In the recent election, many of us voted on whether or not to allow marijuana for medical use in our states. Time recently published an insightful article about the trend to mainstream marijuana by making it available for medical purposes. Is it medicine or just an excuse to get high? What would Nurse Jackie say?
Medicine or Mendacity? A total of 14 states have legalized marijuana for medical use as well as Washington D.C. What constitutes medical use? Many are familiar with the pain and nausea relief properties of marijuana for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. HIV patients experience similar benefits. But in pot-legal Colorado, less than 3% of all medical marijuana prescriptions are related to cancer or HIV. The majority (94%) are for generic “severe pain.” To me, that sounds like why some people drink alcohol. And 75% of patients are young men under the age of 40 who look like James Franco (OK, I made that last part up). But it’s prescribed by a doctor, right? While that is true (in addition to the bureaucratic hoops people have to jump through, including paying $90 to the state to register), 70% of the patients in the state of Colorado were all prescribed by the same 15 dealers, er, doctors. Some doctors are even referring teens who complain of chronic pain, and teens are more likely to consider pot a safe medicine than in previous generations.
The medicinal benefits are impossible to ascertain because pot is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, meaning it has “no currently accepted medical use,” and it’s illegal to do field tests on it because of its status as a controlled substance – a catch 22.
Is it addictive? Pot is considered addictive to about 10% of regular users, coming in well behind alcohol (addictive to 15%) and cigarettes (32% become addicted). But this is following the broad definition of addiction currently in vogue, meaning that it can lead to obsessive use (hence, sex addicts). However, pot’s addictiveness is questionable when considered using a narrower definition. Unlike cigarettes and alcohol, ceasing to use pot does not cause detrimental physical effects (“withdrawals”). Pot is a problem for those who are predisposed to mental illness and has been clinically shown to contribute to depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia in some individuals. Unlike portrayed in the 1950s anti-drug movie Reefer Madness, it does not cause manic piano-playing, maniacal laughter, jitterbugging, or obliviously running down pedestrians with your car. It may, however, cause you to mistakenly knock on the wrong door repeatedly asking for Dave.
Up in smoke? To legal stoners who’ve touted pot-smoking as medically beneficial, “Be careful what you ask for.” The future may render pot obsolete for its medicinal purposes as scientific advances harness the pain-relief properties of THC (what makes pot work) in a soon-to-be-released nasal spray called Sativex. The caveat is that the nasal spray gives the medical benefit without the high. Foiled again!
And yet, my own view is that pot is less damaging and more beneficial than either alcohol or cigarettes, but it is unfairly targeted, creating an underground market that benefits lawbreakers and thugs. Why not simply legalize it outright, while maintaining underage restrictions? It seems hypocritical to me to prohibit the more benign of the two substances between alchohol and marijuana (to say nothing of cigarettes).
What are your thoughts? Discuss.