In this essay I intend to discuss the viability of the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes. In doing so I will look at the arguments that support the use of cannabis in medicine today. I will also assess the arguments that claim that cannabis causes long term damage to the body and these long term side effects outweigh any positive aspects of the drug. Cannabis is plant related to nettles and hops grows wild in many parts of the world, it is believed to have originated in the mountainous regions of India. The plant contains more than four hundred chemicals and can be processed in such a way that it’s main active ingredient namely delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC can be ingested to produce psychoactive effects.
When smoked THC will reach the brain in about seven seconds; if eaten effects can take much longer. Positive effects can include talkativeness, relaxation, a loss of social inhibition and greater appreciation of sound and colour. Speech may become slurred and co-ordination is usually impaired. Large amounts of the drug can produce hallucinogenic effects. (Gross, 2002: Pg. 112) However as with many drugs there are undesirable side effects. These may come in the form of mild panic and paranoia. To illustrate, a recent study showed that 10 to 15% of people who smoked cannabis reported feelings of confusion or paranoia and around 30% gave these experiences as their reasons for quitting the drug. Nausea and vomiting may occur where too much is taken at once, especially when the drug is taken with alcohol. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/hottopics/cannabis, 2002)
There are arguments for the legalisation of cannabis. The strongest of these claims that the positive effects cannabinoids, that is derivatives of cannabis can ease certain serious conditions. For example cannabis can suppress nausea brought on by chemotherapy, it can increase appetite and prevent weight loss and can also relieve eye pressure in people suffering from glaucoma. Cannabis can also been used to treat people with rheumatism and muscle spasms. Queen Victoria was prescribed cannabis by her doctor to relieve period pains. (IBID, 2002)
Another large group of people who would find relief in the use of cannabis are those suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. Clinical tests carried out by the Multiple Sclerosis Society showed that most patients responded in a positive way to cannabis. Furthermore a postal survey was carried out amongst patients self medicating in the UK and in the States. Over 90% of these people reported a beneficial effect on their condition. (IBID, 2002)
Much of the evidence concerning the use of cannabis is in the form of case studies. While these have much more relevance to sufferers than clinical tests, they do not stand up as scientific evidence on their own. Unfortunately the laws prohibiting the use of cannabis have hampered the accumulation of much clinical evidence. Therefore many sufferers have resorted to obtaining cannabis illegally to relieve their symptoms. This could be seen as a catch twenty-two scenario. Concrete evidence to support the legalisation of cannabis can’t be obtained without undertaking clinical tests and gathering scientific evidence by means of clinical tests are hampered by the fact that the subject drug is illegal. (http://www.bma.co.uk, 2002)
To sum up, in the words of Lester Grinspoon an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, in the United States. “It has been well known for thousand of years that cannabis has medical uses. It is far safer than most medicines prescribed by doctors daily and often works for patients who cannot tolerate the side effects of other drugs. In many cases no other drug will do the job as safely or as well.” (CITED The Independent, Cannabis, Weed Or Wonder Drug? July 13th 2000) While the case for the legalisation of cannabis has many positive aspects, there are also arguments against this. The most important of these in my view is that there is not enough information on the long-term effects of the drug, its “addictiveness” and the damage that is caused when smoking cannabis.
To expand on these points, memory and the ability to concentrate are affected when cannabis is used and these effects may have lasting consequences. A recent article stated that it is widely accepted that there is a link between cannabis and schizophrenia and as many as 50% of young people attending psychiatric clinics may be regular or occasional cannabis users. (Greenfield, The Real Danger of Cannabis, The Observer, August 22nd 2002)
The drug can also cause psychotic attacks, even in people with no previous psychiatric history. As mentioned above, cannabis users suffer severe impairments in attention span, even after the habit has been relinquished. It is concluded that all this evidence points to a strong, long-lasting action on the brain. Cannabis is not a physically addictive drug like for example, Heroin. It may be psychologically addictive however as heavy users have been known to display aggressive impulses if their supply stops suddenly. (IBID, 2002) Cannabis has a higher tar content than tobacco so smoking cannabis can involve the same proven health problems as smoking. Including bronchitis, emphysema and lung cancer. This is supported by research carried out by the British Medical Association which showed that smoking herbal cannabis can mean inhaling as much as three times the amount of tar contain in one single cigarette.
In conclusion, cannabis has many positive aspects but in my view should remain a class C drug. This is because of a lack of information on the long term side effects of the drug, which in itself is due to the fact that few long term studies have been carried out and that the drug itself is illegal. In addition I feel that the legalisation of cannabis should be considered when conclusive studies have been carried out to identify what long-term side effects there are and whether they outweigh the obvious benefits.