PROSE – Marijuana: An Illegal Substance, Not a Cure
NON.FICTION – RESEARCH PAPER
December 3, 2004 – English 102 – Dr. Bello
Marijuana: An Illegal Substance, Not a Cure
Marijuana should remain illegal throughout the United States. Currently there are congressional debates over the decriminalization of smoking crude marijuana for medicinal purposes. Those in favor of marijuana’s legalization concentrate solely on the limited desirable effects it can have on human beings while conveniently ignoring the scientifically proven harm smoking marijuana causes to its users. Medical marijuana supporters are being led blindly by authority figures interested in the economic boom the legalization of this form of the drug will create, all the while being fed false information and half-truths.
Cannabis is not a miracle plant stumbled upon anytime recently; however, the interest in its possible medical use is fairly new. Marijuana has been part of the natural vegetation on this planet for many years, yet research regarding it has only begun to expand within the past century. Iversen writes, “The marijuana plant develops in many different ways, according to the genetic variety and the soil, temperature, and lighting conditions under which it is grown” (10). Not only does the variation in development of the cannabis plant make it hard to research, but it is estimated that there are about 2,000 variations in potency among cannaboids (Murray 26).
There has been an increase in the amount of research regarding marijuana in the past couple decades, and the process is slowly piecing together commonly found facts. All respective research studies will agree that “delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol, and cannabinol are the most abundant cannabinoids in marijuana [, and] THC is the primary psychoactive component” (Hubbard 2). Discovering the active ingredient in marijuana–THC–was the first step in revealing any conceivable medical benefits.
One of the major differences between marijuana and many of the other illegal substances is its lingering capability. Cannabis is fat-soluble, stores itself in the fatty tissues of the body, and will remain long after an individual has first used it (Hubbard 1). A few research studies done on animals were able to reveal that “the intoxicating effects of marijuana only last a few hours, but the THC can build up in such places as the brain and testes” (Hubbard 1). More research is needed concerning the effect this information may have on long term cognitive deficits, as well as reproductive.
Those who support the legalized use of smoked marijuana tend to neglect the scientifically gathered evidence which collectively proves that marijuana smokers are affected negatively in many basic areas of function while intoxicated. Kevin Zeese states, “If they allow marijuana as medicine, there will be thousands more patients using it. People will see that they [the user] are fine, and that will raise questions about why marijuana is illegal at all” (23). Assuming Zeese’s definition of “people” is those who are using the marijuana, this statement may actually hold some truth. If given a large enough dose of marijuana, “people” may see quite interesting things.
Hallucinations are one of the adverse side effects marijuana may cause. John Murray writes, “Marijuana has been known to push some [users] into mania. Paranoid episodes and hallucinogenic effects may occur in connection with marijuana use, especially with large doses and overdoses” (40). This side effect falls into the category of less common when discussing the unwanted side effects marijuana can cause, but it is a very real possibility for any marijuana user.
If Zeese were referring to “people” as those who are not using the marijuana, but instead meant those who would come into contact with an intoxicated user, “people” most certainly would not see “that they [the user] are fine.” Wayne Hall states, “Short term memory and attention, motor skills, reaction time, and skilled activities are impaired while a person is intoxicated” (1612). In the most basic interpretation of the previous statement, an individual observing an intoxicated marijuana user would see a person who–if able to concentrate–could not remember the events of 5 minutes prior nor coordinate himself properly, or in a timely manner, to perform any tasks requiring skill.
Supporters of marijuana’s medicinal legalization also believe that marijuana users are harmless, and would cause no threat to innocent people. Hayry vocalizes this belief when he basically challenges individuals who defend the concept of keeping marijuana illegal to be able to prove what harm would be caused to third-party individuals if marijuana were legalized (335). The most obvious reply would explain the hazards caused by an intoxicated marijuana user behind the wheel of an automobile.John Murray clearly writes, “Marijuana smoking affects reaction time and coordination of movements important for operating machinery at work and at home as well as for operating an automobile” (34). If the previously mentioned individual with poor coordination, delayed reaction time, and lowered skill level were now given access to a set of car keys, the situation has the potential to unravel such as handing a five year old a loaded gun might.
