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MARIJUANA: The Controversial Drug Essay, Research Paper


Marijuana is a green, brown, or gray mixture of dried, shredded flowers and leaves

of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. Marijuana is often called by street names such as pot,

herb, weed, boom, Mary Jane, gangster, reefer, or chronic. There are more than 200 slang

terms for marijuana.


Cannabis was acknowledged as early as 2,700 BC in Chinese manuscripts.

Marijuana has been used as a medicine throughout the world since the beginning of

written history. During this time, companies such as Lilly, Parke Daivis, Tildens, Squibb,

and other major drug manufacturers, have made everything from sleeping elixirs, to

stomach medicine from marijuana. These drugs were even knowingly prescribed for


Since 1839 there have been numerous reports in favor of utilizing medical

marijuana. In 1839 Dr. W.B. O?Shaugnessy, a respected member of the Royal Academy of

Science, was one of the first in the medical profession to present the true facts concerning

marijuana and medicine.

Dr. O?Shaugnessy?s report states clearly, that experience indicates the use of

marijuana to be a beneficial analgesic, and to have anticonvulsant, and muscle-relaxant

properties. He found it to be effective in treating rheumatism (inflammation or pain in

muscles or joints), epilepsy, and spasmodic conditions.

In 1860, Dr. R.R. M?Meens, indicated to the Ohio State Medical Society, the

usefulness of marijuana in treating tetanus, neuralgia (pain in the nerves), uterine

hemorrhage, child labor, convulsions, asthma, bronchitis, and even postpartum psychosis.

It was also noted for its affect as an appetite stimulant.

This is desperately needed in modern medicine especially by cancer and aids

patients to prevent them from literally wasting away. Many of these patients have

indicated that no other remedy helps to stimulate the appetite as effectively as smoking a

small quantity of marijuana. It was also noted that smoking the natural plant was

significantly more effective than the chemically created, orally consumed, synthetic


In 1891 Dr. J.B. Mattison indicated the use of marijuana for treatment of

migraines, gastric ulcers, deliriuma (mental disturbance), and tremors due to alcoholism.

He also found it to be instrumental in actually replacing the craving for, and thus curing

alcoholism. He found the same effect carried over in treating other serious addictions such

as morphine or heroin addiction.

In 1890 Dr. J.R. Reynolds found marijuana to be an excellent aid in combating a

number of problems associated with aging. Dr. Reynolds noted marijuana?s usefulness in

overcoming senile insomnia as well as it?s psychological benefits in helping older people

cope with some of the feelings and emotions associated with growing older.


The use of marijuana reached a high point in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and

has been declining ever since. In a 1978 survey, 37 percent of high school seniors said they

had smoked marijuana in the last 30 days, and 11 percent said they used it daily. By 1986

the number who said they had smoked it in the last 30 days had fallen to 23 percent -

lower than in 1975 – and the proportion of daily users had dropped steadily to 4 percent.

The trend among people aged 18 to 25 is similar. On the other hand, more people

over 25 may be using marijuana occasionally, and young people are still experimenting

with it.

In 1969, 20 percent of high school seniors had used marijuana at least once, in

1979, 60 percent had; and in 1985, 54 percent. The attitudes expressed in surveys show

why habitual marijuana use is in decline. In 1978, 65 percent of high school students said

they disapproved of it; in 1985, 85 percent disapproved.

A recent government survey shows:

?Over 70 million Americans over the age of 12 have tried marijuana at least once.

?About 10 million had used the drug in the month before the survey.

?More than 5 million Americans smoke marijuana at least once a week.

?Among teens aged 12 to 17, the average age of first trying marijuana was 13.5

years old.

A yearly survey of students in grades 8 through 12 shows that by 10th grade,

nearly 16 percent are “current” users (that is, used within the past month). Among

12th-graders, nearly 40 percent have tried marijuana/hash at least once, and 19 percent

were current users.

Other researchers have found that use of marijuana and other drugs usually peaks

in the late teens and early twenties, then goes down in later years.


There are stronger forms of marijuana available today than there were in the 1960s.

The strength of the drug is measured by the amount of average THC in test samples

confiscated by law enforcement agencies.

Sinsemilla (sin-seh-me-yah; it’s a Spanish word), hashish (”hash” for short),

and hash oil are stronger forms of marijuana.

?Most ordinary marijuana has an average of 3 percent THC.

?Sinsemilla (made from just the buds and flowering tops of female plants) has an

average of 7.5 percent THC, with a range as high as 24 percent.

