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Pros and Cons of Legalizing Medical Marijuana

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Authored by Cathy L. Chambers in Medicine 
Published on 12-07-2009

Medical marijuana, also referred to as medical cannabis, is the use of Cannabis as a doctor recommended form of medication. Although little is known about the value of cannabis as a treatment for diseases, there is evidence to support its use for some critically ill patients. Proponents of medical marijuana point to its value as an anti nausea medication for chemotherapy patients. They also praise medical marijuana for its effect on the depressed appetites of some patients. Those who are against the use of marijuana for medical purposes point to the potential dangers of the herb. Both sides of the debate make points worth considering.

Medical marijuana is currently legal in 13 states. In those states, patients wishing to use marijuana for medicinal purposes are limited to possession of a small amount of product (generally an ounce) and a few plants (generally three mature plants) for personal use. In all but three of those states, the patient must be in possession of a state issued identification card which costs between twenty and one hundred dollars, depending on the state. In California, Oregon, Alaska and other states that currently allow marijuana to be used as a treatment for certain conditions, physicians may prescribe marijuana to certain patients.

Marijuana, according to some proponents has never been found to be a health risk. Lester Grinspoon, MD, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, Harvard School of Medicine stated in a 2006 article, “I suspect that a day’s breathing in any city with poor air quality poses more of a threat than inhaling a day’s dose — which for many ailments is just a portion of a joint — of marijuana.” Doctor Grinspoon and other advocates of medical marijuana do not feel that smoking marijuana is a health risk. Others, including the British Lung Association feel that smoking as little as 3 to 4 joints per day creates as much impact as smoking a pack of cigarettes daily.

Another reason given for keeping marijuana listed as an illegal, Schedule 1 drug is the “gateway” affect. Some experts feel that cannabis is not only highly addictive; its use leads to experimentation with other “stronger” drugs. Marijuana is the illegal drug that many addicts list as their “first” drug. This is according to pro marijuana groups, due to the wide availability of marijuana and has nothing to do with the drug itself. “The people who are predisposed to use drugs and have the opportunity to use drugs are more likely than others to use both marijuana and harder drugs. Marijuana typically comes first because it is more available.” Andrew Morral, PhD, Researcher.

Marijuana advocates also believe that cannabis is less harmful than some drugs currently used to treat chronic conditions. Joycelyn Elders, former Surgeon General of the United States called marijuana “less toxic than many drugs physicians prescribe everyday.” Those who are against the medical use of marijuana repeatedly point out the “dangers” associated with its use.

Both sides make very valid points. There is very strong evidence that AIDS patients and cancer patients benefit from very small amounts of marijuana. It is also true that there are drugs available that are manufactured under controlled conditions that are equally beneficial. There is a need for more research on both sides of the debate before there can be a final decision on legalizing medical marijuana. At this time there are an additional 14 states with legislation pending to legalize medical marijuana.

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