Today, the debate concerning the legalization of medical marijuana raises a number of ethical and medical concerns which provoke the growing tension between opponents of the legalization of marijuana and its supporters. Traditionally, marijuana was subject to severe criticism from the part of the public as well as health care professionals because marijuana is a drug and like other drugs it has a negative impact on human health and behavior. On the other hand, studies of marijuana have revealed the fact that marijuana can be helpful in treatment of certain illnesses, including such serious diseases as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and others. As soon as these scientific findings became available to the public, the debate over the legalization of medical marijuana has started and the debate persists today. In fact, the legalization of marijuana is an extremely controversial issue because, on the one hand, marijuana can relief sufferings of terminally patients and help to treat patients suffering from serious diseases, such as the Alzheimer’s disease or cancer, whereas, on the other hand, marijuana, even if it is used for medical purposes, is still a drug and its legalization can increase the risk of traffic and consumption of marijuana not only in medical purposes but also by drug addicts. To put it in simple words, the debate concerning the medical marijuana is grounded on the problem of choice between marijuana as a medicament and its positive effects, and marijuana as a drug and its negative effects.
Marijuana and the public opinion
The majority of the population has a negative attitude to marijuana because marijuana is traditionally associated with drugs. At the same time, today, it is obvious that the view on marijuana as a drug is a bit exaggerated. At any rate, the public perceives marijuana as a drug above all, whereas its potential as a medicament is apparently underestimated (Kreit, 1788). In this respect, it is possible to estimate that the public opinion is shaped under the impact of biases and stereotypes.
On the other hand, there are objective factors that raise an extremely negative attitude of the public to marijuana. At this point, it is worth mentioning the fact that marijuana is one of the most widely-spread drugs, whereas drug-related crimes tend to rise in the modern society.
In fact, the problem of drug-related crimes is a very serious problem of the present epoch and contemporary society and marijuana is an important part of this problem. In actuality, a large number of crimes are provoked or related to the drug consumption. In this respect, it is important to underline that drugs force people to commit crimes, even though people do not have criminal inclinations. Consequently, the solution of the problem of the drug consumption could partially solve the problem of the growing crime rates since the number of drug-related offenses would have decreased along with the decreasing level of the drug consumption.
In this respect, it should be said that the contemporary society, to a significant extent, provokes the drug consumption since various drugs are available to people. In spite of the illegal status of drugs people still can buy drugs and often they are seduced by a perspective of using drugs because their effects produce a profound impact on the psychological state of an individual. In fact, in psychological terms, the use of drugs should be viewed as an attempt of people to escape from reality and the problems they have in their real life (Nestler and Malenka, 2004). The short-running state of euphoria is the main attraction that makes people consuming drugs. However, such an effect does not last for a long period of time. Physiologically, human body gets used to the consumption of drugs and their use does not produce a euphoric effect on the mind and consciousness of people. Instead, a strong, physiological dependence on drugs of an addict is formed.
In such a way, in addition to a natural desire of people to escape from the psychological pressure of the real world, the physiological addiction becomes another factor that forces people to consume drugs and that eventually forces them commit crimes. To put it more precisely, drugs actually produce a poisonous effect on human body, but, at the same time, the consumption of drugs leads to the development of physiological need to consume drugs (Koob, 1997). Otherwise, a drug addict suffers from a serious deterioration of his or her physiological state provoked by the lack of the drug, which human body, being once accustomed to in the result of frequent consumption of the drug, need this drug since it provides a desirable relief from physical sufferings of the addict.
In fact, the regular consumption becomes a physiological needs but it changes the behavior of an individual and his or her character dramatically. As a rule, drug addicts become more aggressive, self-assured and they do not care about social norms of behavior. At the same time, they cannot always afford buying drugs that forces them to commit crimes to get some money for the next dope. On the other hand, it is worth mentioning the fact that it is the lower layers of society are particularly susceptible to drug-related crimes because the lack of money soon forces them to commit crimes (Leavitt, 2003). However, the middle and upper classes are not secured from drug-related crimes.
