As election time approaches, we are faced with having to make some critical decisions regarding our country. Yet, for some of us, who will be the next president is not the only question we have to answer. In Massachusetts, one of the pivotal proposals asks whether we should allow medical marijuana. Those in favor of this plan state that medical marijuana will ease the suffering of many patients with chronic medical conditions such as cancer, HIV, and multiple sclerosis. Those opposed to it report that the potential for abuse of this drug is too high with the risks outweighing the benefits. In California, the Federal government has recently begun to tighten its oversight of medical marijuana dispensaries, claiming high levels of corruption and drug misuse. Considering some of these concerns, we have to ask, “What is the true medical value of marijuana?”
Many studies have been carried out in an effort to galvanize support for the use of medical marijuana; however, these studies have had small sample sizes, making them statistically insignificant and unreliable for drawing proper medical conclusions. Nonetheless, proponents of medical marijuana employ more conventional wisdom declaring that it’s less toxic than many pharmaceutical drugs and gets an unwaveringly positive review from the patients treated with it. Although there is much truth in these assertions, it is not backed up by proper scientific medical studies and, therefore, does not mean that medical marijuana is without adverse effects. In reality, marijuana contains three times the amount of tar of a tobacco cigarette and also has about 50% more carcinogens than a cigarette. As a result, chronic use of marijuana may result in lung diseases such as emphysema and may increase the risk of lung cancer. Studies attempting to show the dangers of marijuana have stated it causes deficits in attention and interferes with mental functioning. In one study, scientists analyzed brain imaging MRI scans of patients who were chronic marijuana users and found that the area of the brain that controls memory was reduced in size. Other studies have stressed that long term marijuana use is associated with an increased risk of psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia. Yet, despite all this, medical marijuana has brought relief to many long-suffering patients.
What we know is that the studies that have been done on medical marijuana are varied with a range of conclusions being drawn both in favor of and opposed to its use. Unfortunately, compared to other drugs used to treat chronic and critical conditions, we don’t have anywhere near the amount of scientific research on medical marijuana necessary to provide a conclusive medical opinion. In the medical community, we are guided by the principle that thorough research brings about good medicine. And so, while many physicians might agree that there are benefits to the use of medical marijuana for certain conditions – input received not from a lab but from the patients themselves – we must acknowledge that its long-term effects are largely unstudied.