?Hashish (the sticky resin from the female plant flowers) has an average of 3.6

percent, with a range as high as 28 percent.

?Hash oil, a tar-like liquid distilled from hashish, has an average of 16 percent, with

a range as high as 43 percent.


THC disrupts the nerve cells in the part of the brain where memories are formed.

This makes it hard for the user to recall recent events (such as what happened a few

minutes ago), and so it is hard to learn while high. A working short-term memory is

required for learning and performing tasks that call for more than one or two steps. Some

studies show that when people have smoked large amounts of marijuana for many years,

the drug takes its toll on mental functions. Among a group of long-time heavy marijuana

users in Costa Rica, researchers found that the people had great trouble when asked to

recall a short list of words (a standard test of memory). People in that study group also

found it very hard to focus their attention on the tests given to them.

It may be that marijuana kills some brain cells.

In laboratory research, some scientists found that high doses of THC given to

young rats caused a loss of brain cells such as that seen with aging.


One beneficial effect of THC is the lowering of intracular pressure, which can be

helpful in the control of glaucoma. However, because it causes tachycardia, relatively

rapid heart action such as physiological (as after exercise), and increased work for the

heart, it can not be used in most elderly persons, in which age group glaucoma is most


THC can also be used for the control of severe nausea and vomiting caused by

chemotherapy in cancer patients.


Doctors advise pregnant women not to use any drugs because they might harm the

growing fetus.

Some scientific studies have found that babies born to marijuana users were

shorter, weighed less, and had smaller head sizes than those born to mothers who did not

use the drug. Smaller babies are more likely to develop health problems. Other scientists

have found effects of marijuana that resemble the features of fetal alcohol syndrome.

There are also research findings that show nervous system problems in children of mothers

who smoked marijuana.

Researchers are not certain whether a newborn baby’s health problems, if they are

caused by marijuana, will continue as the child grows.


Under U.S. law since 1970, marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. This

means that the drug, at least in its smoked form, has no commonly accepted medical use in

this country.

In considering possible medical uses of marijuana, it is important to distinguish

between whole marijuana and pure THC or other specific chemicals derived from

cannabis. Whole marijuana contains hundreds of chemicals, some of which are clearly

harmful to health.

THC, manufactured into a pill that is taken by mouth, not smoked, can be used for

treating the nausea and vomiting that go along with certain cancer treatments. Another

chemical related to THC (nabilone) has also been approved by the Food and Drug

Administration for treating cancer patients who suffer nausea. The oral THC is also used

to help AIDS patients eat more to keep up their weight.

Scientists are studying whether THC and related chemicals in marijuana (called

cannabinoids) may have other medical uses. Some think that these chemicals could be

useful for treating severe pain. But further research is needed before such compounds can

be recommended for treatment of medical problems.


Most recent research on the health hazards of marijuana concerns its long-term

effects on the body. Studies have examined the brain, the immune system, the reproductive

system, and the lungs. Suggestions of long-term damage come almost exclusively from

animal experiments and other laboratory work. Observations of marijuana users and the

Caribbean, Greek, and other studies reveal little disease or organic pathology associated

with the drug.

For example, there are several reports of damaged brain cells and changes in

brain-wave readings in monkeys smoking marijuana, but neurological and

neuropsychological tests in Greece, Jamaica, and Costa Rica found no evidence of

functional brain damage. Damage to white blood cells has also been observed in the

laboratory, but again, its practical importance is unclear. Whatever temporary changes

marijuana may produce in the immune system, they have not been found to increase the

danger of infectious disease or cancer. If there were significant damage, we might expect

to find a higher rate of these diseases among young people beginning in the 1960s, when

marijuana first became popular. There is no evidence of that.

The effects of marijuana on the reproductive system are a more complicated issue.

In men, a single dose of THC lowers sperm count and the level of testosterone and other

hormones. Tolerance to this effect apparently develops; in the Costa Rican study,

marijuana smokers and controls had the same testosterone levels. Although the smokers in

that study began using marijuana at an average age of 15, it had not affected their

masculine development. There is no evidence that the changes in sperm count and

testosterone produced by marijuana affect sexual performance or fertility.

In animal experiments THC has also been reported to lower levels of female

hormones and disturb the menstrual cycle. When monkeys, rats, and mice are exposed

during pregnancy to amounts of THC equivalent to a heavy human smoker?s dose,

stillbirths and decreased birth weight are sometimes reported in their offspring. There are

also reports of low birth weight, prematurity, and even a condition resembling the fetal

alcohol syndrome in some children of women who smoke marijuana heavily during

pregnancy. The significance of these reports is unclear because controls are lacking and

other circumstances make it hard to attribute causes. To be safe, pregnant and nursing

women should follow the standard conservative recommendation to avoid all drugs,

including cannabis, that are not absolutely necessary.

