovered about the same time period. Although the use of cannabis in textile production faded away in favor of other materials, such as cotton, its value as medicine was rediscovered in the second half of the 20th century (Caulkins et al. 20). The debate about the benefits and negative side-effects of medical marijuana is a heated subject in the US and abroad, used as a talking point by politicians and the general public.
Although there is no consensus on the matter, the movement to legalize medicinal marijuana seems to be gaining ground with each year, as one state after the other adopts a positive or a neutral stance towards the drug and the practice of utilizing it. As it stands, more than half of all US allow the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal use. It is possible to buy the substance for medical purposes in 20 states, with 10 more allowing it to be used recreationally (Caulkins et al. 55). In the medical community, however, the consensus tends to weigh towards the opposition to these efforts. The legalization of medical marijuana threatens the exposure of a great number of people to potential side effects of its long-term use.
Marijuana versus FDA Standards
One of the greatest barriers to be overcome by pro-marijuana activists is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is a widely-known practice in the world to thoroughly test and study every drug before allowing it to be used in medical institutions and by the general public. There are several purposes to these tests, as they are supposed to provide treating specialists with the following information:
- Determine the positive and negative outcomes of the implementation of the drug;
- Allow for precise moderation of these effects through dosage;
- Ensure optimal delivery of the drug into the body (Wilkinson and D’Souza 2377).
As it stands, medical marijuana does not have an FDA certificate of approval due to the fact that it cannot provide precise answers to any of the questions presented above. The positive and negative outcomes of medicinal marijuana use have not been thoroughly studied, and comparative randomized control trials for it are few and far between. Marijuana is, so far, the only drug to be administered by smoking, with the extent of its effects on the respiratory system being unknown (Anderson 495).
Due to the manner of application, it is impossible for the doctors to regulate healing effects and dosage. In addition, the mechanisms of addiction development to THC (Δ9 -tetrahydrocannabinol) are not thoroughly understood either (Wilkinson and D’Souza 2377). In order words, there are large gaps in knowledge about medicinal marijuana that prevent it from being certified by the FDA as a legitimate prescription drug.
Even in states and countries that have legalized its use, marijuana will not be prescribed as a primary treatment drug by any doctor that respects the patients and the profession. Because of that fact, many medicinal marijuana users have turned to frauds, semi-legal practitioners (such as homeopaths), and other venues to circumvent the need for a prescription, required in most drugstores.
Medical Marijuana: Concerns Versus Profits
One of the greatest ethical dilemmas of medicine is balancing benefits and profits. Healthcare by definition is a patient-centered type of activity, where health rather than profit has the utmost value. This axiom is there to keep greedy pharmaceutical corporations from releasing profit-maximizing drugs that would generate additional money by either being ineffective or by resulting in a variety of side effects that could be treated later for additional revenue. At the same time, the adoption of medical marijuana in most states had been motivated by profit, not medical concern. Wilkinson and D’Souza (2378) state that the majority of the southern and south-western states that legalized marijuana did so because of the existing illegal marijuana trade coupled with increasing demand from migrants.
The majority of those states are also considered to be asylum locations with high crime rates, low wages, and low economic output. They were looking to solve their budgetary problems by encouraging marijuana imports and imposing taxes rather than trying to stop the drug flow. While the socio-economic motivations and results of such policies are suspect, it is clear as day that the decision to legalize marijuana was made based not on patient benefits or a competent analysis of potential dangers of medical marijuana, but solely as an attempt to clog the holes in the state budget from additional revenues. Such a motivation, thus, is immoral and unethical, from a medical point of view.
Ignored Medical Dangers of Utilizing Marijuana
The current state of evidence for the use of medicinal marijuana is often overlooked by its proponents, who cite sporadic and inconsistent evidence about marginal to moderate effects of utilizing marijuana in treating certain non-critical symptoms of diseases, the only major one being neuropathic pain. At the same time, a large body of literature indicates significant issues associated with the long-term use of marijuana. The major medical side effects of the herb are as follows:
- One of the biggest concerns, as voiced by Wilkinson and D’Souza, is the fact that “there is evidence that marijuana exposure is associated with an increased risk of psychotic disorders in vulnerable individuals” (2377). As THC is a substance that affects the neural system, there is the potential for developing various psychotic conditions, especially in individuals with a history of alcohol and drug abuse.
- Smoking is associated with an increased risk of developing lung cancer as well as other chronic negative conditions, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, bronchitis, and others (Caulkins et al. 93).
