Tension and Contradiction Over the Medical Use of Marijuana

The debate over the recreational and medical use of marijuana has recently received a huge amount of media attention.  

With twenty states having legalized the medical use of marijuana and the voters of Colorado and Washington legalizing the recreational use of the drug for adults age 21 and over, the debate over marijuana is largely in the public conscience.  

While the use of marijuana has been decriminalized and medically approved in certain states, the federal government continues to list cannabis as a Schedule I drug, meaning that there is "currently no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse" and "…with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence" when users put the drug into their bodies.  

An interesting contradiction occurs when medical professionals, such as doctors and pharmacists, argue that marijuana can indeed have medical benefits to treat symptoms and conditions such as nausea, vomiting, anxiety, seizures and depression.  This paper will explore the contradiction between the US government’s opinions and laws regarding the use of marijuana and the opinion of many medical professionals, such as CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who recently reversed his opposition to the medical use of cannabis.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana causes users to "…report lower life satisfaction, poorer mental and physical health, relationship problems, and less academic and career success compared to their peers who came from similar backgrounds."     The Institute continues to argue against every pro marijuana argument one could possibly think of, including brushing aside evidence of medical uses of the drug, by stating "as the marijuana plant contains hundreds of chemical compounds that may have different effects and that vary from plant to plant, its use as a medicine is difficult to evaluate."   The interesting point to note about the NIDA’s sources, however, is that this organization conducts its own research.  NIDA fails to mention any independent or outside studies that don’t have the hand of the government guiding what is studied and reported.  NIDA has a link for further information about its own marijuana studies at the end of the fact section about the drug.

The opinion of Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, has recently reversed from one of opposition to using marijuana as a medicinal substance to one of encouraging the use of cannabis to treat patients suffering from great pain.  Dr. Gupta explained in an opinion piece that "I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a Schedule I substance because of sound scientific proof" and "They [the Drug Enforcement Agency] didn’t have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works."  

Dr. Gupta goes on to explain the contradiction in the fact that the FDA will approve prescription pain medications that have an extremely high potential for abuse and that leads to accidental overdose deaths once every nineteen minutes across the US, but yet not one documented case of a marijuana overdose can be uncovered.   Despite this contradiction, the federal government continues to list the drug along with truly dangerous substances such as heroine and seems unwilling to change its stance anytime soon.

Furthermore, Dr. Gupta cites a survey of physicians in which 76% responded by saying marijuana would greatly assist women experiencing pain from complications of breast cancer.

Dr. Gupta then mentions the fact that studying marijuana is incredible difficult.  As an illegal substance, it is difficult for scientists to study the potential medical benefits of marijuana, and getting approval can prove to be more laborious than some scientists are willing to deal with.

It is obvious that there is a major contradiction and tension between the medical community and the federal government regarding the use of marijuana as a medicine.  The conclusions of the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s studies don’t support the real world experiences of doctors and patients involved with medical marijuana in legal markets.

The debate over the use of medical marijuana will continue on both the local and national levels, but it seems that medical use will be accepted across the nation shortly.  Twenty states and Washington, D.C. have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana, and more seem poised to do so soon.   The federal government will likely continue to penalize and shut down medical marijuana operations so long as these operations remain illegal under federal law, but if the medical and recreational communities continue to promote evidence contrary to the draconian views of the federal government, an interesting trend that has the potential to make history will continue to emerge.

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