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Weed. Pot. Dope. Cannibis. Grass. Marijuana. For years there has been a negative stigma attached to this plant, but that's exactly what it is, a plant, something that grows in the ground, and it is not inherantly evil like some people believe. It is the use or misuse of it that is good or bad, not the plant itself. I think that it is time we look past all that we have been told about the dangers of marijuana and see that it actually has legitimate medical uses. And I believe that if it was something developed by scientists instead of a Schedule 1 drug, it would already be legal for medical use.

I would first like to start off with a little history of the use and regulation of marijuana. For thousands of years Marijuana has been used as herbal medication and for intoxication, but modern science is much different than that of antiquity and things have changed. By 1931, in America, 29 states had prohibited its use for nonmedical purposes. Then, in 1937 the federal government first got involved with The Marijuana Tax Act, which required anyone producing, distributing, or using marijuana for medical purposes to register and pay a tax and which also effectively prohibited nonmedical use of the drug.
Then, in the late 1960s there was a large increase in marijuana use in adolescents and young adults, which prompted the government to take even harsher action. In 1970 the Controlled Substances Act was passed which classified marijuana as a schedule 1 drug. A schedule 1 drug has, A: No known medical use, and B: A large potential for abuse. But, as I will explain to you now, recent studies have shown that marijuana actually has medical uses and according to a 1997 Institute of Medicine study, there were upwards of 30 potential uses.
Shortly after the passage of the Controlled Substances Act, a UCLA reseacher discovered the first medical use of marijuana. While researching methods which the police could use to tell if someone had been smoking marijuana, he inadvertantly discovered that the use of marijuana helps reduce pressure in the eye which helps people who are suffering from Glaucoma, a group of diseases which are the second leading cause of blindness in the world. These findings were able to help save many glaucoma patients from blindness..
This development also allowed for more research to be done, which led to even more discoveries about the medical benefits of marijuana. Soon afterwards, when Chemotherapy was just starting to be used, some patients, who were also marijuana smokers realized that its use helped reduce the nausea that is often caused by Chemotherapy, and even though modern science has created better drugs to help combat the nausea, it is still one of the many positive uses of marijuana.
Marijuana has also been known to help decrease chronic pain, specifically that caused by cancer. Studies have shown that for chronic pain a small dose of marijuana has comparable results to that of a medium dose of codeine (a relatively weak painkiller). The patients using marijuana however, also showed improved mood, increased well-being, and less anxiety.
One unexpected benefit of marijuana use is the increase of appetite. Many AIDS patients develop something called Wasting Syndrome which is the loss of over 10% body weight due to fever and other effects. For these people, the loss of as little as 5% body weight is associated with reduced survival. Many cancer patients lose a lot of weight as well, this can be caused by the tumor itself or as a side effect of chemotherapy. The use of marijuana causes appetite stimulation, and can help many of those people gain back some of the weight that they have lost.
Even with all these benefits, there are still many things that have to be taken into consideration before using marijuana. The first of these is whether the benefits outweigh the risks, because, according to the FDA "any drug that is marketed in the United States must undergo rigorous scientific testing. The approval process mandated by this act ensures that claims of safety and therapeutic value are supported by clinical evidence and keeps unsafe, ineffective and dangerous drugs off the market..." If you will reffer to the sheet of paper I handed out, you will see a table comparing the total death by marijuana to 17 FDA approved drugs. Including other medications used to treat some of the same symptoms as marijuana and also 5 other drugs that are widely used and accepted by the American public. The results from this survey are staggering. The total deaths caused by marijuana were 2, or 0 depending on what you believe (some people say that there is no possible way someone could overdose on marijuana). While the other medications used to treat nausea caused 196 deaths, those treating muscle spasms 118, and those treating psychosis 1,593. And when in comparison to the other medications the figures are even more skewed. The total deaths for those were 8,101, with Vioxx the leading killer with over 4,000 deaths. So after toataling it all up, marijuana caused 2 deaths, if any at all, while the other drugs were the primary cause of 10,008 deaths. I believe that these numbers speak for themselves. I'm not saying that these other medications are bad, they all have important medical uses, and have been evaluated to be beneficial but in terms of deaths, marijuana is much safer than these drugs.
But, that is not the only thing we look at when determining whether a drug is safe. Other things must be looked at as well. And those include addiction and dependence, withdrawl, tolerance, and the side effects.
There are so many conflcting reports on the addictive properties of marijuana. According to The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy it is a highly addictive drug that causes physical dependence and has withdrawl symptoms. However, an article in the Nov 4th, 2002 issue of Time Magazine stated that the "risk of becoming dependent on marijuana is comparatively low. Just 9% of those who have used the drug develop dependence. By comparison, 15% of drinkers become dependent on alcohol, 23% of heroin users get hooked, and a third of tobacco smokers become slaves to cigarettes."
Withdrawl symptoms have been identified, but they are very mild and subtle in comparison to the physical symptoms of alcohol or heroin withdrawl. These symptoms include irritability, mild agitation, insomnia, sleep disturbance, nausea, and cramping, but they are short-lived and most symptoms went away in about 4 days.
The use of marijuana has many side effects, and as I explained earlier some of those effects (like increased appetite) can be beneficial in the right situation but there are other effects that can cause harm.
Smoking anything causes harm to your lungs and marijuana is no exception. Studies have shown that a marijuana cigarette of comparable weight contains as much as four times the amount of tar as a regular cigarette. The difference though, is that a typical marijuana smoker smokes much less than a tobacco smoker, but long term heavy use can be very damaging. Marijuana and tobacco smoke also contain many of the same caner causing elements and while no studies have shown it to be a cause of cancer, it is still a risk factor that must be considered.
Another possible risk is the connection between schitzophrenia and marijuana use. Though the connection is not well understood it is generally agreed that heavy marijuana use can bring about schitzophrenic episodes but there is no proven data that it is a cause of the disorder.
One of the most controversial effects claimed for marijuana is something called amotivational syndrome. Which is a term used for when young people drop out of social activities and show little interest in school or work. When heavy marijuana use acompanies these symptoms is is usually thought of as the cause. There is no scientific evidence to prove this however, but it is something to think about.
Many of these negative effects are caused by the actual smoking of marijuana and not the drug itself. There are alternatives to smoking marijuana (including vaporizing or making cannabis butter or oil) that are much safer in terms of those side effects.
One of the main obstacles of medical marijuana is not the effects of it, but the connection between medical use, and illegal marijuana use. Many people think that by making marijuana legal for medical use it would open the floodgates and would be a big step in the legalization of all marijuana use. I don't necessarily think that would be a bad thing, but I believe that they are two completly different issuses, just like the legal medical use of painkillers, such as Oxycontin and Morphine, and their illegal abuse are completly different. Another issue is that it also would cause an increase in recreational marijuana use, but If medical marijuana was as strictly regulated as that of other medications I see no reason that its use would increase.
In conclusion, I think that marijuana is a viable medicine. There may be drugs out there that do a better job combating specific symptoms, but the many benefits of marijuana, while used in conjunction with other treatment options could be very beneficial. The use of it must be carefully considered for every person, just like that of every other medicatioin, but I think that it should at least be an option. My grandmother was diagnosed with cancer 5 years ago, and if you ask her, the combination of appetite stimulation, pain relief, and reduction of nausea has helped her stay alive and live as full a life as she can these past five years. Thank you for your time.

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