Two experts debate the pros and cons of medical marijuana, offering opinions on whether it should be legalized.
It’s now featured here as part of our new general-health section.]
Is marijuana a harmful drug or a beneficial medicine? Put all the arguments together and you might answer, “a little of both.” But then the questions just start growing:
- Does medical marijuana’s good outweigh its bad?
- Legal medicines also have side effects; are marijuana’s any worse?
- Are other medicines more effective than marijuana?
- Does marijuana even do the good things proponents claim it does?
To help answer those questions, we asked two experts to share their opinions on medical marijuana. But first, a little background:
Some Cons of Medical Marijuana
Marijuana can be addictive and have short-term side effects like memory loss and trouble thinking. It may have harmful long-term effects, like lung cancer, a weakened immune system, and increased heart-attack risk in the hour after smoking it.
Some Pros of Medical Marijuana
Rules of Engagement
We invited each participant to write an argument, then read the opponent’s argument and, if desired, write a rebuttal. Neither was allowed to read the other’s initial argument before writing his own, and neither could read the other’s response before rebutting.
Marijuana also may have good health effects, like treating glaucoma, nausea, appetite loss and seizures. Proponents say it’s helpful for people experiencing side effects from AIDS and cancer medications and may help treat multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.
Medical marijuana is illegal at the federal level. But it’s legal in certain states. Those states won’t come after providers, but the federal government can. Confused? Don’t blame ya.
In its policy statement, the American Medical Association recommends that for now, marijuana remain classified as a Schedule I Controlled Substance. The government deems drugs in this category to have a high abuse potential, no accepted medical use and a lack of acceptable safety.
Then again, the AMA sees enough promise to recommend more studies on the drug and urges the National Institutes of Health “to implement administrative procedures to facilitate grant applications and the conduct of well-designed clinical research into the medical utility of marijuana.”
We asked two mental-health providers: Should marijuana be legal for certain medical purposes? Here’s what they had to say. You can also get in on the debate here.
Pro Argument: Medical Marijuana Should Be Legal.
Marijuana is a lousy drug but can be a great medication. The same applies to most medications. Drugs can be used for medicinal purposes and/or abused in order to alter mood and run away from life.
There is no question that marijuana should be considered a dangerous drug. It is carcinogenic, mood altering, motivation destroying and life wrecking. In the alternative, the same may be said for such dangerous medications as Valium, opiates, diet pills and even Tylenol. When any medication is misused it becomes a clear and present danger.
Mitch Wallick, Ph.D., C.A.P., F.A.B.F.C.E., C.M.H.P., is executive director of C.A.R.E. Addiction Recovery, a holistic drug rehabilitation facility in North Palm Beach, Fla. He holds Ph.D.s in both counseling and addictions.
Chemicals are neither good nor bad. We should not make moral judgments on substances.Instead, we need to focus our debate on the benefit-risk ratio of use versus nonuse.
Most of us would certainly argue that cocaine is a “bad drug.” It should be outlawed! What many laypeople fail to realize is that cocaine has a legitimate medical use in reconstructive surgery. It is a good topical anesthetic and a vasoconstrictor, which helps to minimize bleeding. This is a good use of cocaine.
On the other hand, when snorted and/or smoked in the form of crack, it is very dangerous and will cause severe problems. The same argument should be applied to the use of marijuana medically.
Marijuana is an excellent nausea suppressant and appetite enhancer. It is very useful in treating the symptoms of cancer, HIV and hepatitis C, as well as glaucoma and other diseases. There is no argument that it has no recreational use; however, clearly it does have medical benefits.
In short, the problem is not with the medication, but the medication user. My position thus is I am very much in support of medical marijuana and adamantly opposed to recreation marijuana—and all other drugs.
Earl R. Henslin, Psy.D., B.C.E.T.S., is a marriage, family and child counselor with the Christian counseling group Henslin and Associates in Brea, Calif.; an instructor at Rosemead Graduate School of Psychology; and author of This Is Your Brain on Joy: How the New Science of Happiness Can Help You Feel Good and Be Happy:.
Con Argument: Medical Marijuana Should Be Illegal.
In 1996, California voters approved the use of medical marijuana for those suffering from chronic pain, nausea, or conditions from which patients cannot get relief from other drugs. It was marketed to the voters for helping patients with terminal cancer.
Get in on the Debate!
Sound off! Share your opinions about medical marijuana in the comments section below.
- The FDA announced in 2006 there were “No sound scientific studies” that supported the use of medical marijuana. Why is there any debate? Any physician who prescribed a drug unapproved by the FDA would lose his or her license. Why is this one drug above the law? The state of California is knowingly violating federal law by allowing the use of “medical marijuana.”
- Long-term marijuana use leads to structural changes in the brain. One study showed hippocampal volume in cannabis users was inversely correlated with cumulative exposure to the drug in the left, but not right, hemisphere—a finding that suggests “the left hippocampus may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of cannabis exposure and may be more closely related to the emergence of psychotic symptoms.”
- Atrial fibrillation should be included in the cardiovascular complications of marijuana smoking. Physicians should be aware of this particular association and carefully investigate patients with marijuana-related palpitations, dizziness or fainting. On the other hand, whenever a young patient without predisposing factors develops atrial fibrillation, the possibility of marijuana smoking should be examined as a potential cause. Although the exact clinical impact of this association is not clear, yet its incidence in the general population is probably underestimated.
This is a simple, cursory review. Is there any doubt about the need for FDA trials before a drug is used in society? Why does marijuana escape standard drug trials? Do we want scientific trials, or do we move drugs to the marketplace by popular vote?
Dr. Wallick makes an interesting comparison between marijuana and cocaine. The cocaine that is used as topical anesthetic is for a one-time purpose under the observation and care of physician. The quality of this topical anesthetic is known, and is compounded by a pharmacy. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, research on medical marijuana is hampered by the inconsistency and variability of the THC samples. The adverse effects of smoked marijuana on the respiratory system are outweighing the potential benefits. In fact, marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke.
True, marijuana is not a cure for any illness. But there is no question that it alleviates symptoms and makes patients more comfortable. It is also true that the drug has side effects. So do most medications. Listen to the TV ads which warn of possible death. I think we should treat marijuana like other medication. Take aspirin for example, which can cause side effects like internal bleeding. By the way, it is doubtful that aspirin would receive FDA approval today. Think about that the next time you have a headache. Marijuana as medicine works. Let’s make it available to those who need it.
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Original article appeared in March/April 2009 issue of My Family Doctormagazine.