Marijuana: Friend to the Dying


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Marijuana: Friend to the Dying

 

Peter is an AIDS patient. The violent nausea caused by the handfuls of pills he must take every day prevents anything he eats from staying down. Even the pill to calm the vomiting won't stay in his stomach long enough to take effect. He has lost nearly forty pounds and is unrecognizable, even to himself. He has given up on life, and he dreads each day because of the pain and the sorrow it brings.

 

Now imagine there's a drug that may help Peter, a drug that helps him keep food down or even makes him hungry, a drug that helps him gain weight, a drug that gives him the hope that he will live long enough to see a cure, a drug that helps him accept what's happening to his body. For Peter and many other patients, this drug is marijuana.

 

Marijuana was first outlawed in the 1920's and 30's when tabloid magazines printed distorted reports of violent crimes committed by immigrants using marijuana which led to the "Marihuana Tax Act"("The Facts"). The two hearings held by Congress to debate the dangers of marijuana totaled no more than one hour with the American Medical Association (AMA) acting as the sole opponent to the bill. Arguments by the AMA were ignored, and misinformation and ignorance guided the House of Representatives as they approved the bill that remains today prohibiting the use of marijuana for any reason.

 

Yet smoking marijuana has proved itself again and again through anecdotal evidence to be an effective treatment of extreme nausea in AIDS patients as well as in cancer patients (Conant 150). It also relieves some symptoms associated with glaucoma and multiple sclerosis ("The Facts"). The People of California and Arizona knew this when they voted for Proposition 215, which passed 55 to 45 percent, and Proposition 200, which passed 64 to 36 percent, respectively (Quayle pg 154). These propositions legalized marijuana for medical use in each of the two states. Also, between the years 1978 and 1996, thirty-four states passed laws acknowledging marijuana's medicinal capabilities ("The Facts"). It would seem that many Americans are seeing marijuana as a valuable tool in the medical field and that further research into the medical benefits of marijuana could only be an asset in the fight to ease the pain of the dying.

 

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The government may have made a step in the right direction in 1998 when they provided one million dollars for research, but scientists were limited to studying only previous literature written about marijuana and were refused a clinical trial which some claim is a necessity. Also, a study to test the benefits of smoking marijuana was planned at the San Francisco General Hospital and even backed by the FDA, but, once again, the federal government refused to furnish them with the marijuana needed for the study (Conant pg 151).

 

With enough money, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will research marijuana for medical use and perhaps even look into its approval, but pharmaceutical companies refuse to invest in the FDA studies because they cannot place a patent on marijuana use and are therefore not guaranteed any profit from its legalization (Postrel 178). With the new substantial evidence that this illegal drug may have some medical use, is it not the responsibility of the government, who originally outlawed its use, to pay for further research into its possible benefits?

 

Opponents to the legalization of marijuana for medical use claim that it's just too dangerous to legalize. While there are side effects to using marijuana, compared to many other legalized drugs, its benefits far outweigh its dangers.

 

Take tobacco, for instance. Some claim it eases depression, creates a sense of calmness, and is horribly addictive (Rung). It is approved by the government, and it kills 430,000 people every year ("Comparative. . ."). Its benefits are so few, and its dangers are so monstrous; yet tobacco continues to be a legal drug for all American adults to buy and to use.

 

Alcohol is another example of a legal drug with enormously negative effects on society and with little evidence of benefits other than recreational use. It causes nearly 100,000 deaths every year, is often associated with violence and abuse, and is legal for anyone over the age of 21 (Ehrenreich 25). How can the government approve these drugs that have only recreational uses, and yet refuse to even research a drug that could benefit the dying?

 

Another argument opponents use against the legalization of marijuana for medical use is that there is no scientific evidence proving that smoking marijuana relieves medical conditions of any kind (Bennett 165). The truth is, there is no scientific evidence proving marijuana's effectiveness because the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), who have the power to provide marijuana to researchers for experimentation, refuse to supply them with the needed marijuana. They claim that if they supply one researcher, they will be flooded with requests from all researchers studying marijuana -- an excuse that does not justify their blatant opposition to the research of medicinal marijuana (Brookhiser 149)---.

 

"The situation is ironical," wrote Lester Grinspoon and James B. Bakalar in a 1995 editorial in the Journal of American Medical Association and quoted by Virgina L. Postrel, " . . . so much research has been done on marihuana (sic.) . . . we know more about it than about most prescription drugs" (175). Some of that research could go towards studying and proving the capabilities of marijuana as a medical tool, rather than the dangers of marijuana as a threat to society. Even a recommendation by the Institute of Medicine states that "Clinical trials of marijuana use for medical purposes should be conducted . . . in patients with conditions for which there is reasonable expectation of efficacy" (Benson). Of course, without permission from the DEA and the NIDA, it is "essentially impossible to do efficacy testing on a substance whose very possession is a crime" (Postrel 178). It's up to the United States Government to research and to amend its laws against a drug that has potential for medical use.

 

Imagine a future in which the government has supported the needed clinical studies on the medical benefits of marijuana. It has been found to be an effective treatment for nausea in AIDS and cancer patients as well as a remedy for some symptoms of other ailments. Imagine that Peter can receive a prescription for marijuana just as he could for any other prescribed drug, and each pound it helps him gain means another day he is allowed to live and await the arrival of a cure. Imagine that the debate over marijuana's effectiveness has ended because scientific studies have finally proven its true worth. If only the government would listen to the cries of the people, this futuristic, imaginary world could one day become a reality.


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