Obviously, the public stands on the ground that marijuana is a drug and as any other drug it can provoke deviant behavior of drug addicts. In addition, people, being conscious of negative effects of drugs, believe that marijuana can cause death of drug addicts. However, at this point, it is possible to refer to the table 1 (See appendices), which shows that marijuana cannot be ranked among the major causes of death in the US. On the other hand, the negative effects of marijuana as a drug are undeniable because marijuana can develop drug addiction and force drug addicts to consume other drugs, such as cocaine. In such a context, the question of the legalization of the medical marijuana arises.
As it has been already mentioned above, the public opinion concerning marijuana is extremely biased and determined by existing stereotypes. However, marijuana has a considerable potential as a medicament. At any rate, medical marijuana can be very helpful in the treatment of patients suffering from the Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and even opioid dependence. The major problem that turns the public opinion against the legalization of medical marijuana is the lack of information of the actual potential of medical marijuana and its possible effects on the health of patients suffering from serious diseases.
Firstly, many researchers (Koob, 485) stress the fact that medical marijuana has to be legalized because it can be implemented in the medicine and in the treatment of patients, including terminally ill patients. The latter is particularly important because terminally ill patients, for instance patients suffering from cancer at the final stage of the disease, do need drug medication. At any rate, medicaments used in the treatment of such patients, especially when health care professionals attempt to ease physical sufferings of such patients, have to use medicaments which are similar in their medical characteristics to drugs or, what is more, include drug as essential ingredients. In such a context, marijuana is not the worst drug to be used in medication of such patients because it does not have such significant and dangerous side-effects compared to other drugs and medicaments. Even though medical marijuana increases the risk of the development of lungs-related health problems, marijuana brings patients desirable relief from physical sufferings.
Moreover, recent researchers concerning the use of medical marijuana in the treatment of patients with cancer have revealed the fact that marijuana can reduce tumor growth in common lung cancer by 50 percent and to reduce significantly the ability of the cancer to spread (Cohen, 21). In such a way, the treatment of cancer with the help of medical marijuana can slow down the development of cancer and, thus, increase the overall effectiveness of treatment.
Furthermore, supporters of the legalization of medical marijuana (Nestler and Malenka, 79) lay emphasis on the fact that medical marijuana can help in the treatment of the Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, the Alzheimer’s disease can lead to irrevocable changes in health of patients, whereas medical marijuana is a very prospective alternative to traditional medicaments and techniques of treatment of this disease. In this regard, specialists (Cohen, 22) argue that the active element in marijuana, THC, prevents the formation of deposits in the brains associated with the Alzheimer’s disease. In such a way, medical marijuana can prevent the development of the Alzheimer’s disease or, at least, slow down its development consistently.
In addition, researchers (Leavitt, 219) have revealed potential positive effects of using medical marijuana in the treatment of HIV/AIDS.
One of the recent studies (Christenson, 176) have shown that patients who inhaled marijuana daily experienced substantial increases in food intake with little evidence of discomfort and no impairment of cognitive performance. These findings imply that medical marijuana can be used in the treatment of patients suffering from HIV/AIDS and improved physical conditions of patients consistently. Naturally, medical marijuana cannot cure HIV/AIDS but it can bring the desirable relief to patients and maintain them in a relatively good shape if the treatment is properly managed.
Moreover, medical marijuana can decrease or even eliminate the opioid dependence. Paradoxically, marijuana, which was traditional considered to be a drug, can be potentially used to eliminate opioid addiction. At any rate, one of the recent studies (Mcdonough, 52) have revealed the fact that injections of THC eliminate the opioid dependence in the subjects of the study ”“ rats. Naturally, it is impossible to estimate that medical marijuana will have the same effect on humans, but it has the potential to be used in the treatment of drug addicts.
