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Why Marijuana is Bad Medicine
Efforts to legalize marijuana (cannabis)
for medical purposes are gaining momentum across the United States. Since 1996,
referenda or laws have passed in several states legalizing the possession and
use of marijuana for medical purposes. These states include Alaska, Arizona,
California, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Colorado, Nevada and Washington.
There's no shortage of misinformation
and unsubstantiated claims involving the medical uses of marijuana. So, it's
important to focus our attention on the most reliable sources--medical
professionals. Let's consider five of the most frequent pro-marijuana claims and
the response from the medical community:
Claim I: Smoking marijuana is the only
way to relieve symptoms for some patients.
Some medical patients do experience
relief of symptoms from the active ingredient in marijuana--tetrahydrocannabinol--commonly
referred to as THC. The symptoms often relieved include nausea, vomiting, and
loss of appetite.1 However, patients can receive a synthetically
created version of THC through prescription drugs such as Marinol, available
since 1985.2 After extensive testing, Marinol was approved by the
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and must be distributed in a purified form.
By contrast, marijuana varies wildly in THC content, making it impossible to
prescribe dosage and potency. Smoking marijuana also creates a distinct spike of
THC in blood levels. Marinol, however, is a pill, which time-releases THC--a
more effective and medically accepted procedure.
Claim II: The medical benefits of
marijuana outweigh any side effects.
If this were true, the FDA would most
likely have approved marijuana for medical purposes. Instead, the FDA has
repeatedly refused to do so. In fact, no FDA-approved drug is smoked, and in the
case of marijuana, smoking it increases chances of lung cancer, as does smoking
tobacco. In fact, according to one study, smoking marijuana burdens the
respiratory system four times more than an equivalent amount of tobacco smoking.3
Claim III: Marijuana is not a
"gateway" drug, leading to the use of harder drugs, like cocaine and
A study by the National Center on
Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) found that children who use marijuana are
85 times more likely to use cocaine than are children who do not use marijuana.4
Based on these findings, it seems likely
that the increased availability and use of marijuana nationwide (even for
medical purposes) will cause a corresponding increase in hard drug use. General
Barry R. McCaffrey, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy,
believes marijuana's influence as a "gateway" drug will only increase,
as young people perceive marijuana to be a safe substance. According to
McCaffrey, "Referenda that tell our children that marijuana is a 'medicine'
send them the wrong signal about the dangers of illegal drugs--increasing the
likelihood that more children will turn to drugs."5
Claim IV: Legalization will only give
patients with a demonstrated need access to marijuana.
Perhaps the most troubling loophole in
medical-marijuana proposals, such as California's Proposition 215 in 1996, is
the fact that a patient can use marijuana with merely an oral recommendation by
a doctor.6 Similarly, an ordinance passed in 1998 by the Oakland City
Council allows those with only a doctor's oral recommendation to possess 1.5
pounds of marijuana and to grow 144 plants at a time.7
Claim V: The legalization of
"medicinal" marijuana is not a first step toward legalizing marijuana
for recreational drug use.
An examination of state ballot
initiatives proposed after voters approved marijuana for medical purposes
challenges this claim. After legalizing medical marijuana in Alaska, Arizona,
Oregon, and Washington state, marijuana advocates openly moved toward their
other goals for the 2000 election. In Arizona and Washington, signatures were
gathered to decriminalize marijuana for the general public. In Oregon, the goal
was to regulate the sale of marijuana to adults through liquor stores. In
Alaska, the "2000 Hemp Initiative" asked voters to approve complete
legalization of marijuana for those 18 years of age or older. Only Alaska's
proponents successfully placed their initiative on the 2000 ballot (where it was
defeated). The other three efforts failed to qualify for the ballot.
Legalizing marijuana for medical
purposes is unnecessary, poses an additional physical threat to patients, may
lead to increased illegal drug use, and is a move toward legalization for use by
all adults. Marijuana is bad medicine.
1. J.E. Joy, S.J. Watson, J.A. Bensen,
editors, MARIJUANA AND MEDICINE: ASSESSING THE SCIENCE BASE (Washington,
DC: National Academy Press, 00-00-98), p. 207.
3. T.C. Wu, D.P. Tashkin, B. Djahed, J.E.
Rose, "Pulmonary Hazards of Smoking Marijuana as Compared with
Tobacco," New England Journal of Medicine (1988): 318, pp. 347-351.
4. "Cigarettes, Alcohol, Marijuana:
Gateways to Illicit Drug Use," Study conducted by the National Center on
Addiction and Substance Abuse, 10-00-94. Summary: http://www.casacolumbia.org/newsletter1457/newsletter_show.htm?doc_id=6995.
5. Testimony of General Barry R.
McCaffrey, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, submitted for
the record to the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime, Medical
Marijuana Referenda in America, 10-01-97. Online: http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/news/testimony/medical.html.
6. D. Satzman, "Officials Denounce
Marijuana Initiative," Los Angeles Times, 10-30-96, p. B3.
7. T. Elias, "California Struggles
with Issue of Medical Marijuana," Washington Times, 07-21-98, p.
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