Is There Any Medical Potential for Marijuana?
Marijuana is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world (7). Since it became illegal in 1967 (5), there have been many questions of whether or not it is good for purposes, such as medicine. Debates between people that are for and against the use of marijuana in medicine have been heated and in recent years, referendums have been brought up in at least three states to make it available for medical treatment. Personally, I think that marijuana has the power to be a significant help with certain aliments, however, I think that more research is needed to prove its medical potential.
The first people to introduce the healing properties of marijuana, were the Chinese. About five thousand years ago, the people of the plains of Central Asia, just north of the Himalayas, began cultivating the plant. Though it is not exactly certain what cultivation of the plant was for, whether it was for its oil, fiber or medical properties, most experts believe that it was for its fibers. The fiber of the plant is so strong that it can be used to make thick, sturdy ropes. Its seeds also contain oils that can be used as a varnish. In some countries the seeds are used as bird and cattle feed and also in the manufacturing of soap. Something else that you may not know is that the seeds can be roasted and eaten as food. It is actually the flowers of a certain type of the plant that is used for its medicinal and intoxicating property. I say “a flower from a certain type of the plant” because from my personal experience, many people believe that there is only one type of marijuana. Actually, marijuana is such a wild plant, that it easily adapts to any soil and new varieties it then emerge. This is when the plants with the strongest fibers, most superior oils, and a more potent drug content are selected. Only around 1000 B.C., in India and Southeast Asia, when the plant started to grow in that region, the intoxicating features were recognized and appreciated (7).
So when was the plant introduced to the Western Hemisphere? There is archeological evidence
that the plant was brought toWestern Europe from Asia at around 1500 B.C., by the Scythian invaders and later reached the Mediterranean region. However, the people of western Europe didn’t begin cultivating it as a plant crop in their area until about 500 A.D. When the plant first came to Europe, it was not introduced to all the countries. The rest of Europe did not find out about the plant until around the Christian era. No signs or evidence suggests that Europeans used marijuana for intoxicating purposes though. In the New World, marijuana was introduced in the 16th century. It was brought over by both the Spanish and British settlers as well. In the Spanish settled areas of the New World, it was used for its fibers. Its intoxicating properties were only discovered in the late 19th century. In the United States, it was used for the production of rope and cloth until the 20th century where it is now widely used as a drug preferably for pleasure (7).
According to Nahas, it was about 1842, when an Irish physician named William O’Shaughnessy introduced the Western world to mariuana’s medicinal properties. Although Dr. O’Shaughnessy used marijuana for many different aliments and diseases, he found it most helpful in the relief of pain. In his practice, he also found that the drug was most effective for convulsions occurring from rabies, rheumatism, tetanus, and epilepsy. It also seemed to be a help when it came to menstrual cramps and in the delivery room; helping with increasing uterine contractions and reducing childbirth pains (7). In more recent times, the National Institutes of Health has claimed that marijuana may be helpful in the alleviation of chemotherapy, to reduce nausea. The drug also helps in the stimulation of appetite and reduction of the loss of lean muscle mass in AIDS patients and in the prevention of epileptic seizures. It also aids in the reduction of fluid pressure in the eyes caused by glaucoma-which in fact causes serious damage to vision, if not blindness, and in the reduction of muscle pain and spasticity felt by multiple sclerosis patients. Many multiple-sclerosis patients say that when it comes to their motor functions (driving) marijuana has helped them a great deal. In other words it has helped them to sustain and live a little better with the dangerous disease (4). Some physicians even suggest that marijuana may be helpful to patients going through barbiturates, opiates, alcohol withdrawal, and even asthma. Though it has been said that the drug had very mild or no effects on asthmatic patients, some people claim that marijuana does help them in other ways:
