As of March 2015, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana use for all purposes, and 21 other states permit it to be used under the supervision of a doctor. While evidence about the benefits of marijuana is mounting, there are still many who are concerned about the ramifications of legalization. This piece explores the debate, provides information about health consequences of marijuana, and provides some background into the various forms of cannabis used for recreation and medicine.
What Are the Various Forms of Marijuana Used Today?
Cannabis can be used medicinally or as recreational in a number of different forms. These include:
Unprocessed - Most often, the flowers, leaves, and stems of the female marijuana plant are simply dried and smoked or vaporized.
Hashish - This resin is produced from the flowers of the female cannabis plant and is either chewed or smoked.
Hash Oil - A thick waxy substance, hash oil is 40 to 90 percent THC, making it very potent. It is made by mixing dry herbs with solvent. Most often, it is smoked or vaporized.
Residue - The resin or debris that accumulates inside of pipes or vaporizers is sometimes used in place of other forms of cannabis. Most often this is done by steaming the device and then scraping out the resin. It can then be vaporized or smoked.
What Are Marijuana's Side Effects?
While scientists have uncovered many potential benefits, there is also some evidence that regular use of cannabis may cause unwanted side effects or health complications. Among these potential side effects of marijuana include:
- Increased risk of auto accidents due to the perception and reflex effects of the drug
- Impotence or erectile dysfunction
- Suppression of the immune system
- Increased risk of psychosis and depression
- Higher risk of gum disease
- Potential cognitive impairments when used during adolescence
- Possible long-term memory loss
- Increased risk for some forms of cancer, particularly testicular cancer
- Higher risk of liver scarring in people with Hepatitis C
Why Are Some People Against the Medical Use of Marijuana?
Most people can understand why there are arguments against the full legalization of marijuana, even if they personally don't agree with them; however, understanding why people would be opposed to the medical usage of marijuana can be a little more difficult. After all, why deny people medical treatments that might help them? Here are a few of the reasons why.
- Risks of Smoking: Some medical experts worry about an increased risk of lung cancer due to smoking marijuana. Proponents for medical marijuana use respond by stating that vaporizing is a cleaner, non-carcinogenic alternative.
- Lack of Research: Critics feel that there hasn't been enough research yet into the possible consequences of marijuana usage to know for sure that the benefits outweigh the risks.
- Potential for Abuse: While there is no evidence that cannabis is addictive, some who are against the medicinal use of the drug worry that it could open the door to the use of other drugs.
Should Marijuana Be Legal? What Both Sides Say
An increasing number of people are beginning to advocate for the full legalization of marijuana in the United States, but there are many people who are still very opposed to the idea. Here are some of the opinions on both sides of the debate.
Pros of Cannabis Legalization
- Improved Quality - People who discuss the quality aspect of cannabis state that currently people are using marijuana regardless of laws, and growers and sellers are distributing it as well. The drug is used by millions around the world every day, but no one is controlling what is being sold. If cannabis were to become legal, it would likely need to be put through the same stringent set of guidelines as prescription and over-the-counter drugs. It would need to be grown using safe methods and processed in ways that ensure purity and adherence to government standards. Advocates for legalization state that this would protect consumers and ensure safety.
- Reductions in Crime - Many people believe that the prohibition of marijuana only serves to benefit criminals. They point to what happened during the 1930s prohibition of alcohol, when mobsters profited off of the sale of illegal alcohol. This was one of the key reasons why prohibition failed, and many of the gangs that caused violence and were a threat to public safety ceased to exist once alcohol was legal again. Advocates for legalization believe that lifting the ban on marijuana would have the same effects.
- Personal Freedom - Because marijuana has never been shown to be as addictive as legal products like cigarettes or alcohol, or to be harmful like other drugs, many people believe that the government has no right to prevent people from using it. These individuals feel that since marijuana use does not pose major dangers, the government should not interfere with its use in home settings.
- Resources - The U.S. and other countries spend billions enforcing drug laws. Many people feel that it's not worth the cost to keep people from using cannabis since there is no compelling evidence to restrict its use. These individuals often point out that if marijuana were legal, drug enforcement agencies could focus on keeping drugs that are known to be very dangerous, like crystal meth and heroin, off the streets.
- Revenues - Individuals who support legalization often argue that federal and state governments could generate tax revenue from the sale of marijuana. This money could be used for education, improving infrastructure, and social programs.
- Potential Benefits - Many cite the potential medical benefits of marijuana as the main reason that it should be legal. They feel that individuals should have a right to purchase the drug easily to get relief from symptoms like pain.
Cons of Cannabis Legalization
- Unknown Long-term Risks - Since marijuana isn't legal, there haven't been very many studies regarding its health effects when used over a long period of time. Many people feel that before legalization, long-term research should be done.
- A Gateway to Other Drugs - Many people worry that people will try marijuana and like the high that they experience and then move on to more serious drugs. Others worry that once cannabis is legal, the government will have to legalize all drugs. It's important to note, though, that there really isn't any evidence that either fear would become reality.
- Threat of Accidents - Some people worry about what will happen if there are suddenly people who are high on marijuana behind the wheel. Advocates argue back that these risks could be mitigated with laws similar to drunk driving laws, and also state that people are already currently driving under the influence of marijuana.
- Children - Some people are concerned that kids will get their hands on marijuana if it is for sale. But at the current time, with marijuana illegal, it is easier for teens to get marijuana than it is to get legal alcohol, in 2008 CASA* Teen Survey Reveals. An issue is "by leaving abuse-able and addictive medications like OxyContin and Vicodin around the house, thus making these drugs readily available to their children, these problem parents become passive pushers", said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA's chairman and president and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.
- Perception - A lot of the time, the arguments against marijuana are traced back to fears and moral beliefs rather than on any scientifically verifiable facts or rational arguments.
Some Interesting Facts About Marijuana
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