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Marijuana as Medicine

The Medicinal Value That Is Often Overlooked

Noa Shulman is sitting at her dinner table after a long day of high school. She is eating one of her favorite snacks, mashed sweet potatoes, at the table with her mother. She begins to scream and bite her own arm. Her mother gently comforts her and feeds her more mashed potatoes, and she begins to calm down. Noa is not an average seventeen-year-old girl; she suffers from a very severe form of autism that plagues her with impaired communication, lack of social skills, and very impulsive or repetitive behaviors. Her single mother of three, who also works full time, must feed her, change her diapers, bathe her, and deal with her often-aggressive behavior.

Noa is a member of a study taking place in India involving children and young adults who suffer from severe autism to prove that marijuana is an effective treatment for children with autism. Noa’s mother has exhausted the treatment options for her daughter and found that marijuana is the only treatment that helps Noa calm down and be happier, while not dulling her senses and making her “zombie-like” (Schwartz). Because of the great benefits that marijuana supplements to people who suffer from medical conditions and the anguished loved ones who must take care of them, medical marijuana should be decriminalized and legalized in all fifty states, so patients nationwide can access it and reap the benefits.

Noa is not the only patient who is benefitting from the use of medical marijuana. A rare form of epilepsy, called Dravet Syndrome, causes multiple kinds of seizures, developmental delays, speech and language problems, behavioral issues, movement and balance problems, and many other symptoms. This condition usually affects children, and those who have this condition typically will not live past the age of 20 because of the severity of the seizures and the lack of sufficient treatment for them (Scutti). Existing epilepsy medications are virtually useless against Dravet Syndrome, and its sufferers are afflicted with up to 1,717 seizures every month (Scutti).

A study done by the New England Journal of Medicine produced unambiguous evidence regarding the benefits of using marijuana to reduce both the severity and the frequency of seizures caused by Dravet Syndrome. This study was a placebo controlled, double-blind study to ensure that the results were completely unbiased. One group of children received cannabidiol, or CBD, which is one of eighty active chemicals in marijuana that does not produce a high (Scutti). The solid evidence discovered from the results is difficult to dispute considering the CBD group of patients had a thirty-nine percent decrease in seizure frequency compared to the thirteen percent decrease from the placebo group (Scutti). Not to mention, five percent of the children who participated in the study became entirely free of seizures and other symptoms over the course of the fourteen weeks (Scutti). Parents of children who were members of the experimental group overall felt their children experienced much more significant positive changes than ever before, and that is due to medical marijuana alleviating their symptoms and increasing their quality of life.

Approximately ninety-one Americans die every day from a drug overdose. These numbers have almost quadrupled in the last fifteen years (Vestal). Due to the severity of these statistics, and the number of people who are directly and indirectly affected by the opioid crisis, medical marijuana should be nationally legalized because it is a better way to relieve pain, and will also help to minimize the opioid epidemic. Currently opioids are prescribed in an astonishing amount. When people’s prescriptions run out, many turn to harder street drugs that are easier to obtain to satisfy their addiction. This is causing a huge spike in the amount of addictions and overdoses, a great many of which are fatal (Vestal). Many ideas have been suggested to combat the deadly opioid epidemic, but research supports that medical marijuana could be the solution to this tragic problem. For example, states that have taken initiative and enacted medical marijuana laws have had twenty-five percent fewer opioid overdose deaths than states that don’t have these laws (Vestal). There are no recorded cases of marijuana overdose ever being fatal. In fact, studies prove that the amount needed to be ingested by a human to become fatal is so high it is physically not possible to attain (Marijuana Policy Project).

In addition, prescriptions for opioid painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet that were paid for by Medicare dropped substantially in states with medical marijuana laws (Vestal). More specific research shows anti-nausea prescriptions dropped by seventeen percent, antidepressant prescriptions dropped by thirteen percent, and seizure and psychosis prescriptions dropped by twelve percent (Ingraham). These prescription drugs are extremely potent and addictive, and they are distributed to patients by doctors for a multitude of reasons, from fractured bones to cough control. Prescription drugs are highly addictive and very dangerous, so allowing patients the option to choose a safer treatment plan is the best solution to handle this epidemic.

Marijuana should also be legalized for medicinal purposes because of how effective it is in treating medical conditions. There is a myriad of conditions and disorders with which the sufferers can benefit by using marijuana. The first condition that is helped using marijuana is called glaucoma, which is the leading cause of blindness in the United States (Pfeifer 25). Over time, fluid behind the eyes rises to unnaturally elevated levels, which is extremely painful and damaging. People who suffer from Glaucoma use marijuana as a form of relief from the unbearable feeling of constant pressure in their eyes. While marijuana is not a cure for this disease, it does provide its users much needed relief from the persistent and sustained pain they must cope with (Pfeifer 25).

Another condition that marijuana is helpful in treating is multiple sclerosis. Commonly referred to as MS, this disease affects the muscles of its sufferers by giving them stiffness, cramps, spasticity, and other issues (Center for Health). This disease is particularly hard to treat because it can be unpredictable in the way it damages nerve fibers, so finding a worthwhile form of treatment is a challenge. In some cases, the disease can progress to a point in which sufferers are unable to walk or stand. Currently no cure, or even particularly effective medication exists, so people who have MS are constantly experimenting with new therapies and medications. However, initial research done into the effectiveness of marijuana in combating this condition reveals that marijuana can relieve some of the muscle spasticity and cramping (Center for Health). Again, marijuana is not a miracle cure for MS but it does allow the people who are dealing with it to regain some control over their lives, and have relief from the disease that is afflicting them with constant pain.

