An often arising social question that has come up throughout the 20th century and continues to crop up today is the issue of legalizing marijuana. While the general approach to dealing with this issue is to consider the harmful effects of the drug, including harmful social effects, there are many reasons that approach is inappropriate. What follows will briefly discuss the know effects of marijuana and consider why that knowledge has absolutely no bearing on the issue. Although this question really has no bearing at all on the issue of legalizing marijuana, it is generally the focus of those who oppose marijuana use and thus, will be the focus of this essay.
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The question is, "How dangerous is marijuana to users?" In general, this essay will address four issues: 1) Why is marijuana use a legal issue while tobacco and alcohol use are not; 2) Is marijuana a harmful drug; 3) If now, why the concern over marijuana use; and 4) What are the drug effects of marijuana? This analysis will demonstrate that a research-based argument against marijuana use is groundless and has no bearing on the issue. Although marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug in the US, this topic is probably best addressed to legislators. Clearly, that effort is fruitless since it is already well known that marijuana is less harmful (in fact, not harmful) than tobacco and alcohol, both of which are legal. We shall conclude by pointing out that the matter of legal marijuana is merely a social issue that cannot be resolved rationally.
Even though marijuana has been associated with some health hazards, it is not a harmful drug! Arguments to the contrary have been filled with contradictions, not so much because the drug doesn't have some undesirable health consequences, but because those consequences are often exaggerated. The active ingredient in marijuana is THC, tetrahydrocannabinol. THC acts at receptors in the brain involved with coordination, memory, thought and perception. The drug is thought to affect neural centers connected with motivation and stress and might also affect ovulation and decrease sperm production.
It can affect blood pressure and therefore might pose a problem to inpiduals with blood pressure concerns, and it might trigger anxiety and depression, and irony since the drug is often used to avoid depressed states and often causes elation. Other undesirable effects have been noted throughout this report, but a rational review of the generaly effects of marijuana clearly demonstrate that alcohol and tobacco cause far more family, social and health problems than marijuana, and yet alcohol and tobacco are legal and there is no effort to alter the situation. Why, then, is so much effort addressed to keeping marijuana illegal.
In the 1980s, the federal government briefly resorted to spraying marijuana plants with paraquat in an effort to stop people from smoking it. This government action should have been viewed as a crime and the government officials who suggested it and put it in place should have been put in jail and perhaps even executed if anyone died from the action. Over the many thousand year history of known marijuana use, that had never been one single death attributed to the drug until it was sprayed with paraquat.
Today, that remains the case. While there are no known deaths associated with marijuana use throughout history, many automobile accidents are connected with inpiduals driving under the influence of the drug. This is not unexpected since marijuana alters perception. Paraquat is a safe herbicide when used properly, but toxic doses are fatal even with 'aggressive' medical intervention. Statistics regarding how many people have died from automobile and other accidents that have occurred while drivers were under the influence of the drug have not been kept.
A number of confusing statements regarding marijuana come out over time. For example, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona stated that marijuana has three to five times more tar and carbon monoxide than tobacco and in Britain, the British Lung Foundation reported that the drug has more cancer causing agents than tobacco. The irony is, despite this claim, there are no reported cases of cancer arising from marijuana use.
During the 1960s, the US government sprayed marijuana fields in South America with paraquat in and effort to deter marijuana use by Americans. A similar program was pursued in the late 1970s and again in 1988. On July 14, 1988, the Washington Post reported, "The Drug Enforcement Administration plans to resume limited spraying of paraquat and other marijuana-killing herbicades...as part of a stepped-up federal effort to eradicate the nation's...cannabis crop." While the effort was to eradicate the available crop at the time, this would only be a temporary solution, if any at all, to an ongoing situation and it certainly would not be a beneficial act. No matter how paraquat or marijuana is viewed, the paraquat approach constituted creating a solution worse than the perceived problem!
This seems irrational and emotional. Review of public policy throughout the country shows an irrational approach to creating legistion regarding the legalization of the drug. For example, the previously noted claim that marijuana has more cancer causing agents than tobacco (Zenit, 2003) while no cases of cancer have ever been associated with marijuana use. Is the research flawed or is the danger merely overstated, or perhaps both? While the government warned the public that sprayed marijuana was unsafe, the act still constituted exposing smokers to a dangerous drug without adequate cause. Over the past few thousand years, there are no known deaths attributed to marijuana, so spraying the drug with paraquat rendered it a health hazard, a risk far greater than anything posed by marijuana itself.
Today, new fears about a link between marijuana use and psychiatric disorders are giving rise to fears about marijuana use. (Radecki, 2003) Some studies have found a link between marijuana use and schizophrenia. While these studies may be accurate, their message is still a cry in the dark. Certainly, there is a connection between some psychiatric conditions and marijuana use. The drug is known to cause some minor paranoia, but many drug studies related to marijuana use are flawed, and the cry about a connection between marijuana use and psychiatric disorders appears to be overblown.
It seems that we will never stop exaggerating the dangers of a drug that, to date, does not seem to have harmed anyone! Not only are researchers claiming a link between marijuana use and psychiatric conditions, but some claim that the medical value of marijuana is exaggerated. (Voth, 2003) One must wonder is this is yet another red herring or is that substance to the claim. Clearly, the medical value of marijuana has been established, so what is the basis for this new claim. Will the drug ever be judged for its true value and as impartially as researchers try to approach other drug and non-drug studies?
Fears about the drug seem to have moved the British to reverse some marijuana laws, but again, we must wonder are the fears exaggerated? With such a widespread use of the drug, where are all schizophrenic inpiduals who have been affected by marijuana? Where are all the other inpiduals who have suffered the ill-effects some few (so far) researchers are claiming to be associated with the drugs? Are these fears just another cry in the dark or are they valid. The using public must wonder, but so far, few even know, and the common public use has not given many to have cause for concern about.
Marijuana became illegal as a result of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 when Harry Anslinger with the help of William Randolph Hearst brought the issue before Congress after two years of secret planning. It was a time that had seen failed attempts to make alcohol illegal during prohibition in the 1920s. The effort against alcohol failed and no efforts have been made to revive those efforts. Why, then, are we still trying to prohit the use of marijuana and exaggerating its dangers? Clearly, virtually any drug has some undesirable effects, but the continued efforts to distort the dangers of marijuana use do not serve anyone well.
It seems clear that despite research findings that marijuana is a 'dangerous drug' and clear evidence that actually does have some undesirable effects, the actual 'dangers' of marijuana are exaggerated. Even table salt and refined sugar pose dangers and, indeed, both claim more lives each year than marijuana has ever claimed. Therefore, exaggerating the dangers of marijuana use serves no purpose outside of fear tactics. Perhaps this is the message that our legislators should address and focus on rather than continuing to make criminals out of inpiduals who realize that claims of marijuana dangers are exaggerated and who, therefore, are going to continue to use the drug anyway.
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