by Brittney Kokemiller
Marijuana abuse has become a very serious problem in the United States. Some states may refer to the substance as medicinal marijuana, however that is not how the majority of our population is using it. With the creation of dispensaries came a whole crowd of people with sudden back pain and anxiety problems, who all “needed” medical marijuana. It became extraordinarily easy to obtain a medical marijuana card and the rate of abuse among the non-ill population substantially increased; the numbers have become especially worrisome among adolescents. As the public’s general viewpoint on marijuana changed and more states began legalizing the drug for medicinal purposes, the scientific community exploded into debates on effectiveness vs. harm. While the debate continues within the states, the federal government has never wavered from marijuana being a Schedule I drug and therefore illegal on a federal level (Smith). The obvious problems created by current dispensary regulations call for a significant change in how those who really need it get their medicinal marijuana. These changes are needed in all areas: everywhere from the doctors who give the permission for the use of the drug, to the actual act of receiving the marijuana from the dispensaries. The health issues and the increasing abuse of this dangerous drug, call for a reform in the handling of medicinal marijuana within the states that have legalized it.
Records of marijuana used as medicine can be found as early as 2737 B.C. when the Emperor Shen Neng of China was prescribing marijuana tea for the treatment of gout, rheumatism, malaria and, oddly enough, poor memory. The drug’s popularity as a medicine spread throughout Asia, the Middle East and down the eastern coast of Africa. Certain Hindu sects in India used marijuana for religious purposes and stress relief. Ancient physicians prescribed marijuana for everything from pain relief to an ear ache to childbirth. Doctors, even then, warned against overuse of marijuana, believing that too much consumption caused impotence, blindness and “seeing devils.” By the late 18th century, early editions of American medical journals recommended hemp seeds and roots for the treatment of inflamed skin, incontinence and venereal disease. Beginning in 1906 with the creation of the Food and Drug Administration, America began to see tighter regulation of chemical substances. By 1937, 23 states had outlawed marijuana, and that same year the federal government passed the Marijuana Tax Act, which made non-medical use of marijuana illegal. In the 1950s Congress passed the Boggs Act and the Narcotics Control Act, which laid down mandatory sentences for drug offenders, including marijuana possessors and distributors. Since then the public’s views on marijuana use have changed and the long-term trend has moved toward relaxation of marijuana laws (“Medical Marijuana”).
California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, and since then 17 more have followed suit. The first marijuana dispensary in the United States was established in 1997 by Lynnette M. Shaw (“Owner”). This opened up a whole new concept of medicinal marijuana, and began to change the country’s viewpoint on legalization of the drug.
Organizations like NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), stick to the claim that liberalizing marijuana penalties does not lead to an increase in marijuana consumption or affect adolescent attitudes toward drug use. They argue that “There is no strong evidence that decriminalization affects either the choice or frequency drug use, either legal or illegal” (“Marijuana Decriminalization”). This however is not accurate. According to Ruben Baler, a neuroscientist with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Marijuana is addictive. According to the NIDA, about nine percent of people who use marijuana become dependent on it. The number increases to about one in six among those who start using it at a young age, and to 25% to 50% among daily users. More than 29 million Americans ages 12 and older—11.5%—reported using marijuana within the past year, according to NIDA numbers for 2010. That’s a significant increase over numbers reported each year from 2002 to 2008 (“DrugFacts“).
Marijuana abuse has significantly increased, causing a large doubt that the dispensaries are accomplishing the goal they were intended to. The original purpose of dispensaries was to provide medicinal marijuana for those with illnesses like cancer, AIDS and glaucoma. Now we have 18-year-old kids going to their doctor and saying that they are having muscle spasms, migraines, and severe nausea. This was not the intended purpose for these medical marijuana dispensaries. They were not created so that a kid who wants to make some money can go into his doctor and complain about an ongoing illness and receive the permission for a medical marijuana card. Letting the regulations behind who can obtain a card be so loose is only hurting our younger generations.
Advocates of recreational and medicinal marijuana use claim there are no great harms associated with marijuana, but studies show an abundance of health issues related to marijuana use. The main psychoactive (mind-altering) chemical in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. When marijuana is smoked, THC rapidly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream, which carries the chemical to the brain and other organs throughout the body. It is absorbed more slowly when ingested in food or drink (“DrugFacts“). THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, “hijacks and corrupts” the natural process of endocannabinoids, a key family of chemicals that help guide the brain in proper maturation, says Ruben Baler, a neuroscientist with the National Institute on Drug Abuse. These chemicals “play key roles in memory formation, learning, decision-making,” says Baler (“Marijuana’s Health Effects“).
Marijuana use is also associated with dependence, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance, and impaired cognitive and immune system functioning, among other negative effects. Studies have shown an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and schizophrenia. Other research has shown marijuana smoke to contain carcinogens and to be an irritant to the lungs. Marijuana smoke, in fact, contains 50‐70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke (“Marijuana Legalization“).