In addition to Glaucoma and Multiple Sclerosis, cancer/AIDS patients both benefit in similar ways from marijuana. The treatment that cancer patients undergo is called chemotherapy and causes sufferers to feel extremely nauseous almost constantly. A lot of patients who have AIDS experience significant drop in caloric intake, along with a huge drop in weight (Pfeifer 24). Daniel Pfeifer, a lawyer who specializes in the autonomy of patients who alleviate pain with medical marijuana, explains, “Symptoms of AIDS wasting syndrome include an involuntary weight loss of at least ten percent with chronic diarrhea, weakness, or fever for thirty days or more…” (Pfeifer 24). When attempting to return to healthy weight levels, some of these AIDS or cancer patients have used marijuana to stimulate their appetite and therefore increase the levels of food they consume. Currently, there are no cost-effective treatments for cancer or AIDS patients, so marijuana could be a very helpful option for them to get the relief they deserve (Pfeifer 24). If a drug like marijuana can relieve these tough symptoms for those who are fighting for their lives, there is no reason it should not be legalized to make the fight a little bit easier.

Not only is marijuana effective for AIDS/cancer victims, MS sufferers, and Glaucoma patients, but it is also useful in simply treating pain and suffering. Modern research has shown that there are two cannabinoid receptors in the brain, appropriately named CB1 and CB2. These receptors are commonalities in the brain and are a colossal part of the body’s natural pain control system (Pfeifer 25). Knowing this, it is no surprise that marijuana performs a very therapeutic function for those who suffer chronic, painful conditions. Patients who take marijuana extracts, no matter what disease, condition, or disorder they suffer from, use a substantially lower amount of highly addictive pain medication (Sheldon and Tanner). Multitudes of current analgesics, or medicines that relieve pain, are only slightly as effective as medical marijuana is for patients who suffer every day from debilitating conditions (Sheldon and Tanner). Marijuana is the superior treatment for those who need to undergo pain therapy because it is nonaddictive and impossible to overdose, therefore that is why it should be nationally legalized and recognized as a medically acceptable drug.

Cannabis has been used medicinally for over five thousand years in various countries and for various purposes (Pfeifer 23). Not long ago, marijuana was a medically acceptable drug in the United States. From 1854-1941 marijuana was the third or fourth most common ingredient in many medicines, and people consumed these medications without experiencing significant adverse side effects (Bearman). During this time, the benefits of marijuana were obvious, considering people were consuming it commonly and were not experiencing addiction or death from overdose.

After the 1970s, a substantial increase in the number of recreational users was a big contributing factor to the rediscovery of the medical uses for marijuana. Countless people were using marijuana recreationally during this time, but many of these casual users actually suffered from a disease or disorder that could be helped with marijuana (Marijuana Policy Project). In that way, the therapeutic value of marijuana was inadvertently rediscovered, and more patients turned to marijuana as a self-medication tactic. Unfortunately, marijuana’s drug classification puts all these patients at risk of legal action, and prohibits doctors from prescribing marijuana as a treatment. If so many patients have already found the medical uses for marijuana, it should be legalized to remove the burden of a drug charge, and allow doctors to have the power to prescribe it. This would sanction cleaner, more controlled doses of marijuana that will be safer for the patient, while still giving them the relief they deserve.

When a patient is admitted to a hospital for treatment of any kind, that patient has certain fundamental rights. Among these rights is the right of autonomy, or in other words, the right to act without controlling interferences and to make the best decisions that will benefit the patient. Throughout the course of treatment, both the doctor and the patient work together to protect the patient’s right to make unbiased decisions. Another aspect of autonomy is the idea that an individual has the right to be free from constraints including death, pain and suffering, and indignity at the end of life (Pfeifer 27). As independent people, patients have the right to make whatever decision they want about their bodies and their treatment plans.

Being autonomous people, patients should have the right to choose a course of treatment that will alleviate their pain and suffering and thus give them control over what happens to them. Medical marijuana does serve therapeutic purposes, and has been scientifically proven through research to help people with certain conditions. Therefore, the federal government should allow these suffering patients the right to use medical marijuana. If consumed in controlled doses under controlled conditions, marijuana can fulfill a patient’s fundamental right to avoid pain and suffering and provide the patient with a sense of control and dignity, therefore granting them full autonomy (Pfeifer 27).

So far only twenty-nine states have seen the medical value that marijuana has to offer and have legalized it for carefully monitored use (Ingraham). Due to all the benefits that marijuana yields to patients who suffer from medical conditions and their distressed loved ones who are watching them suffer and taking care of them, medical marijuana should be decriminalized and legalized in all fifty states, so people nationwide can access it as a form of relief and not have to worry about legal issues or contaminated doses. Giving doctors the power to prescribe marijuana for patients suffering from conditions like AIDS, cancer, Glaucoma, or Multiple Sclerosis is an effective way to minimize the opioid epidemic while also providing patients with the relief from all the pain and suffering that accompanies these conditions. In this way, doctors can keep the best interest of the patient in mind, and the patient can remain autonomous since they are able to choose a treatment plan that is right for them. 

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