Ethical Issues in Medical Marijuana
Hazards of Medical Marijuana.
A constant debate on the medical usage of Marijuana arises from the science of medicine as it also does from cultures, conflicting values, and politics. Arguments that array pharmaceutical product sourcing from plants have justified the usage of the plant in treating medical conditions dealing with nausea and pain in patients. This debate has created an ethical dilemma in some states where the distribution and possession of therapeutic cannabis have been forenamed illegal.
Marijuana consists of dried flowers, stems, seeds and leaves of the hemp plant. The plant also referred to as Cannabis sativa, comprises of the brain-altering delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) chemical and compounds related to it (Balakrishnan 26). The plant can also be used to make extracts of THC for various purposes. Marijuana has been aforementioned to be the most widely used illicit drug in the United States (Balakrishnan 30). Medical Marijuana is a term used to refer to the utilization of the entire natural cannabis plant or the essential extracts acquired from it for the treatment of certain symptoms. The marijuana plant has not been fully approved or recognized as a medicinal drug by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (Berlatsky 27). Scientific research on some of the chemicals in marijuana has nonetheless led to the FDA approving two medications containing the marijuana chemicals. The two approved drugs are in pill form and contain the required amount of cannabinoid chemicals. More research on the medicinal value of the plant is still ongoing; these may result in more medications from the FDA. This article analyzes in great detail some of the hazards of medicinal marijuana as well as the laws governing its use.
Due to the ability of the chemicals in the Cannabis plant to treat some conditions, there has been a continuous public support for it to be legalized for medical purposes. A growing number of states have in fact authorized its use as medicine, California being the first of them (Berlatsky 32). These states have passed laws safeguarding usage of the drug for purposes of treatment. These state laws legalizing Marijuana do not alter the fact that Marijuana use, according to the Federal Law, remains an offense. The rules do not change the process by which the FDA approves safe and powerful medicine either. Different states have distinct ways of implementing the state laws governing the medicinal use of marijuana. Many states have been involved in endless debates over the legality, efficacy, and safety of their laws on marijuana. Some governments has gone as far as creating enforcement regulations and zoning to prevent marijuana clinics from operating within their societies (Berlatsky 40). Important to note, is the fact that Marijuana has been determined to be a hazardous drug by the Congress (Berlatsky 47). The sale and distribution of Marijuana are acclaimed to be a serious offense as far as the Congress is concerned.
The department of justice, on August 29, 2013, issued guidelines on the Federal prosecutions regarding Marijuana (Borglet 33). These instructions of usage are now available on the department’s website and give further detail (Borglet 36). Most of the Marijuana retailed as medicine has similar qualities and pose the same health hazards as the typical marijuana traded on the streets. The particular interest in the Marijuana chemicals for the treatment of certain conditions has however led scientists to breed the marijuana plant especially. The produced plants have since been used to make the marijuana cannabinoids in oil form that is then used to treat certain conditions. The cannabinoids are marijuana chemicals related to THC; more than 100 cannabinoids exist within every marijuana plant (Donatelle 24). To those who use marijuana for recreational purposes, these drugs may be undesirable since they are not as intoxicating as the unprocessed ones. However, some illegal manufacturers as well as scientists have come up with different types of cannabinoids in the lab (Gieringer 22). Some of these are exceptionally powerful and have led to serious health effects when improperly used. The body has also been discovered to produce its cannabinoids which aid in certain body functions (Gieringer 30). These functions are like memory, concentration, thinking, pressure regulation, body movements, and senses. However beneficial the drug might be regarding its medicinal properties, many concerns have been raised about it. These concerns are majorly due to the various scientific findings on the effects of using this drug whether for recreation or treatment. Growing evidence exists about the severe mental health complications brought about by the use of marijuana. A major study published in the National Academy of Sciences Proceedings of August 2012 provides evidence that the long-term use of marijuana adversely affects the brain (Haerens 19). The study reveals that the drug detrimentally affects the intellectual function of adults especially those who started using it during their teen years. The impairment kept increasing with increasing dependency on the drug according to the study. Participants who started the use during their teens and went on to adulthood showed a notable decline in their intelligence quotient (IQ) (Halden 39). Even after quitting smoking, the neuropsychological deficits were never recovered amongst the long-term users (Halden 39).
Those who never used cannabis showed no significant decline in their IQ (Halden 40). Another study by doctors at the Harvard Medical School and the Northwestern University revealed that brain regions might differ in shape and size due to the usage of marijuana (McCarthy 50). The parts involved in emotion and motivation took a different shape and size in the brains of those who used marijuana at least once weekly (McCarthy 51). The findings of this research indicate that recreational use of marijuana can lead to previously undetected brain changes in the user. The study strongly challenges the notion that the casual use of marijuana does not carry along severe consequences with it. Researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental health in Toronto went through some U.S data on mentally ill and mentally stable citizens (Merino 52). According to them, the data suggested that residents with mental illness were seven times more probable to use the drug weekly than their mentally stable counterparts (Merino 53). The mentally ill fellows were also discovered to be ten times more likely to suffer a cannabis use disorder (Merino 54). Amongst the mentally ill ones reporting marijuana use, rates of use were specifically elevated for those with bipolar disorder or other substance use disorders (Merino 55).
