Medical marijuana has been around for centuries. It has been said that the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung discovered the medicinal properties of marijuana almost 5,000 years ago, using it for pain control. Dioscorides, a physician in ancient Greece, noted that cannabis could treat pain, rheumatism, and gout. Queen Victoria’s physician recommended it for insomnia, migraines, menstrual cramps, and muscle spasms. One neurologist estimates that today, as many as 50,000 Americans with multiple sclerosis illegally smoke marijuana to alleviate their symptoms.
Pure delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is available by prescription as dronabinol. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the drug Marinol, a pill that contains THC. People taking Marinol say that the way the body receives the drug can, in many cases, make it less effective. Keeping a pill down can be difficult or impossible for patients with severe nausea. It takes hours for Marinol to take effect. Smoked marijuana provides an instant hit of cannabinoids in the bloodstream and relieves symptoms quickly.
No matter how effective it is, smoked marijuana is unlikely to be approved as a medicine in the United States. Use of a vaporizer can remove the smoking issue. There are other concerns about medicinal marijuana. It is known that cannabis interferes with cognition, at least in the short term. Smoking it also causes the heart to beat faster for a few hours, which could cause problems for people with heart disease. The possibility of dependence is much less than other drugs. We prescribe far more addictive and lethal drugs to patients all the time. Morphine will kill you, codeine will kill you.
This issue is important to college students because they are the future doctors, law enforcement officers, or U.S. Senators. They are the ones who will be making decisions about this issue in the future. Some people, including many physicians, think that marijuana should be used to treat patients that need it. It has been known to treat the nausea of cancer treatment, act as an appetite increaser for AIDS patients, and a pain killer for a variety of conditions. Many patients have said that marijuana is the only thing that gives them relief from their symptoms. Some report that marijuana enhances the effects of prescription drugs, which help, but don’t give complete relief.
The government is the entity that makes final decisions about medical marijuana. The Federal courts have labeled marijuana as a dangerous and addictive drug, because it falls under the Controlled Substances Act. Due to this fact, it has been concluded that marijuana is physically and psychologically damaging, no matter what it is used for. Some states have passed laws permitting medicinal marijuana, but the federal government has power greater than the state governments. It still remains illegal on a federal level.
Despite growing scientific evidence for the medicinal benefits of marijuana, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to oppose the drug’s use in treating patients. In doing so, the agency is contradicting its own mission statement. The FDA is “responsible for … helping the public get the accurate, science-based information they need to use medicines and foods to improve their health,” according to the agency’s website. Its anti-marijuana stance opposes finding out if the drug could improve the health of many. With evidence available that marijuana could potentially be a helpful drug, we must conclude a difference in ideologies is preventing the agency from considering the approval of a drug that can aid those suffering from certain diseases. It should be clear to the FDA that medicinal marijuana merits more serious consideration. The evidence is apparent, and it’s time the FDA considers all the facts.
Currently, there is only one clinical trial being conducted on medicinal marijuana in the United States. It involves fewer than 70 subjects. In contrast, the government permitted 21 clinical trials involving more than 3,000 men in the years leading up to Viagra’s approval in 1998. More research on marijuana’s possible health benefits is important not only because legalized medicinal cannabis could relieve symptoms for patients who have little other recourse, but also because the many ailing people who already smoke marijuana for its medical benefits need better information about its effects.
The subject of medicinal marijuana has also been a difficult one for law enforcement agencies. Police officers are going to have to determine who can legally possess marijuana. In states that have made medical marijuana legal, it is still against federal law to smoke it. This has lead to much confusion. One has to question why the government is so hesitant to research something that could be beneficial to many. Some blame it on the pharmaceuticals industry. If cannabis were legalized for medicinal use, the pharmaceutical companies could not make a sizable profit since they cannot patent a plant. It’s in their best interest to produce expensive chemical substitutes. If cannabis were legal for medical reasons, the pharmaceutical industry could lose between 1 and 5 percent of its $640 billion gross sales. It is appalling to think that money comes before the responsibility to serve in the best interest of patients.
According to an October 2005 Gallup poll, 78% of Americans support the legalization of medical marijuana. Support for medical marijuana may eventually move congress to make changes. Currently, support for marijuana legalization is costly to the character of elected officials, but if enough people are made aware of the truths, they can bring this issue into national debate – minus the myths perpetuated by the government.
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