“I’m not going to lie, I have been using marijuana for a while now. I smoke it. I use the bush to draw tea. And what a lot of people don’t know is that the ashes can be used for cuts and scrapes. Every time I burn a little “bud”, I save the ashes for whenever I have a bruise or I get a cut. It doesn’t matter how deep it is, it dries up the wound within two days. As for colds, I don’t suffer from them. I don’t have to go to the doctor. I can’t tell when last I seen a doctor. And I ain’t worried about getting lung cancer or brain damage, cause’ Father put the herb here for us to use. It’s stupid people along the way that put other chemicals in it and spoiled it. But if you ever decided to grow your own, it’s the best remedy for anything.” (Personal Interview)
As I stated before there are many different types of marijuana plants. However, within one plant of any type of marijuana, there are more than 60 different attributes. Between the sixty, there is basically only one component that is being investigated (8). This component is called THC, also known as delta-9-THC (7). THC is the resinous oil in marijuana that can be extracted from the plant. There is already a THC counterpart on the market that is known as dronabinol. You could say this is called “medical marijuana”. The dronabinol is made into sesame oil and supplied in gelatin capsules (8). This is how the drug is described:
Dronabinol is a controlled substance, which affects the receptors in the brain and spinal cord. It has been marketed for anorexia and AIDS patients for weight loss and cancer patients for vomiting and nausea. Some physicians also use it alone or with other drugs to treat epilepsy and glaucoma, and to relieve MS patients. However, it is not a go-to drug; it is not the first drug that doctors recommend. It is only used when all else fails.But, it has proved itself most useful to treat the vomiting and nausea and stimulates the appetite when the other medications can not help (8).
Besides all the good things marijuana has been suggested for there is still a negative association when it come to the drug. Some researchers say it causes brain damage, low sperm count, and lung cancer (7; 1). However, though it is true that the sperm count is lower in some marijuana users, the infertility rate is the same as non-users (4). Though when it comes to background studies on the reproductive system and marijuana usage, it is mostly done on males. A study in 1982 focused on a group of women who had been chronic marijuana users for at least 3 years. During the length of the experiment they were smoking about five to sixteen marijuana ‘joints’ a day. The study found there was no change in their sexual hormonal production levels or the length of their menstrual cycle (7). As for lung cancer and brain damage, some say: “If marijuana ever caused a single death, it didn’t leave any fingerprints.” (4). What these people are basically saying is though there have been claims that marijuana is a killer drug, there is no documented case that someone has actually died from using too much marijuana.
However, some sternly stand by their beliefs that marijuana is a killer and has no place in medicine. They believe the whole campaign for marijuana to be drawn into medical mainstream is all a big mistake. According to Steve Forbes, “an insidious effort is under way to legalize drugs” (6). Marijuana adversaries argue that there are other alternatives to marijuana, like Marinol, serotonin antagonists ondansetron HCI dihydrate, and granisetron HCI (8). Marinol for example is a synthetic form of the chemical THC like dronabinol. It has already been approved by the FDA and is basically made for AIDS patients enduring chemotherapy (6). The HCI drugs have fewer side effects and can be also given to children (8).
Basically, there are two concerns of having marijuana as medicine. The first, and not to sway from the main concern, has to do with the belief that the drug will be more abused than it already is. That is safe to say, since there have been cases to prove this. For example in the Netherlands where marijuana usage is legal and they have little ‘hemp bars’, the rate of abuse is higher. So for instance, when Measure 57, proposed in Washington DC, which states that all you would need for access to the drug is a recommendation from the doctor, not even a prescription, there must be controversy. The proposal also allows the patient’s primary caretaker, even a “best friend”, could help grow, use, or buy marijuana for the patient (6).
