The basis of the argument for legalization of marijuana revolves around the notion that marijuana is not harmful or addictive, that it has an appreciable medicinal value. Therefore, in order to have an intelligent debate on the issue, we must attempt to answer three questions before considering legalization as a public policy: First, is marijuana harmless or no more harmful than other legal drugs such as caffeine, nicotine or alcohol? Second, does marijuana have an appreciable medicinal value? Third, if it is not harmless or does have value as a medicine, should citizens be denied the right to use it?
In attempting to answer the first question one will realize is very harmful to the brains and bodies of its users. This fact often goes unrealized to its users because marijuana is a very deceptive drug. THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, does not reach the brain in any significant amount at the time of the high. Instead, about 40 percent of THC is stored in body fat and then is slowly released into the blood over the course of several weeks. It is this inherent property of THC that makes it more damaging to the bodies of its users than alcohol. Alcohol is water-soluble and dissolves readily into blood. THC is not water-soluble. Thus, when an individual smokes regularly, the THC stored in his or her body fat slowly releases itself into the user’s blood and becomes sufficient enough to sedate him or her regularly.
Back in the 1960’s this may not have been such a pressing issue because the best marijuana available at the time contained around 3 percent THC. However, the marijuana available today is generally about 10 times stronger than the marijuana available in the ’60’s, with THC levels ranging from 12 to 25 percent. The impact of this increased level of THC on the brain is clearly stated by Dr. Robert Heath from the Tulane Medical School. Dr. Heath had monkeys smoke the equivalent of two joints a day with marijuana containing 2.5 percent THC, for five days a week for six months. This amount of marijuana use would be equivalent to a 130-pound teenager smoking two joints a week with a 12-percent level of THC. The monkeys were then allowed to recover for six months. After the recovery period, the brain waves of the monkeys were severely distorted and the brain cells that control emotion showed serious structural changes. Dr. Heath concluded one could expect serious long-term brain damage from this level of marijuana use.
Also, several studies performed in the 1970s associated marijuana with the damage of white blood cells, one of the primary immune defenses of the body. The damage caused to these cells by alcohol, cocaine and heroin pales in comparison to the damage caused by marijuana. The evidence shows marijuana does indeed have harmful effects on the bodies and brains of its users.
Sufficient evidence also exists to clearly indicate marijuana does not have an appreciable medicinal value. After nearly 20 years of valuable research, neither the American Cancer Society, the American Glaucoma society, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Medical Association, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders nor the National Eye Institute believe marijuana should be available in prescription form to treat diseases including cancer, AIDS, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis.
Some studies indicate marijuana is helpful as an anti-nausea agent for chemotherapy treatments and as an appetite stimulant to fight AIDS Wasting Syndrome. However, marijuana is not the only way to acquire the chemical ingredient that fights nausea or stimulates appetite. An FDA-approved synthetic form is currently available.
Studies have also shown marijuana can indeed be harmful to cancer or AIDS patients because of the severe damage it causes to white blood cells. The evidence simply does not exist to support the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The propositions for total legalization of this substance or legalization for medicinal purposes would not be about compassion, personal freedom or allowing the ill what comfort there is to be had, as my opponents would argue. They are about the legalization of a dangerous and harmful substance.
-The writer, a junior, is a political science major and a member of the GW College Republicans.