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Medicinal Effects Of Marijuana Essay, Research Paper

Public opinion on the medical value of marijuana has been sharply divided. Some dismiss medical marijuana as a hoax that exploits our natural compassion for the sick; others claim it is a uniquely soothing medicine that has been kept away from patients through regulations based on false claims. Scientific data on controversial subjects are commonly misinterpreted, overinterpreted, and misrepresented, and the medical marijuana debate is no exception. This report summarizes and analyzes what is known about the medical use of marijuana; it emphasizes evidence-based, as opposed to belief-based medicine. One of the goals of this report is to help people to understand the scientific data, including the logic behind the scientific conclusions. Ideally, this report will enable the thoughtful reader to interpret new information about marijuana that will continue to emerge in future.

Marijuana is a green, brown, or gray mixture of dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of the hemp plant. You may hear marijuana called by street names such as pot, herb, weed, grass, boom, Mary Jane, gangster, or chronic. There are more than 200 slang terms for marijuana. Sinsemilla (sin-seh-me-yah; it’s a Spanish word), hashish (”hash” for short), and hash oil are stronger forms of marijuana.

All forms of marijuana are mind-altering. In other words, they change how the brain works. They all contain a substance called THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), which the main active chemical in marijuana. They also contain more than 400 other chemicals. Marijuana’s effects on the user depend on the strength or potency of the THC it contains.

Marijuana is usually smoked as a cigarette (called a joint or a nail) or in a pipe or a bong. Recently, it has appeared in cigars called blunts. Within a few minutes of inhaling marijuana smoke, users likely experience dry mouth, rapid heartbeat, some loss of coordination and poor sense of balance, and slower reaction times, along with intoxication. Blood vessels in the eye expand. For some people, marijuana raises blood pressure slightly and can double the normal heart rate. This effect can be greater when other drugs are mixed with marijuana.

In the 20th century, marijuana has been used more for its euphoric effects than as a medicine. Its psychological and behavioral effects have concerned public officials since the drug first appeared in the southwestern and southern states during the first two decades of the century. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a sharp increase in marijuana use among adolescents and young adults. The current legal status of marijuana was established in 1970 with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act, which divided drugs into five schedules and placed marijuana in Schedule I, the category for drugs with high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. In 1972, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Legislation (NORML), an organization that supports decriminalization of marijuana, unsuccessfully petitioned the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II. NORML argued that marijuana is therapeutic in numerous serious ailments, less toxic, and in many cases more effective than conventional medicines.

Marijuana plants have been used since antiquity for both herbal medication and intoxication. The current debate over the medical use of marijuana is essentially a debate over the value of its medicinal properties relative to the risk posed by its use. During the course of drug development, a typical compound is found to have some medical benefit and then extensive tests are undertaken to determine its safety and proper dosage for medical use. In contrast, marijuana has been widely used in the United States for decades. In 1996, 68.6 million people–32% of the U.S. population over 12 years old–had tried marijuana or hashish at least once; 5% were current users. The data on the adverse effects of marijuana are more extensive than the data on its effectiveness. But marijuana has more therapeutic uses than about most of the prescription drugs.

The most encouraging clinical data on the effects of marijuana on chronic pain are from three studies of cancer pain. Cancer pain can be due to inflammation, mechanical invasion of bone or other pain-sensitive structure, or nerve injury. It is severe, persistent, and often resistant to treatment with opioids. In one study, oral doses of THC in the range of 5 20 mg produced analgesia in patients with cancer pain. The first experiment was a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 10 subjects and measured both pain intensity and pain relief. Each subject received all drug treatments: placebo and 5, 10, 15, and 20 mg of THC in pill form; each pill was identical in appearance and given on successive days. The 15- and 20-mg doses of THC produced significant analgesia. There were no reports of nausea or vomiting. In fact, at least half the patients reported increased appetite. With a 20-mg dose of THC, patients were heavily sedated and exhibited “depersonalization,” characterized by a state of dreamy immobility, a sense of unreality, and disconnected thoughts. Five of 36 patients exhibited adverse reactions (extreme anxiety) and were eliminated from the study. Only one patient experienced this effect at the 10-mg dose of THC.

Another study was conducted to compare the safety and efficacy between marijuana and Marinol, an antiemetic drug. This study was not a controlled scientific study but the comparison was based on the clinical experience of the oncologists. As the graph below indicates, almost half (45%) of the oncologists feel marijuana is more effective antiemetic that Marinol. Forty-two percent think they are equivalent. Thirteen percent feel Marinol is more effective. On the other hand, the oncologists opinion about safety is more evenly distributed, with the same numbers favoring marijuana and Marinol. The reason for this equal distribution is because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved Marinol s safety. This study proves that marijuana is a safe and effective antiemetic drug. Also, a significant number of oncologists report marijuana is more effective that Marinol.

Marijuana has been proposed most often as a source of relief for three general types of neurological disorders: muscle spasticity, particularly in multiple sclerosis patients and spinal cord injury victims; movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Tourette’s syndrome; and epilepsy. Marijuana is not proposed as a cure for such disorders, but it might relieve some associated symptoms. In 1990, there were about 15 million patients worldwide with spinal cord injury, and an estimated 10,000 new cases are reported each year in the United States alone. About 60% of spinal cord injuries occur in people younger than 35 years old. Most will need long-term care and some lifelong care. Many spinal cord injury patients report that marijuana reduces their muscle spasms. Twenty-two of 43 respondents to a 1982 survey of people with spinal cord injuries reported that marijuana reduced their spasticity. One double-blind study of a paraplegic patient with painful spasms in both legs suggested that oral THC was superior to codeine in reducing muscle spasms. Victims of spinal cord injury reporting at IOM (Institute of Medicine) workshops noted that smoking marijuana reduces their muscle spasms, their nausea, and the frequency of their sleepless nights.

Finally, marijuana has also been proven to reduce intraocular pressure (IOP) in-patients suffering from glaucoma, which is the leading cause of blindness in the United States. Also, marijuana has been proposed numerous times as a treatment for migraine headaches due to its analgesic effect.

Although marijuana has been proposed to relieve a lot of symptoms related to a number of diseases but it also has many disadvantages and side effects. The most commonly reported effects of marijuana are a sense of well being or euphoria and increased talkativeness and laughter. A characteristic feature of marijuana “high” is deficits in short-term memory and learning. It also slows down reaction or reflex time. Marijuana smoke is like tobacco smoke in that it is associated with increased risk of cancer, lung damage, and poor pregnancy outcome.

Marijuana is not a completely benign substance. It is a powerful drug with a variety of effects. It is clear from available studies and rapidly accumulating scientific evidence that marijuana is therapeutic in the treatment of a number of serious ailments and is less toxic and costly than many conventional medicines for which it may be substituted. Scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of marijuana, for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation; smoked marijuana, however, is a crude THC delivery system that also delivers harmful substances. Thus, the safety issues associated with marijuana do not preclude some medical uses. But the question remains: Is it therapeutically effective?


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