The likelihood of an intoxicated marijuana user driving his car into a third-party’s car and killing one or more of the individuals inside is a risk not worth taking. Sadly, those taking on authoritative roles in the fight to legalize marijuana for medical use are misleading their supporters. Arnold Trebach mistakenly asserts, “There is no record in the extensive medical literature describing a proven, documented cannabis-induced fatality” (7). As surprising as it may be, “studies in North America and in Europe have found that as many as 10% of the driver’s involved in fatal accidents tested positive for THC” (Iversen 91). Arnold Trebach seems to have also mistakenly labeled the medical literature he reads as “extensive,” otherwise he would have surely found at least one record in that percentage. Whether the fatality involves a third-party or not, a death is still simply a death.
It is hard to quote exact scientific facts about marijuana and its effect on people. Research is limited and varied, although smoking it is the quickest delivery method to experience its effects. Marijuana has been found to affect each person differently according to the dosage, potency, and experience level of the user (Murray 30-32). Despite the difficulties related to marijuana research, there are commonly found pieces of information among the studies. Because research of this drug is fairly new, it would not be fair to call every discovery a fact.
Science has found extremely similar likenesses between marijuana and tobacco. For instance, “findings suggest that like tobacco smokers, marijuana smokers are likely to be more susceptible to respiratory tract infections and possibly less able to defend against the development of lung cancers” (Iversen 196). One major misconception among marijuana users is the belief that smoking marijuana is better, or less harmful, than smoking cigarettes. Based on recent studies, marijuana smoke may actually be worse because of the difference in breathing which involves the smoker holding the inhaled marijuana in his lungs for a longer amount of time (Iversen 195).
As mentioned above, more studies are finding common ground with the evidence collected. Wayne Hall agrees, “In view of the similarity between tobacco and cannabis smoke and the evidence that cannabis smoking [causes…] changes that precede lung cancer, long-term cannabis smoking may also increase the risks of respiratory cancer” (1613). Marijuana smoking can lead to much more damage if consistent and continual–which it will be if introduced as a therapy for cancer, aids, or other various illnesses.
The effects of the long-term use of smoked cannabis are an area not yet deeply delved into by researchers. There is a demand for more concrete evidence, but if what they have found thus far is any premonition of what is to come, the future looks bleak. Some studies show that “chronic heavy cannabis smoking is associated with increased symptoms of chronic bronchitis” (1612). In other studies, scientists have used lab animals to collect data. “Chronic administration of high doses of THC to animals lowers testosterone secretion, impairs sperm production, mobility, and viability, and disrupts the ovulatory cycle” (Hall 1613).
Marijuana has the potential to cause a horrible birth-inherited illness, which might be of some concern to women. Hubbard writes, “A ten-fold increase in the risk of nonlymphoblastic leukemia in children whose mothers used marijuana before or during gestation has been reported” (3). If marijuana were legalized it could create an epidemic of leukemia among future generations. This possibility of illness inherited in children of mothers who use or have used marijuana also serves as an example of the harm marijuana can have on the most innocent, third-party individuals.
Iversen points out that during the 1950’s and 1960s, numerous THC derivatives were created, but the outcome was disappointing (38). It seems that scientists could not figure out how to remove the unwanted side effects from the desirable ones. Research showed that it was nearly impossible to isolate the medically agreeable properties of THC from the intoxicating effects (39).Chemists from the Pfizer Company discovered the first synthetic THC analogue called nantradol. Clinical trials illustrated it to be effective in pain and nausea relief, but the psychoactive side effects were not acceptable (Iversen 39). As the search for the answer continued, numerous derivatives were tested and failed.