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) funded a study on the usage of drugs carried out by researchers from the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the Maryland University (Minamide 34). The study discovered that one in every ten college students in their first year at a mid-Atlantic college had a cannabis use disorder (CUD) (Minamide 35). Students who had used marijuana at least five times in the previous year, regardless of whether they met the CUD threshold, recounted problems concerning the cannabis use (Minamide 35). 25 percent of them reported having put themselves in physical danger more than once (Minamide 37). 40 percent said reduced concentration levels and 18 percent recounted drugged driving (Minamide 37). A report by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONCPD) about marijuana use and depressions amongst teens revealed that depressed teenagers are twice more likely to use marijuana (Parkin 23). The research also discovered that using marijuana could worsen depression as most of the teens reported increased depression upon continuous use of marijuana (Parkin 23). The increased depression could lead to anxiety disorders, schizophrenia or even suicide (Parkin 24).
The director of ONDCP, John Walters, and other experts from the organizations involved in the research joined hands to warn parents about the risks their children are exposed to when they use Marijuana (Parkin 22). The study carried out by the team indicates that using cannabis triples the chances of having suicidal thoughts and doubles the danger of sinking into depression (Parkin 25). Many of these side effects not only affect the youths, adults too fall victims to nearly similar symptoms. The rate of thinking, memory, and other intellectual abilities worsen over time with the use of marijuana according to a study published in March 2006 (Parkin 25). The study revealed that people who used marijuana frequently fared poorly on intellectual tests if put against those who used it less often or did not use it at all (“The Science of Marijuana” 20). Those who had used cannabis for more than a decade had more issues concerning their thinking abilities than those who had used it for between five and ten years (Tuyl 13). All the respondents in this survey were heavy users; smoking at least four joints a week (Tuyl 14).
Researchers from Australia recount that prolonged heavy usage of marijuana may be linked to abnormalities in the structure of the brain parts that govern emotion, memory and aggression (Widener 29). Scans of the brain revealed a 12 percent smaller hippocampus and 7 percent more miniature amygdala in men who smoked at least five cigarettes of marijuana daily over the past decade (Widener 35). The lead researcher, Dr. Yucel, stated that the new evidence would be useful in further comprehending the impacts of marijuana on the brain (Widener 43). The study was the very first to provide evidence for the fact that prolonged marijuana usage could adversely affect everyone (Widener 46). This is contrary to the belief that only high-risk groups like the mentally ill are the ones at risk of being adversely affected by the vice. The danger of smoking marijuana during pregnancy was cited by a study published in an American journal in March 2008 (Widener 41). It was evident from the study that there is a substantial inter-relation between the intelligence of a child and exposure to marijuana. The researchers then came to a conclusion that parental exposure to marijuana substantially affected the development of school-age intellect of the child (Widener 43). A study by NIDA doctors discovered that marijuana smokers had changes in the flow of blood in their brains even after a full month of not smoking (Parkin 57). The pulsatility index (PI) of cannabis users was also discovered to be fairly higher than that of diabetes and chronic hypertension patients (Parkin 58). This finding suggests that using marijuana causes abnormalities in the brain’s small blood vessels. This particular finding could partly explain the thinking and memory problems found in users from other studies.
Using marijuana also affects the physical well-being of the users in both the long and short-term. In concurrence to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), 1,252,000 visits were made to the emergency department (ED) concerning prohibited drugs (Halden 49). Out of these visits, 455,668 were due to marijuana (). 19% increased the ED visits due to marijuana between 2009 and 2011 (Halden 50). Marijuana caused the majority of visits made by patients below 20 years involved in drug and substance abuse (Halden 51). On an ordinary day in 2010, 266 drug-related visits to the ED for youth between 12 and 17 years were recorded to be involving marijuana (Halden 52). A separate report by NIDA stated that using marijuana makes the heart beat 20 to 100% times faster shortly after smoking (Halden 53). This effect was reported as being able to last for more than three hours (Halden 53). A separate study reported that cannabis users, within the first hour after smoking, have almost 48% higher chances of suffering a heart attack (Gieringer 60). Another study conducted at the Erasmus University Medical Center in Netherlands revealed that pregnant women who smoked cannabis jeopardized the chances of a safe development of the baby in the womb. Babies born by the marijuana users who took part in the study had smaller heads and had less weight than other newborns. All these characteristics are linked with memory, thinking and demeanor problems during childhood (Gieringer 61).
