The arguments and discussions continue. Should marijuana be legalized for recreational and/or medicinal use? Is marijuana a "gateway" drug? If it is used for medical purposes only how will it be administered?
Marijuana was considered to have no acceptable medical use by Congress back in 1972. At that time marijuana was placed on "Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act." There are those such as Dr. J. Michael Bostwick, psychiatrist at the Mayo clinic in Rochester, Minnesota who believe that the classification is "politically based rather than on scientific research." This has not stopped the arguments, however. Today, the state of Colorado has legalized it for recreational use, and according to a recent report on Fox news, Alaska is considering to do the same.
More than 20 states have legalized it for medical purposes. Our own governor in New York is considering following suit. But there are medical professionals who believe it is too dangerous, lacks FDA approval and there are other drugs available which make its use unnecessary.
There are a myriad of polls that show the majority of Americans favor the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. In a CNN poll, most felt that it should be legalized for both recreational and medicinal uses.
The unanswered question is whether or not marijuana is a gateway drug. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and reported in Time Magazine, "The idea that marijuana may be the first step in a longer career of drug use seems plausible at first: when addicts tell their histories, many begin with a story about marijuana. And there's a strong correlation between marijuana use and other drug use: a person who smokes marijuana is more than 104 times more likely to use cocaine than a person who never tries pot."
However, it should be noted that many who smoke tobacco or drink alcohol may or may not use marijuana, and may never move on to other illegal drugs. So, does drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes lead to the use of marijuana and beyond?
According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which is done by the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, they found that, "among both men and women, those who had used marijuana were 2.5 times more likely than those their age who abstained to later dabble in prescription drugs. Also, young men who drank alcohol or smoked cigarettes were 25 percent more likely to abuse prescription opioids. However, the study didn't show an association between alcohol or cigarette use in young women and later use of prescription drugs." My conclusion on this study and others is that recreational use of marijuana can indeed lead to use of other drugs, legal and/or otherwise. That leaves us with the medical benefits.
Does marijuana need to be smoked in order to be effective as a medical benefit? It is my understanding that it does not. It is the ingredients found in "cannabis" that can be extracted and used to relieve suffering for individuals with AIDS, some cancer symptoms, MS, glaucoma, epilepsy, effects of chemotherapy, pain and other medical conditions. Even with the "potential good" there are still the reminders of mood swings, attitude issues, erratic behaviors, ability to function, and memory loss associated (mostly) when one smokes the marijuana.
According to the AMA, most medical professionals believe that individuals will more often choose to smoke it rather than use it in a pill or liquid form that is made from the cannabis ingredients only. Smoking versus pill or liquid form is very different and has different side effects.
When smoking marijuana, a users mood, behaviors, ability to function may be affected for hours, and it can stay in a person's system for up to 30 days or longer depending on the amount used and for how long. Additionally, marijuana may become addictive, and quitting can cause severe withdrawal symptoms. According to the FDA there are "current drugs available that have been tested and approved that can provide the same or better benefits as those properties in marijuana." The report goes on to say, "Doctors can prescribe two legal alternatives: dronabinol (Marinol) and nabilone (Cesamet). Both of these drugs contain a man-made form of THC, the main chemical in marijuana.
It is reported by the FDA that marijuana, impairs short-term memory, attention, judgment, cognitive functions, coordination and balance; it increases heart rate, creates psychotic episodes, can lead to addiction, risk of chronic cough, bronchitis, risk of schizophrenia in vulnerable individuals, may increase risk of anxiety, depression, and affect motivation.
There are so many unanswered questions about this drug and its use. I, however, am inclined to believe that Joe Scarborough said it best on "Morning Joe" when he said, "smoking marijuana just makes you dumb."
I know the governor is considering legalizing marijuana for medical purposes in New York; I see that as a slippery slope toward eventual legalization of recreational use, I hope I'm wrong.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not thank state Sen. Cathy Young, Assemblyman Andy Goodell, Congressman Tom Reed and the many others who have fought for this area. Thanks to their efforts, NRG has been saved, and it looks like the recent rally in Silver Creek may have just saved Lake Shore Health Care; good job all.
Have a great day.
Vicki Westling is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org