Marijuana Legalization: Medical Treatment vs. Abuse

While the country’s prescription pill and heroin epidemic has remained firmly in the national consciousness, the issue of marijuana legalization has also proven to be a major medical and societal issue in the United States. Driven by an increasing body of research showing the possible medical benefits of the drug as well as a growing perception that marijuana is not as dangerous to one’s health as previously thought, a growing number of states have passed legislation legalizing the use of marijuana.

Currently, four states (Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington) have legalized recreational marijuana and an additional 23 states have legalized medicinal marijuana with 11 more states possibly legalizing the drug in the near future. Given the changing perceptions of marijuana, the debate between the legitimacy of the drug as an effective treatment for a variety of diseases versus marijuana as a gateway drug for further drug abuse has become more pronounced. In the following article, both sides of the marijuana legalization debate will be discussed in further detail.

Legalizing Marijuana For Medical Research and Treatment

Currently, marijuana is what is known as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act. Under the act, drugs such as marijuana that fall under this classification are seen as having no medical use and have a high potential for abuse. However, there has been vocal support from agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy to change the federal status of marijuana and make it more readily available for medical research–especially for the treatment of major diseases.

One disease that has seen an increased focus in research has been cancer. According to information provided by the American Cancer Society, there have been a number of studies that has shown that marijuana can be helpful in treating nausea and vomiting as a result of the effects of chemotherapy. There have also been a number of studies that have found that when smoked or vaporized, marijuana can be a helpful form of treatment for pain as a result of damaged nerves. Additionally, there has been growing research that has shown the cannabinoids present in marijuana have shown an ability to slow the growth and/or have killed certain types of cancer cells. While the use of marijuana as shown promise in the treatment of cancer, it is not approved as a stand-alone cancer treatment.

In addition to its potential to help those suffering from cancer, marijuana may provide health benefits for those suffering from a variety of other illnesses and diseases. For example, researchers in California discovered that marijuana can help prevent the formation of a particular enzyme that can lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Research has also shown the marijuana can help those suffering from MS to ease the pain associated with the rigidity of their muscles.  Additionally, marijuana is also being researched for possible benefits for those afflicted with such illnesses as epilepsy, arthritis, and hepatitis C.

marijuana leaves

Arguments Against The Legalization of Marijuana

While the calls for the legalization of marijuana come to the forefront, there is also a substantial degree of opposition in regards to decriminalization of the drug. While many who are marijuana supporters argue that marijuana isn’t as addictive in comparison to harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin, pot is nevertheless an addictive drug. While users may not display any outward signs of addiction, those who use the drug do display the psychological signs of addiction in regards to withdrawal symptoms, irritability, and anxiety.

Another argument against the legalization of pot in the United States is that marijuana is bad for one’s mental health. A study conducted at Northwestern University found those who were regular marijuana users had abnormal brain structures and poor memory, and that chronic marijuana abuse may lead to brain changes which resemble schizophrenia. Additionally, the study also reported that the younger the person starts using marijuana, the worse the effects become over time.

In addition to mental health issues, those who are against the legalization of the marijuana state the drug is also bad for the user’s physical health. In a 2007 study, Canadian researchers discovered that marijuana smoke contains significantly higher levels of several toxic compounds in comparison to cigarette smoke. In fact, the ammonia levels in marijuana smoke were found to be 20 times higher than what is found in cigarette smoke.

Additionally, those opposed to cannabis legalization state have major concerns regarding the safety of the drug. Along with the increase of more potent marijuana strains that are available to users, there is the danger of the contaminants found in the drug. When sold on the street, dealers typically sell the drug by weight, so they may use fillers such as sand or glass beads in order to make their products heavier. For those who inhale these particles, it may can inflammation of the lungs and can eventually cause scarring.

The debate on marijuana decriminalization has sparked passionate debate on both sides. No matter which side people find themselves, they can agree there needs to be a push to create communities that will be free from marijuana addiction and the unfavorable effects of its use. This push must come from federal, state and local governments, as well as the justice system, law enforcement officials, addiction treatment specialists and concerned citizens. If anything, the discussion regarding marijuana has created a meaningful dialogue that hopefully will need to realistic solutions.

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