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Marijuana-Gateway Theory Essay, Research Paper

Whether you call it hemp, mary jane, pot, or weed it doesn’t matter. It is still Cannabis Sativa, or cannabis for short and it is still illegal. The use of marijuana as an intoxicant in the United States became a problem of public concern sometime during the 1930s. Laws were passed in 1937 instituting criminal penalties for possession and sale of the drug. The word marijuana refers to the dried leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant, which contains the non-narcotic chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC for short at various potencies. It is smoked or eaten to produce the feeling of being “high.” The different strains of this herb produce different sensual effects, ranging from a sedative to a stimulant.

Marijuana has many medical purposes also. The cannabis extract was available as a medicine legally in this country until 1937, and was sold as a nerve tonic, but mankind has been using cannabis medicines much longer than that. Marijuana appears in almost every known book of medicine written by ancient scholars and wise men. It is usually ranked among the top medicines, called panaceas, a word which means cure-all. The list of diseases which cannabis can be used for includes multiple sclerosis, cancer treatment, AIDS (and AIDS treatment), glaucoma, depression, epilepsy, migraine headaches, asthma, pruritis, sclerodoma, severe pain, and dystonia. This list does not even consider the other medicines which can be made out of marijuana, these are just some of the illnesses for which people smoke or eat marijuana today. There are over 60 chemicals in marijuana which may have medical uses. It is relatively easy to extract these into food or beverage, or into some sort of lotion, using butter, fat, oil, or alcohol. One chemical called cannabinol may be useful to help people who cannot sleep. Another is taken from premature buds and is called cannabidiolic acid, it is a powerful disinfectant. The leaves were once used in bandages, and a relaxing non-psychoactive herbal tea can be made from small cannabis stems. Also cannabis, as any other biomass fuels, are clean burning and do not increase the amount of CO2 the atmosphere, therefore making breathing easier for many people.

Attempts at legalizing marijuana in the US have been going on for a long time, but just recently two states, California and Arizona, voted to legalize it for medical purposes only, but the US government still enforces the federal law, stating that federal law overrules state law. It is important to state that there have been hundreds of studies showing that smoking cannabis is potentially harmful to the brain and body and the same number of studies almost, if not totally, contradicting what these have stated.

They’re are many adverse psychological and health problems associated with smoking marijuana including anxiety, dysphoria, panic, paranoia, and cognitive impairment, especially of attention and memory. Psychomotor impairment, and possibly an increased risk of accident if an intoxicated person attempts to drive a motor vehicle can also be caused by marijuana. Another consequence is an increased risk of experiencing psychotic symptoms among those who are vulnerable because of personal or family history of psychosis. In increased risk of low birth weight of babies if cannabis is used during pregnancy has also been documented. One of the more widely discussed affects of marijuana is the question of whether or not it is a “Gateway Drug”, which means whether or not someone who smokes marijuana on a regular basis will eventually move on to a “harder” and more dangerous drug such as cocaine or heroin.

The primary basis for the whole “gateway hypothesis” is a recent report done by the center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA). They claimed that people who use marijuana are 85 times more likely than people who don’t to try cocaine. According to John P. Morgan, M.D. and Lynn Zimmer, Ph. D. their figure, using data from NIDA’s 1991 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, is close to being meaningless. It was calculated by dividing the proportion of marijuana users who have ever used cocaine (17%) by the proportion of cocaine users who have never used marijuana (0.2%). The high risk-factor obtained is a product not of the fact that so many marijuana users use cocaine but that so many cocaine users used marijuana previously.

If the people who came up with the American drug policy are really interested in reducing the risk of people who smoke marijuana using other, more dangerous drugs then they should take a closer look at Amsterdam, Holland where drug the policy since the 1970s has been guided by a commitment to diminishing any potential gateway effect. Wanting to keep young marijuana users away from cocaine and other “hard drugs,” the Dutch decided to separate the retail markets by allowing anyone 18 years of age or older to purchase marijuana openly in government-controlled and taxed “coffee shops” which strictly prohibit the use and sale of other drugs.

Even though it is much easier to get a hold of marijuana for kids ages 12 to 18 year olds in Holland, their is only 13.6 percent of them actually doing it which is well below the 38 percent of American high school seniors who use it. More Dutch teen-agers use marijuana now than in the past but lifetime prevalence increased nearly threefold between 1984 and 1992, from 4.8 to 13.6 percent. However, Dutch officials consider their policy a success because the increase in marijuana use has not been accompanied by an increase in the use of other illegal drugs. For the last decade, the rate of cocaine use among Dutch youth has remained stable, with about .3 percent of 12-18 year olds reporting having used it in the past month.

In my study I found no occurrences of habitual marijuana smoking being linked to the regular usage of more harmful drugs such as cocaine, heroin, or LSD. From my survey I found that most people that smoke marijuana either smoke cigarettes now or have smoked them when they were younger and since quit. I found no examples at all of people regularly using “harder” drugs but their were a few cases where people did try out other drugs but did not get physically or mentally get addicted to them and most discontinued use after their first time.

I like the Dutch’s idea of the legalization of marijuana for lowering the use of other more dangerous drugs. I feel that the reason that most people do go on and do harder drugs after marijuana is because being illegal, they have to get it from dealers who are usually selling other more dangerous drugs, and those dealers are getting the kids hooked on the other illicit drugs. If we had it like Amsterdam then as long as you were of age you could purchase marijuana which is grown and distributed by your government and guaranteed not to be laced. Like tobacco marijuana would also be heavily taxed which would also help out in paying for a fraction of our national debt. I believe that if marijuana was legalized that the number of people that would do it would relatively stay the same and the number people using “harder” drugs will decrease because they can just go to the village “coffee shop” and purchase a quantity of government regulated marijuana. I don’t think people are going to go out and use a drug that they think might be harmful to themselves just because the government says it is legal to do so.

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