Medicinal Marijuana: The Debate
Marijuana or Cannabis sativa is a natural grown plant in which the leaves, stems
and flowers contain delta-9-tetrahydro-cannibinal (THC). When smoked, THC gives the
user a type of euphoria or “high” feeling. However, many medical professionals and
patients claim that this drug also gives users medical benefits for various ailments;
and they are fighting to have this drug legalized for this reason. According to the National
Academy of Sciences (1999), “the high associated with marijuana is not generally
claimed to be integral to its therapeutic value. But mood enhancement, anxiety reduction
and mild sedation can be desirable qualities in medications, especially for patients
suffering pain and anxiety” (p. 83). The United States federal government disagrees
completely with this claim and provides research statistics to show how marijuana causes
serious medical conditions when smoked. Therefore, the government continues to
classify marijuana as an illegal drug and will arrest any person in possession of it.
Although marijuana may have negative health effects, it also has positive effects on
people with certain ailments; therefore, it should be legalized for medicinal purposes.
Marijuana has been used as a medicinal remedy all over the world for thousands
of years. In fact, the Chinese have the earliest written reference of marijuana’s medicinal
properties. These reference journals are dated in the early fifteenth century, B.C., and
document marijuana for its effectiveness on pain, sleep aid, appetite stimulation and anti-
convulsant. According to Lester Grinspoon (2007), “it’s a sad commentary on the state of
modern medicine that we still need proof of something that medicine has known for
5,000 years”. (p.1)
Since 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act has deemed it illegal to possess or consume
marijuana in the United States, even for medicinal purposes. Prior to Congress passing
this law, Americans used marijuana freely for many medical ailments. In 1970 marijuana
was classed as a Schedule I drug by the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I drugs are
noted to have a high potential for drug abuse with no accepted medical use. However, it
was in the early 1970’s that some cancer patients who were receiving chemotherapy
treatments discovered that smoking marijuana reduced their nausea and vomiting. “In one
study of 56 patients who received no relief from the standard antiemetic (anti-nausea)
agents, 78% became symptom-free when they smoked marijuana” (Grinspoon, 1997).
The controversy over the legalization of marijuana has been ongoing in the U.S.
since this rediscovery of its medicinal value. On October 1, 1997 the U.S.
House of Representatives Crime Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee heard
testimonies from many professionals in hopes to pass the Marijuana for Medical Use Act.
One of the testimonies was from Lester Grinspoon, M.D., who was the Associate
Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Grinspoon (1997) claims
“Cannabis is remarkably safe. Although not harmless, it is surely less toxic than most of
the conventional medicines it could replace if it were legally available”(p.2). Although
studies do show medicinal value, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) continues
to state that “marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the United States”
As with all pharmaceutical drugs in the U.S., numerous studies have been
conducted on the medicinal values of marijuana. Some findings have been noted that
marijuana does aid in the relief of many ailments including cancer treatment, AIDS
wasting syndrome, Glaucoma, seizures, Migraine headaches and other types of pain.
While other studies have linked marijuana to health issues such as impaired memory,
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