Marijuana is also addictive, at least psychologically. Even among occasional users, one in 12 can feel withdrawal symptoms if they can’t get high when they want to. Among heavy pot smokers, the rates of dependence are higher (“Marijuana Use“). It is also important to note that research clearly demonstrates that marijuana has the potential to cause problems in daily life or make a person’s existing problems worse. In fact, heavy marijuana users generally 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. For example, marijuana use is associated with a higher likelihood of dropping out from school. Several studies also associate workers’ marijuana smoking with increased absences, tardiness, accidents, workers’ compensation claims, and job turnover (“DrugFacts”).
Because it seriously impairs judgment and motor coordination, marijuana also contributes to automobile accidents. A recent analysis of data from several studies found that marijuana use more than doubles a driver’s risk of being in an accident (“DrugFacts”).
Here lies one of the biggest problems: all of the symptoms and after-effects experienced when using the drug only increase as the smoker gets younger. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, says that teenagers are especially more vulnerable to addiction and those who start smoking pot at a younger age are at higher risk. The most disturbing new studies about early teenage use of marijuana showed that young adults who started smoking pot regularly before they were 16 performed significantly worse on cognitive tests of brain function than those who had started smoking later in adolescence (Rabin). This may seem as if is just a bunch of numbers and statistics from a doctor, however these numbers become very true when we see how much of our adolescent population are smoking this harmful drug. According to recent government studies, as many as 30% of today’s teenagers are smoking marijuana (“Marijuana Use“).
Since the legalization of medicinal marijuana has increased among our states, the idea that drugs are something to be avoided has all but disappeared. Experimentation has drastically increased among teenagers. In Colorado medical marijuana became legal as of June 1, 2001. Governor Bill Ritter signed a bill that became effective as of June 7, 2010 that allowed the creation of dispensaries (“18 Legal”). As of January 31, 2009, the number of registered medical marijuana users was 5,051; however, when Colorado loosened restrictions on who could cultivate and distribute medical marijuana in 2010 this number shot up. This resulted in 2.3% of Colorado’s adult population possessing a medical marijuana registration as of July 2012 (Salomonsen-Saute et al. 694).
The fact that such a large part of one state’s population possesses medical marijuana cards is outrageous and makes it obvious that they are being handed out to those who do not really need the drug. There are six simple steps needed to obtain a card; they are:
- Prepare a government-Issued Identification card.
- Provide a proof of your county residency.
- Get a Recommendation letter from a doctor.
- Prepare around $150 as payment.
- Bring everything to the county health department.
- You have to wait for about a month before health department releases your ID card (“How to Get” ).
It is too easy to obtain one, and there are loopholes that too many people have found. For example, approved conditions for medical marijuana are AIDS, anorexia, arthritis, cachexia, cancer, chronic pain, glaucoma, migraine, persistent muscle spasms, including spasms associated with multiple sclerosis, seizures, including seizures associated with epilepsy, severe nausea; other chronic or persistent medical symptoms (“Medical Marijuana”). The “other” raises serious question about the validity of these so called conditions that “require” a medical marijuana card. Because marijuana use does cause so much harm to your body and your mind it is a big problem that so many people are abusing it. The problems with the current system should not continue to go unnoticed, and there are things that can be changed to fix these current problems.
The first is the number of conditions that medical marijuana is used to treat. For many of the conditions that are accepted, there are actually other medicines that are offered to cure or treat it. For illnesses like cancer it is completely understandable that you would want to try what ever it would take to make you feel better, and so it should remain on the list. Conditions like muscle spasms, anxiety and depression however are not necessary. All three of these conditions have proven and measurable medication that is offered; marijuana is neither proven or measurable.
Another point that needs to be fixed in current legislation is personal cultivation. Dispensaries were created for a reason, to provide the marijuana. There is absolutely no reason for the person who is “sick” and/or their caregiver to be able to cultivate their own plants. The fact that anyone who can convince a doctor to write them a recommendation letter can cultivate, is just asking for continued drug abuse.
There is yet another problem needing to be solved: how to cut down on the number of people actually getting a doctor’s permission for a card. We need to start cracking down on those doctors who are giving out permissions for the purchase of a card. Right now the number of those with a card makes it obvious that there are frauds in the system.
Stricter regulations on dispensaries and who we are allowing to obtain a medical marijuana card are of vital importance. The adolescents of today are going to be the ones running things at some point; this is a scary thought when you consider what smoking pot is doing to their young brains and bodies now. Mental illness and decreased brain function are the ultimate threats to a young developing brain exposed to marijuana. Is that combination really who we want our future leaders to be? There is a reason drinking and smoking age requirements exist. A young brain is still making neurological connections and needs the ability to do that. Allowing adolescents to get hold of this harmful substance is irresponsible of our leaders, our parents, and our country. We are just asking for trouble in the future if we do not squelch this problem now. While I do not deny that marijuana is useful for some illnesses, I do not believe there are no harmful side effects. Science says that the THC in marijuana is harmful to both our bodies and our brains. The substance is even more dangerous in an adolescent and in someone with mental illness in their genes. Because of the possible harms of the drug and the legalization of medical marijuana in a good portion of the United States, it is vital that we ensure regulations of medical marijuana are secure.
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