Thus, the aforementioned benefits of medical marijuana encourage specialists as well as average citizens (Wolf, 152) to support the idea of the legalization of medical marijuana. In fact, the legalization of marijuana is essential because, as long as medical marijuana, being a drug, is legally banned, health care professionals cannot use it for medical purpose in the treatment of patients. What is more, health care professional cannot even conduct extensive experiments and researches to reveal the full potential of medical marijuana. As a result, patients suffering from serious diseases cannot take the medical treatment involving the use of medical marijuana. The legalization of medical marijuana would open the way to large scale researches of the potential of medical marijuana, whereas its application can help many patients and slow down the development of such diseases as the Alzheimer’s disease. The latter is particularly important because the development of such diseases as the Alzheimer’s disease leads to irrevocable changes and deprives patients of an opportunity to lead a normal lifestyle. Consequently, the legalization of medical marijuana could help them to maintain the normal lifestyle, if not to say to save their lives.
In spite of obvious advantages and benefits of the legalization of medical marijuana, the opposition to the legalization persists and even grows stronger. The major reason of the opposition to the legalization of medical marijuana is the fear of losing control over medical marijuana. To put it more precisely, opponents of the legalization of medical marijuana (Nestler and Malenka, 81) argue that law enforcement agencies and health care professionals will be unable to control the circulation of medical marijuana after its legalization. At any rate, the legalization of medical marijuana raises the problem of control over its use, sales and prescription because there is a risk of misuse of power or professional negligence from the part of health care professionals as well as law enforcement agents that can lead to the use of medical marijuana in non-medical purposes. To put it in simple words, the legalization of medical marijuana increases the risk of the rise of marijuana consumption among drug addicts and especially among the youth.
In addition, opponents of the legalization of medical marijuana (Mcdonough, 54) argue that the legalization of medical marijuana can lead to the cultivation of marijuana in the US en masse, whereas the consumption of the marijuana cultivated in the US will be uncontrollable because there is a risk of misuse of medical marijuana and illegal supplies of marijuana to drug dealers. At this point, it is possible to refer to experience of other countries, which actually backs up the anxiety of opponents of the legalization of medical marijuana. For instance, some South American countries, such as Columbia, allowed local the cultivation of Coca that provoked the emergence of the cultivation of this plant and the unparalleled growth of drug traffic from these countries to the US and worldwide. Therefore, the existence of the legal pretext for cultivation of plants, which can be used as drugs, increases the risk of the growth of drug production and consumption.
Furthermore, opponents of the legalization of medical marijuana (Nestler and Malenka, 82) are uncertain in the positive impact of marijuana on health of patients. To put it more precisely, they argue that current researches, which have revealed potential positive effects of marijuana on human health, underestimate the actual impact of marijuana on patients’ health. In fact, medical marijuana can have dangerous side effects, whereas its positive impact cannot be absolutely guaranteed because, in the situation, when medical marijuana is not legalized, it is impossible to conduct reliable and valid experiments and tests.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the debate over the legalization of medical marijuana persists. In such a situation, it is possible to recommend developing an effective strategy, a program of the prevention of the consumption of drugs, which should include the development of educational programs and the community involvement in the treatment of drugs. The legalization of drugs does not seem to be an effective solution of the problem, but stricter punishment for the storage and use of drugs may improve the situation.
At the same time, under certain conditions, medical marijuana can be legalized because the potential of medical marijuana in the treatment of patients suffering from serious diseases, including terminally ill patients is very significant. In this respect, the major condition of the legalization of medical marijuana is the strict control over the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana within the health care system as well as the strict control over the prescription of medical marijuana to patients. In such a way, it will be possible to prevent the risk of the illegal use of medical marijuana and, simultaneously, many patients will get a chance to improve their health due to the medicament treatment, involving medical marijuana. Nevertheless, the process of legalization of medical marijuana should be controlled not only by policy-makers and law enforcement agencies, but also by health care system and the public. Only through the strict control it will be possible to legalize marijuana for medical use only in the US.