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Biology 103
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Cannabis: Passing the Pipe to Cancer Patients

Mary Rochelle

Medicinal marijuana use has been debated long and hard for years everywhere from state courts all the way to the supreme court. It has recently been announced that the University of California is launching a study of cannabis (the botanical term for marijuana), the first in over two decades ((1)). This research is going to be directed toward determining whether or not the use of marijuana to ease the suffering of the terminally ill is really a valid exploitation. Though marijuana does have relaxing results when smoked or taken orally, some believe that it causes more serious damage to the brain and that repeated use can cause dependence ((2)).

There are a variety of illnesses that cannabis would be used medicinally for. Most of these illnesses are either terminal or have very long, painful treatment. One of the diseases that doctors have considered using marijuana to help treat is multiple sclerosis (MS) because of the tremors and muscle spasticity associated with the disease. Mice with similar symptoms to those associated with MS were treated with marijuana and it seemed to have a beneficial effect that lasted for hours. The nature of MS is that it slowly progresses along a person's spinal cord, causing swelling and interfering with the electrical signals sent out from spinal cord to control a person's everyday actions ((3)). The benefit of using marijuana is that the person afflicted with MS would not have as much trouble controlling his/her muscles due to relaxation.

The number one reason that patients seek the use of marijuana is pain. Whether it is intestinal pain, also known as visceral pain, which is characterized as a dull, constant ache somatic pain, or neuropathic pain, which is the result of damage to preipheral receptors. In contrast with current methods of pain relief, cannabis has unique side effects. While other pain relievers have limits on usage due to dose sizes and addiction, cannabis has side effects that can be considered medically useful. Another potential use for marijuana is to help relieve migraine headaches, however there has been no study done on its effectiveness for migraines. The main suggested uses for cannabis in the medical world are pain treatments for chemotherapy patients, postoperative pain, patients with insomnia or chronic pain, patients with spinal cord injury, or even patients suffering from anorexia ((4)).

One of the main reasons that people have opposed the use of marijuana is because they believe that it has addictive qualities like most other illegal drugs. Previously, studies to prove the addictivness of cannabis have been unsuccessful. Lab animals, when left to their own measures, have not repeatedly dosed themselves with the active ingredient in marijuana after receiving regular doses of it. However, as if the process needed more complication, a recent study with monkeys in New York showed the monkeys dosing themselves just as often as monkeys that were being used to test the addictiveness of cocaine. Though this does not indicate that cannabis is as addictive as cocaine, it does provide strong evidence that marijuana is addictive; even so there are many who would still maintain that marijuana is not addictive ((5)).

The debate over medicinal marijuana use is still being fought on both sides. As recently as August 2000, the Supreme Court banned the distribution of marijuana by doctors ((6)); California had passed state legislation that permitted doctors to prescribe the drug. Both sides of the argument have empirical sources for their claims and the pros and cons are hard to sort through. Though the typical marijuana supporter is characterized as a hippie who only wants to make it easier to access for recreational use, there are many valid organizations that fight for this issue - for example NORML, The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. NORML fights for medicinal use of marijuana as well as supporting the responsible recreational use by adults and proclaiming the economical benefits of growing hemp as a cash crop ((7)). .

WWW Sources

1) Is marijuana really medicine? Scientists search for answer, from CNN.com

2) Marijuana and Medicine, from the Institute of Medicine

3)Marijuana's Active Ingredient May Help Control Spasticity, from WebMD Health

4)Chapter 4: The Medical Value of Marijuana, from the Institute of Medicine

5)Monkeys seek repeated doses of marijuana ingredient in experiment, from CNN.com

6)Supreme Court bars distribution of medical marijuana in California, from CNN.com

7)NORML: Working to Reform Marijuana Laws, from National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws




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