A well-confirmed danger of long-term heavy marijuana use is its effect on the

lungs. Smoking narrows and inflames air passages and reduces breathing capacity; damage

to bronchial cells has been observed in hashish smokers. Possible harmful effects include

bronchitis, emphysema, and lung cancer. Marijuana smoke contains the same carcinogens

as tobacco smoke, usually in somewhat higher concentrations. Marijuana is also inhaled

more deeply and held in the lungs longer, which increases the danger. On the other hand,

almost no one smokes 20 marijuana cigarettes a day. Higher THC content in marijuana

may reduce the danger of respiratory damage, because less smoking is required for the

desired effect. This is true only as long as no significant tolerance develops, and as long as

users do not try to get a proportionately more intense effect from a stronger form of the



All forms of marijuana are mind-altering. This means they change how the brain

works. They all contain THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the main active chemical in

marijuana. But there are also 400 other chemicals in the marijuana plant.

THC can with heavy smoking, narrow the bronchi and bronchioles and produce

inflammation of the mucus membranes, and also increases the risk of lung cancer. There is

some evidence that marijuana increases the risk for miscarriage and birth defects.

When a nursing mother uses marijuana, some of the THC is passed to the baby in

her breast milk. This is a matter for concern, since the THC in the mother’s milk is much

more concentrated than that in the mother’s blood. One study has shown that the use of

marijuana by a mother during the first month of breast feeding can impair the infant’s

motor development (control of muscle movement).


Interactions can be expected between cannabis and a wide range of drugs.

Nortriptyline is a tricyclics (a chemical with three fused rings in the molecular structure)

antidepressant. Cannabis interacts adversely with tricyclics antidepressants. Cannabis, on

its own, produces tachycardia (rapid heart action) as a side-effect. Tricyclics do the same.

Combined, there is an additive effect, with a larger increase in heart rate. Tricyclic

antidepressants have a certain effect on the heart. This effect can be described as

cardiotoxicity (having a toxic effect on the heart). In normal dosage, in individuals with no

heart disorders, this causes no problems at all. In over doseage, tricyclics can produce

serious cardiac arrest. (The effects of cannabis and Nortriptyline in particular have been


1.) Indications:

On a medical level, many patients would use synthetic THC, in order to reduce pain,

caused by disease or cancer. Patients would also use THC for the treatment of glaucoma.

On a recreational level, individuals would use it to receive a ?high? feeling, or to help with

stress and/or depression.

2.) Someone might want to take this drug because of its side effects. The effects last

two to four hours when marijuana is smoked and five to twelve hours when it is taken by

mouth. Although the intoxication varies with psychological set and social setting, the most

common response is a calm, mildly euphoric state in which time slows and sensitivity to

sights, sounds, and touch is enhanced. The smoker may feel exhilaration or hilarity and

notice a rapid flow of ideas with a reduction in short-term memory. Images sometimes

appear before closed eyes; visual perception and body image may undergo subtle changes.

3.)The world would be altered in many ways if this drug didn?t exist. For example: In

the earlier centuries, cannabis (hemp) was used to make clothing, lubricant, rope, and

food. In present time; cancer patients would be in severe pain, new treatments for

glaucoma would have to be discovered and HIV/AIDS patients would have to find new

means in trying to keep their body weight at a healthy level.

Academic American Encyclopedia. M-13. Deluxe Library Edition, Grolier Incorporated: 1994

Brave New World Productions, Inc. Ask Hans Available (Online)

http://www.askhans.com/October 17, 1998

CancerNet from the National Cancer Institute’s PDQ System. Information for Physicians

Available (Online) http://www.hyperreal.org/drugs/marijuana/medical/pot.cancer

October 19, 1998

Compton?s Encyclopedia. Hemp Available (Online)

http://comptons.aol.com/encyclopedia/October 19, 1998

Compton?s Encyclopedia. Hallucinogen Available (Online)

http://comptons.aol.com/encyclopedia/October 17, 1998

Davis, F.A., and Rice, Katherine. Taber?s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionay.

16th Edition: pgs 10081-10082

New Scientist Inc. Marijuana Special Report. Available (Online)

http://marijuana.newscientist.com/October 18, 1998

Miller, and Keane. Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine Nursing, and Allied Health. 4th

Edition: 1971 pg. 740

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