In the book that I co-wrote with my good friend, Donal O’Mathuna, Ph.D., Alternative Medicine: The options, the claims, the evidence, how to choose wisely, we wrote an evidence-based article on marijuana. Here’s our second excerpt of that information:
In the first excerpt, we discussed “What It Is.” Today, we’ll discuss “The Claims People Make about Marijuana.” In future installments, we’ll discuss, “Study Findings,” “Cautions,” and finally, “Our Recommendations.”
The Claims People Make about Marijuana
During the nineteenth century, medical journals and pharmacopoeias recommended marijuana as an appetite stimulant, muscle relaxant, pain reliever, hypnotic agent, and anticonvulsant. Most of marijuana’s current use centers around its ability to induce euphoria, relaxation, sexual arousal, and give a general “high.” Although some would like to see marijuana legalized as a recreational drug, we will address only the controversy about its medical use.
On the one side are those who claim marijuana should be available under medical supervision for nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, to lower intraocular pressure in glaucoma, to stimulate appetite in AIDS patients who have difficulty maintaining their weight, to treat multiple sclerosis, as an anticonvulsant and muscle relaxant with certain spastic disorders, and to relieve chronic pain.
On the other side of this issue are those who might agree that marijuana has some of these effects, but would argue that it should still not be legalized for three reasons:
- There are more effective treatments available for all these conditions.
- Marijuana, especially smoking marijuana, can have negative effects, not the least of which is dependence. For this reason, they would prefer that purified substances like Marinol be used, not marijuana joints.
- Marijuana is believed to be a “gateway” drug. Those who use other illicit drugs have usually tried marijuana earlier. The claim is that marijuana acts as a “gateway” to these other drugs, and that making it available medically would lead to patients and others trying other illicit drugs.
The debate over whether marijuana has a legitimate medical use has similarities to that over other herbal remedies. Some give compelling anecdotal reports of people with cancer or AIDS or multiple sclerosis being helped by smoking marijuana, who then have to face the anxiety and embarrassment of obtaining marijuana from drug dealers. Even if its medical use were legalized, the familiar questions arise concerning quality and consistency. But this herbal debate is complicated by claims that marijuana is addictive and harmful.
Equally compelling stories exist of people’s lives being ruined by marijuana. Some of these people started using marijuana out of curiosity or due to peer pressure. Some are concerned that legitimizing the herb in any way will lead to more people getting hooked on it.
However the legal and political situation gets resolves, the first step is to resolve the medical debate, and that centers around the results of research on marijuana and its cannabinoids.
Here’s the entire series: