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Medical Marijuana - Is It For Real?

Aug 17, 2007
The humble little cannabis sativa plant is the center of one of the hottest issues between politics, religion, and medicine in all of history. Amidst all of the controversy and regardless of where they stand on the issue, medical professionals must find themselves curious about it. Is marijuana the miracle drug it is purported to be in some circles, or is this a lot of media hype? And likewise, is marijuana the dangerous, addicting road to drug-addled debauchery that the moral crusaders would have us believe, or is that, too, a lot of hype?

The claims about the medical benefits of marijuana, if all true, would instantly make it one of the most versatile drugs in history. So far, researches have proposed that it could treat Alzheimer's disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, diabetes mellitus, dystonia, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal disorders, gliomas, hepatitis C, hypertension, incontinence, osteoporosis, pruritis, rheumatoid arthritis, sleep apnea, and Tourette's syndrome. The reports of new finding pour in every day. The latest claim is that cannabis extracts may shrink brain tumors and other cranial cancers by blocking the growth of the blood vessels which feed them.

Beyond medical treatment of existing ailments, marijuana is also claimed to be preventative of a whole larger spectrum of problems as well. It is supposed to prevent blindness, migraines, and depression. It is said that marijuana has both stalled the growth of and eliminated brain tumors in rats. Oh, and it fights hardened arteries and actually helps cleanse the lungs, preventing tumors. Come on, can it really be all that? What else, does it make whites whiter and colors brighter?

It could be argued that much of the news of marijuana's health treatment uses are motivated by the desire to legalize it for recreational usage as well. After all, we are talking about a cheap, easily cultivated, low-dosage psychoactive narcotic with a mellow high, almost no side effects, and a low physical addiction rate.

Its effects can be felt merely by eating it, although smoking and, increasingly, vaporizing it are the preferred methods of recreational consumption. There have so far been no reported deaths or reports of permanent injuries sustained as a result of a marijuana overdose. There's no sense fooling ourselves - people want to party, and those with a recreational motive might make up any fact they could get their hands on to justify their right to party.

A marijuana dosage and its associated high produce a group of psychoactive effects. The inebriated state is somewhat comparable to the effects of alcohol. Temporary impairment of memory functioning, motor skills, and cognition are all demonstrated. However, marijuana's effects are largely dependent on the mood of the individual at the time of dosage. In short, a body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion. This variable effect is known as "set and setting".

The illegality of usage and its demonized reputation as a gateway drug have created the flack in the opposite direction. Regarding international laws, it is legal for all uses in just under 10% of the world, decriminalized for medical use in about 50% of the world, illegal but unenforced in 10% of the world, and fully illegal in 30% of the world. Part of that is misleading, however - it is either decriminalized or legal for medical purposes in 18 states of the US as far as state laws go, but still illegal on a Federal level. Also, in parts of Europe, it is legal only in designated areas, so the whole country doesn't really count.

Finally, "decriminalized" isn't the same thing as "legal", but only means that possession is punishable by a citation, confiscation, and a fine instead of by prison time.

It is probably logical to conclude that there is a substantial amount of propaganda and misinformation from both marijuana advocates and opponents due to the legal issues of marijuana, including the legal and political constraints on marijuana research, the firmly held beliefs of the public, and the religious beliefs against it. The most confounding factor in marijuana research is said to be the prevalent usage of other recreational drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, in the research subjects.

Such research complications demonstrate the need for studies on marijuana where stronger controls are used, and investigations into the symptoms of marijuana use that may also be caused by tobacco or other drugs. Much marijuana research in the United States is funded by government agencies that publish position papers which only cite research studies that report negative consequences of marijuana use. In light of this, some people question whether these agencies are making an honest effort to present an accurate, unbiased summary of the evidence, or whether they are slanting the results in favor of keeping it criminalized.

The medical field is caught in the middle of an ethical and scientific tug of war, which should be a familiar feeling to many. After the huge controversies over abortion, stem cell research, scientific findings pointing to evolution, cloning and gene therapy, cosmetic surgery, and artificial insemination, one could hardly blame medical researchers if they got disgusted and quit - or at least packed their bags and left the country for a place where they could do their job without quite so much politics getting in the way.

The medical marijuana controversy has reached a particularly poignant milestone just recently. The case is one Ms. Angel Raich, who is a long-term and terminally-ill medical cannabis patient in California. Ms. Raich is an Oakland mother of two who suffers from scoliosis, a brain tumor, chronic nausea and other ailments and complications.

On her doctor's advice, she eats or smokes marijuana every couple of hours through the day to ease her pain and bolster her appetite as conventional drugs did not work. In spite of this, the hospice where she was staying got raided, and she faces criminal prosecution. Her doctor has protested that marijuana is the only thing keeping her alive, and the federal appeals court has now handed down the decision that she is to be prosecuted by the law - anyway!

Not only that, but this is not even the first time that medical marijuana has been denied as a treatment option, even to those terminally ill and even in states where it is legal for medical usage. This sobering state of events highlights the bind that the medical profession is in. There has seldom in history been such a case where criminal law and the Hippocratic Oath have been at such odds with each other.
About the Author
Freelance writer for over eleven years.

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