- Long-term use of THC is associated with memory lapses, memory loss, and higher chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, amnesia, and dissociative identity disorders (Wilkinson and D’Souza 2377). Since marijuana enables individuals to consume THC by smoking, long-term use of marijuana threatens to expose the population to these negative side effects.
- Short-term effects of smoking marijuana would increase the chances of various crimes committed under the effects of the drug, such as violence, homicide, and car-related accidents (Caulkins et al. 95).
- There is a potential of marijuana being used alongside other mind-altering drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, exacerbating the damaging potential of all the substances involved (Caulkins et al. 96).
As it is possible to see, the list is significant and backed with multiple researches dedicated to the subject.
What Are the Uses for Medicinal Marijuana Though?
Marijuana has some potential for being used in medicine, mostly due to being a natural source of THC. The active component is a psychoactive substance that has the potential to decrease pain, increase awareness, and help reactivate short-term memory in individuals while inducing a pleasant effect. Some of the diseases that could be treated using medicinal marijuana are as follows:
- Cancer-related pain. This type of pain varies in scale and intensity but is characterized by its near-permanent presence in a patient (Kramer 113). Marijuana has a low-to-moderate effect in reducing this pain and inducing a lingering after-effect.
- Neuropathic pain. This type of pain is associated with diabetes, which is a very common diagnosis in the US. The application of marijuana is similar in nature to that of cancer-related pain (Pacula and Smart 397).
- Chemotherapy-induced vomiting. Some researches show that the use of marijuana helps relax the stomach muscles and reduce the contractions associated with vomiting, thus reducing the negativity of the symptoms.
- Arteriosclerosis. This disease is characterized by the hardening of the interior of blood vessels with age. THC has a positive effect on coronary artery function, thus improving the overall condition of the patient and slowing down the degeneration processes (Monte 342).
However, as it is possible to see, nearly all applications of medicinal marijuana revolve around THC – the main psychoactive element of the herb. THC is available in pills, which have been approved by the FDA and available for prescription by healthcare specialists. However, the proponents of medicinal marijuana insist on the promotion of the smoking application of the herb, despite pills being more convenient and precise in their application. Smoking, on the other hand, is less regulated, less effective, and associated with numerous breathing complications. These factors indicate a dishonest position of the supporters of the legalization of the drug.
This essay demonstrated the main problems with the argument for the legalization of medical marijuana. Although there is an economic incentive for certain states and organizations to lift the ban off of marijuana and allow its use in the medical and recreational fields, the downsides of such exposure would be tremendous. Humanity is already suffering from widespread and unrestricted use of tobacco and alcohol.
However, both of these ‘legal drugs’ are integrated into society and the economy, to the point where trying to ban either of them would only make matters worse. The marijuana market, while growing, is not nearly as ubiquitous as tobacco and alcohol. While its negative effects are different and, as some may argue, not as expansive as either of these substances, it has the potential for harmful addictions. Nor will it replace tobacco and alcohol, instead only adding to the number of dangerous and abusable products the FDA already has to contend with.
The body of literature on marijuana has significant gaps in knowledge, as not enough longitudinal studies and randomized controlled trials are available to standardize the use of medical marijuana.
It has useful and effective substitutes, and its positive effects on the body are considered to be moderate at best. The legalization of medical marijuana creates a legal precedent that could be used to press for complete legalization of the drug in other states and countries. Its medical properties are not fully studied, while its dangers and potential for addiction are significant. To summarize, cannabis remains what it is: A herb with low-to-moderate medical benefits, with plenty of replacement drugs available, and a significant potential for side effects and addictions.
Anderson, Mark D., et al. “Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use.” American Law and Economics Review, vol. 17, no. 2, 2015, pp. 495-528.
Caulkins, Jonathan P., et al. Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford University Press, 2016.
Kramer, Joan L. “Medical marijuana for cancer.” CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, vol. 62, no. 5, 2015, pp. 109-122.
Monte, Andrew A., et al. “The Implications of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado.” Jama, vol. 313, no. 3, 2015, pp. 241-242.
Pacula, Rosalie Liccardo, and Rosanna Smart. “Medical Marijuana and Marijuana Legalization.” Annual review of clinical psychology, vol. 13, 2017, pp. 397-419.
Wilkinson, Samuel T., and Deepak C. D’Souza. “Problems with the Medicalization of Marijuana.” JAMA, vol. 311, no. 23, 2014, p. 2377.