Another controversial proposal was Washington State’s Initiative 685. It calls for the legalization of marijuana along with LSD and heroin. Again, no prescription is needed and anyone in the medical field can give a recommendation. Doctors, pharmacists, and even veterinarians can give the okay for the drug. Also the patient only needs to claim a “serious” illness, no definition of serious is explained. And oddly enough the proposal calls for all drug-related criminals to be released (6). Seems like it may reap more havoc than be positive in helping those who it actually supposes to.The main concern of having marijuana as an alternative medicine is the effects that it may have on the patients. The adverse effects that have reportedly happened to leisure users are a major concern. Apparentl, marijuana has been accused of many things, such as affecting immune systems, smoke related health problems, and increased heart rate. Though these side effects are serious, supporters of marijuana as medicine say that these side effects are common when it comes to a number of prescription drug. Also, marijuana has been credited with creating psychotic episodes, memory losses and other manipulations of the nervous system (1). AIDS patients are even discouraged from using marijuana because it is not known the actual extent that the drug may damage their immune systems further than it already is damaged (8). Some of the documented effects of leisure users are disorientation to time and place, and difficulty in controlling bodily parts, along with a great sense of anxiety and panic, a sense of floating, being one with their surroundings, and just mere hallucinations (1). One ex-marijuana user describes his experiences while he used the drug:
“First I used to feel good, having the giggles, laughing, etc. It started out as a once in a while thing, then as time went on, I started smoking on weekends, then it went up to everyday, so I could get that ‘feeling’. I had to smoke just to think well and to relax. This went on for 4-5 years, just so I won’t have to deal with everyday problems. I had to stop because is started to make me paranoid. I thought that everyone was looking at me, examining me, analyzing me, wondering if they could smell my clothes with the weed scent, or if they could see my eyes red. Then I started to lose all ambition and became lazier as the days went on. I became a dependent on the ‘smokes’. Then one day, I decided it was either my life or the ‘smokes’. and I chose my life.” (Personal Interview)
Though marijuana has been associated with mental illness and just sheer craziness, early reports had to be discredited because of flaws and inadequacies. In 1969-70, a study on 100 marijuana users was conducted. Out of the 100, twenty-one percent had a probable affective disorder (affective meaning that there was a disturbance on the emotional state of the person); eight percent had definite affective disorder, six percent probable sociopath, and six percent definite sociopath. Three percent had asexual deviance other than homosexuality and there was even 1 who had a schzio-affective disorder. All in all fifty-two percent of the group received a psychiatric diagnosis. Some other effects that have been reportedly been connected with marijuana are unplanned change in appetite and weight, sleep difficulty, including hypersomnia. Complaints of loss of energy, agitation, irritability, withdrawal, suicidal ideas or death wishes, and self-depreciatory ruminations. The risk of these side effects makes some doctors hesitant to prescribe or even suggest marijuana as a medicine (1).
However, to sum it all up, I basically feel that there are more positives about this drug than negatives. Since, there are basically so many components in marijuana and so many types of marijuana, there can be a lot more research done to get the full potential the drug has to offer. The Federal government has definitely enough resources to do the proper research that is needed to pick apart what is good and what is bad. Since there is obviously therapeutic properties to this drug, I feel that if it at least gives a little relief to those who really need it then the proper authorities such continue to do what they have to too ensure that it continues. Though there is no concrete evidence so far that tells us that marijuana will be the best remedy for the aliments that has been suggested that it can relieve, there is enough proof that it helps in some ways. Besides providing relief in major aliments such as cancer, glaucoma, and AIDS, marijuana is also good for minor things such as colds, cuts, and scrapes.
In conclusion, marijuana users say that marijuana has enriched their lives. It enhances their creativity and provides happiness. “It is a source of positive pleasure” (1). And if that is all the sick patients’ suffering from the many ailments that marijuana helps experience in the last days of their lives, then leave them be.
1.)Ernest Abel: “The Scientific Study of Marihuana”
4.)Esquire Magazine October 1997 – Ben Dickinson: “What if weed is exactly what you need?”
6.)Steve Forbes “Deadly deceit” Forbes; Sep. 8, 1997
7.)Gabriel Nahas: “Marijuana in Science and Medicine”
8.)Lori Talarico “Does marijuana have a place in medicine?” Patient Care; Jan. 30, 1998