By Richard P. Holm, MD
Just about 4000 years ago, Chinese writings explained the medicinal powers of what is now called marijuana or cannabis, describing its power to help arthritis, gout, malaria, nausea, and psychological stress, along with its intoxicating/recreational properties. The use of cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes eventually spread to India and then Persia, often used by various cultures during religious ceremonies. From there cannabis spread to Europe about the time of the middle ages.
In the 1500s and 1600s the Spanish and English brought marijuana to the new world for medical purposes, and, alongside tobacco, became a huge commercial crop. The fibrous cannabis plant was good for making rope. In the late 1800s marijuana lost popularity for use as material for rope and as a medicine for pain, but in the 1920s, Cannabis re-emerged in jazz clubs as a recreational drug. At the time, it was thought of as a better alternative to alcohol since cannabis users didn’t seem as disruptive to the community.
During the prohibition era of the 1930s, the US Bureau of Narcotics considered marijuana as addictive and they made it illegal along with alcohol. Further, the US Controlled Substance Act of 1970 defined marijuana as a schedule 1 drug putting it in the same category as heroin and LSD, claiming high abuse potential and no medicinal use. Although these claims have changed, the US law remains on the books. During the Obama administration, the Department of Justice was directed to relax prosecution of marijuana rule-breakers while allowing state rules to supersede the US law.
Questions about cannabis remain since scientific experimentation for medicinal use has been limited due to legal restrictions. Are there legitimate medical uses for cannabis, or any of its chemical derivatives for seizures in children, chronic pain syndrome, glaucoma, appetite stimulation in wasting diseases, and nausea and malaise in cancer patients?
Is it right to restrict recreational use of marijuana when we accept alcohol use in this society? If we require cannabis only for medicinal use, are we limiting access for those who can afford a physician; making physicians unhappy gatekeepers for this drug; and making the cost of legitimate cannabis outrageously priced along with almost every other prescription medicine?
We know there is abuse potential with cannabis, just like with alcohol; and that driving intoxicated with cannabis increases crashes, even if only half as much as alcohol. Also, we know excess marijuana dulls and injures minds, especially when young and undeveloped. Would legalizing cannabis worsen or, with better laws and enhanced regulation, lessen these problems?
Legalizing marijuana is a very interesting issue worthy of open-minded discussion.