A long-term study was later conducted by the University of Otago New Zealand, school of dentistry on more than 900 of the country’s citizens (McCarthy 74). This study found that heavy smoking of marijuana contributes to gum diseases as well as the commonly known effects of smoking tobacco (McCarthy 75). Canadian researchers in December 2007 reported that marijuana smoke contains more toxic substances than the tobacco smoke (McCarthy 76). The smoke has compounds like ammonia and hydrogen cyanide that are very harmful to a human’s health (McCarthy 77). Ammonia levels were found to be twenty times lower in tobacco smoke than in marijuana smoke (McCarthy 78). Marijuana, therefore, worsens the breathing complications that might already exist in tobacco smokers. For New Zealanders above 40 years, marijuana smoking was found to increase the odds of getting Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 3.5-fold (McCarthy 81). A New Zealand study reported that marijuana smoking may account for approximately 5 percent of lung cancer incidences in the country (Haerens 55). Frequent or prolonged use of marijuana was also found to amplify a person’s risk of developing serious cancer of the testis, seminoma substantially. Seminoma is a rapid growing malignancy in the testes that often strikes between the ages of 20 and 35 (Haerens 57). Besides this, marijuana smoking has been discovered to have a close correlation to bladder cancer. While studying younger patients with intermediate bladder cancer, Dr. Terriss discovered that 88 percent of them had a history of smoking marijuana (Haerens 58). Smoke from marijuana cigarettes has similar substance containing tar and gets more into the blood than tobacco (Haerens 63). This is because the cigarettes are not filtered, and users hold the smoke in their lungs for long. While acknowledging the fact that more research is needed on this subject, Dr. Terriss recommended that doctors investigate marijuana in young patients with traces of blood in their urine (Haerens 65).
Marijuana not only has an effect on the mental and physical well-being of human beings. Its growing does have an adverse influence on the environment too. The state Department of Fish and Game (DFG) wardens of California discussed cases involving diversion of water from creeks in 2010 (Merino 36). The wardens’ spokesman stated that people deny the wildlife of its much-needed water when they divert water from streams to marijuana plantations. The chemicals used for cultivation by the farmers are then allowed to flow back into the creek poisoning everything along their path. The spokesman added that death of fish then, unlike two decades ago, was significantly propelled by marijuana farming (Merino 38).
Scientists in California conducted yet another study on marijuana growing in forests to assess the effect that it has on the environment (Minamide 78). In a 37 square mile region, they counted up to 281 outdoor marijuana farms and 286 greenhouses all irrigated by water from creeks (Minamide 80). The farms were reported to be siphoning an estimated 18 million gallons of water needed by the salmon from the watershed annually (Minamide 81). The runoff due to fertilizer together with the below normal water flow in the rivers due to diversions has caused an increased growth of poisonous blue-green algae. The outbreak poses a threat to swimmers and kills the invertebrates that Salmons need to survive. In 2001, 11 dogs ingested the algae and died from the intoxication (Halden 53). The farming has also negatively impacted on the rejuvenation of the salmon runs that were getting better after decades of logging (Gieringer 81). Every growth of marijuana has its damage. Indoor urban growers do not pollute the rivers, but their plants guzzle a significant amount of energy. A Journal of Energy Policy study revealed that indoor planting of marijuana could be responsible for up to 9 percent of Household electricity use in California (Merino 74). A National Forest Service report states that in 2012, an illegal growth of marijuana took place in up to 67 national forests through 20 states causing damage to the environment (Merino 77). These farms were an important contributing factor to the 2009 drought in California (Merino 90).
Using marijuana as a drug has been found to lead the users into abusing other drugs as well. Cannabis is a regular precursor to the abuse of more dangerous drugs (McCarthy 94). Teens who abuse the drug risk getting involved with other drugs and are likely to face drug-related problems in their lives as adults. Once they are addicted to marijuana, the teens are likely to become social hazards themselves. In a 2008 report by CASA, youths who had been booked for certain crimes were found to be four times more probable of having previously abused marijuana than those who had never been arrested (Minamide 88). According to the report, the earlier a person begins to use marijuana, the higher their probability of being arrested (Minamide 89). Cannabis is also known to be an important contributing factor to delinquency and aggressive conduct. A report released by ONDCP in June 2007 indicates that teenagers who use marijuana or other drugs are more likely to participate in violent activities (Merino 101). The report goes further to state that early use of cannabis is an indicator of a future life in crime.
In conclusion, medical marijuana has been assessed for many varied purposes. Registrants of medical marijuana use it mostly for general pains and muscle spasms (Haerens 71). Data has it that marijuana can be very effective for such conditions, especially where regular therapy has failed. The use of marijuana is however not very advisable due to the numerous effects on the human systems discussed in this paper. While administering treatment using medicinal marijuana to adolescents and patients with a mental illness history, great caution should be observed. This is because the two groups stand a higher risk of being adversely affected by the drug. Just as it is viewed with many other medications, patients using the medical marijuana should ensure it is kept safely away from children’s reach. Therefore, while using marijuana for medicinal purposes, one needs to observe caution with the dosage, storage, and disposal.
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