Attempts to derive usable components of marijuana have come a long way, but many people are unaware of the legalized marijuana-related medicines in existence currently. “In the U.S., voters in the November 1998 elections in Arizona, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, and the District of Columbia approved medical marijuana, despite hostility from the federal government” (Iversen 256). The drugs that are legal today are both in pill form, and are most certainly not intended to be smoked. There are currently two cannabis-based medicines available by prescription: dronabinol and nabilone (Iversen 138).
Dronabinol and Nabilone have been approved and legalized to produce the same desirable effects that smoked marijuana produces, yet advocates of smoked, crude marijuana will never mention either drug. Dronabinol (Marinol (R)) has been approved to aid the nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy and to increase appetite for individuals with AIDS. Nabilone (Cesamet (R)) is also in pill form, and is used primarily for the treatment of nausea and vomiting that cancer chemotherapy patients experience (Iversen 139).
It is common knowledge that a pill takes much longer to work than such other forms as inhalers, liquids, or drops. Iversen states, “Smoking is one of the most efficient ways of ingesting cannabis and rapidly experiencing its effects on the brain” (14). For instance, individuals with AIDS, who support legalization of smoked marijuana, are fighting for the quickest route to regain an appetite and de-rail nausea. What these AIDS patients do not realize is the great harm they will end up causing themselves if that fight is won.
AIDS is a virus which attacks and destroys the immune system, and smoking crude marijuana will only help the virus on its mission. “There’s new evidence that the active ingredient in marijuana actually reduces [the] body’s ability to fight disease” (Zeese 23). If this is not enough to deter AIDS patients from smoking marijuana as therapy, perhaps the risk of contamination is.”Marijuana can be contaminated with microorganisms such as Aspergillus and Salmonella, as well as fecal matter” (Hubbard 3). AIDS patients often wind up dying from simple infections such as the common cold. The extent to which marijuana negatively affects the immune system is unknown; therefore, what logic would there be in legalizing a substance that may help the illness worsen, while introducing contaminants to quicken the process of death for the individual with AIDS?
Iversen’s research serves as a third example of the damaging affects smoking crude marijuana can have for AIDS patients. He writes, “An added complication is that some batches of herbal cannabis may be contaminated with fungi that could themselves cause lung infections. This could be a particular hazard to AIDS patients” (196). Collectively, marijuana can carry bacteria, feces, and fungi. Introducing these elements into the body of a person infected with AIDS would be comparable to playing a game of Russian roulette.
Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy are usually subjected to various physical ailments such as nausea. “The condition [cancer] with the strongest scientific evidence for beneficial effects of cannabis-based medicines is now no longer an area of pressing medical need since new and even more powerful antisickness drugs have become available recently” (Iversen 140). Advocates push for smoked marijuana to be legalized for cancer chemotherapy patients to eliminate–or alleviate–nausea, but the concept seems irrational.
It is now a scientifically proven, undisputable fact that smoking cigarettes is directly related to developing cancer. If studies are finding overwhelming similarities between tobacco smoking and marijuana smoking, would it be wise to legalize a substance that has a high potential to cause cancer? Would it make sense to give this carcinogenic substance to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy–a treatment that aids in killing cancer cells?
Authority figures in support of herbal-cannabis smoking being used to treat nausea related to chemotherapy are leading their followers on falsely. They are proclaiming smoked marijuana as some miracle quick-fix, when in reality the evidence shows it to be the complete opposite.
“Marijuana smoke does not contain nicotine, but does have a significantly higher tar content than cigarettes, contains carcinogens, and, unlike most cigarettes, is smoke unfiltered” (Hubbard 3).
Marijuana and tobacco smoke are nearly identical chemically. In addition, marijuana smoke has been reported to contain even higher amounts of the two most potent carcinogens found in tobacco smoke (Iversen 191-93). It is clearly irresponsible to entertain the idea of legalizing smoke marijuana for cancer chemotherapy patients. Giving individuals the option to introduce a cancer causing substance into their bodies, while undergoing cancer treatments, makes absolutely no sense. The concept of taking one step forward and two steps backward applies, and has long been labeled illogical.
Are the leaders in the fight to legalize crude marijuana for medicinal reasons trying to fatten their own pockets? It is one possibility. Perhaps they are ignorant to the research being reported. As a whole, they tend to debate unilaterally–avoiding educated responses to anti-marijuana arguments. Their focus appears to be to improve the standard of living for those undergoing cancer chemotherapy, those with aids, and various other ill individuals, but how can that be true?
There are options available to those patients who still hold strong in their fight to legalize crude marijuana. “Another more recently popular product is cannabis oil produced by repeatedly extracting hashish resin with alcohol. One drop of such oil can contain as much THC as a single marijuana cigarette” (Iversen 7). One would assume this information to be sufficient replacement for smoking marijuana since the THC content would be the same, but the opposition will refute by falling back on the previously stated argument that smoking is the quickest way to experience the desired effects.
Some advocates will even argue, “If it is a risk they are willing to take, why not let them [the patients] take it” (Zeese 23)? If the patients are going to risk psychoactive, physical, cognitive, and reproductive damage to smoke marijuana, the medical field cannot possibly support them based on the current evidence. If the medical field wants no part in the marijuana business, why would the government legalize it for medical purposes?
Marijuana is illegal, but people still do find ways to possess it. If they want to risk harming themselves, then they need to equally accept the risk that comes with the substance being illegal. Adults should be well enough developed mentally to know and accept the repercussions of their actions whether by law or by health.
Those who support legalized marijuana fall into many different subcategories. Some support all drugs being legalized for both medicinal and recreational use. Trebach writes, “Illegal drugs should be controlled and sold like alcohol” (4). The majority of supporters fall into the same category as Trebach, making their arguments that much more comical.
Trebach goes on to summarize strategies for treating addicts such as providing clean needles to individuals hooked on heroin (5). Such proposals can prompt one to question whether or not the person making such a proposal is currently addicted. He also suggests thousands of dollars in federal funding be set aside to open clinics where addicts can freely receive the illegal substances they are addicted to (6). A world where we cater to drug addicts and provide for them their drug of choice, free of charge, can not seem realistic to those who have any form of rationale.
With all of the evidence proving marijuana to be more harmful than good, it would seem that authority figures leading the fight to legalize are pushing for a hidden cause. Legalizing marijuana for medical purposes would surely create new business. With all of the many types of cannabis, each company could create their own trademark. Numerous employees would have to be hired to maintain business, and that would create a job market. One can only dream of the day their 10 year old son will be able to proudly state, “Mommy, I want to be a marijuana farmer when I grow up.”
Certainly such a dream would be more correctly labeled a nightmare in the minds of logical, educated individuals. Hayry–a supporter–believes, “Arguments against the use of cannabis cannot be supported by scientific facts. The use of marijuana can have drastic side effects, but nobody seems to deny that it can also benefit some individuals” (333). There are legal drugs out there relieve the same ailments marijuana supporters are raving about–and they do it better.
Many aspects of marijuana are unknown. Enough is known, however, to state that use of marijuana is by no means harmless (Murray 51). Legalizing marijuana would be a step in the wrong direction according to what is presently known about the drug. More studies need to be done before contemplating the idea of legalizing marijuana.
With all said and done how can one knowingly supply an ill person with something harmful and call it a medicine? Smoking marijuana is not a medical treatment. It is, however, an illegal act punishable by law. Besides taking major legal risks, ill patients are being kept in the dark in regards to the true harm cannabis can cause them. Supporters are not satisfied with the marijuana-derived, legal drugs available for use, and their arguments hold no weight when placed against scientific evidence. The day marijuana is legalized for medicinal use will be the day millions of people sign their lives away on the dotted line.
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Zeese, Kevin, and William Ruzzamenti. “Should Marijuana Be Legalized for Medical Use?” Health 7.7 (1993): 23. Health Source: Nursing/Academic Ed. EBSCO. Community College of Phila. Lib. 8 Oct. 2004 http://www.epnet.com/.