Marijuana: The Controversial Drug

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DESCRIPTION: Marijuana is a green, brown, or gray mixture of dried, shredded flowers and leaves of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. Marijuana is often called by street names such as pot, herb, weed, boom, Mary Jane, gangster, reefer, or chronic. There are more than 200 slang terms for marijuana. HISTORY: Cannabis was acknowledged as early as 2,700 BC in Chinese manuscripts. Marijuana has been used as a medicine throughout the world since the beginning of written history. During this time, companies such as Lilly, Parke Daivis, Tildens, Squibb, and other major drug manufacturers, have made everything from sleeping elixirs, to stomach medicine from marijuana. These drugs were even knowingly prescribed for children. Since 1839 there have been numerous reports in favor of utilizing medical marijuana. In 1839 Dr. W.B. O’Shaugnessy, a respected member of the Royal Academy of Science, was one of the first in the medical profession to present the true facts concerning marijuana and medicine. Dr. O’Shaugnessy’s report states clearly, that experience indicates the use of marijuana to be a beneficial analgesic, and to have anticonvulsant, and muscle-relaxant properties. He found it to be effective in treating rheumatism (inflammation or pain in muscles or joints), epilepsy, and spasmodic conditions. In 1860, Dr. R.R. M’Meens, indicated to the Ohio State Medical Society, the usefulness of marijuana in treating tetanus, neuralgia (pain in the nerves), uterine hemorrhage, child labor, convulsions, asthma, bronchitis, and even postpartum psychosis. It was also noted for its affect as an appetite stimulant. This is desperately needed in modern medicine especially by cancer and aids patients to prevent them from literally wasting away. Many of these patients have indicated that no other remedy helps to stimulate the appetite as effectively as smoking a small quantity of marijuana. It was also noted that smoking the natural plant was significantly more effective than the chemically created, orally consumed, synthetic marijuana. In 1891 Dr. J.B. Mattison indicated the use of marijuana for treatment of migraines, gastric ulcers, deliriuma (mental disturbance), and tremors due to alcoholism. He also found it to be instrumental in actually replacing the craving for, and thus curing alcoholism. He found the same effect carried over in treating other serious addictions such as morphine or heroin addiction. In 1890 Dr. J.R. Reynolds found marijuana to be an excellent aid in combating a number of problems associated with aging. Dr. Reynolds noted marijuana’s usefulness in overcoming senile insomnia as well as it’s psychological benefits in helping older people cope with some of the feelings and emotions associated with growing older. INCREASE & DECREASE OF USAGE SINCE DRUG’S DISCOVERY: The use of marijuana reached a high point in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and has been declining ever since. In a 1978 survey, 37 percent of high school seniors said they had smoked marijuana in the last 30 days, and 11 percent said they used it daily. By 1986 the number who said they had smoked it in the last 30 days had fallen to 23 percent - lower than in 1975 - and the proportion of daily users had dropped steadily to 4 percent. The trend among people aged 18 to 25 is similar. On the other hand, more people over 25 may be using marijuana occasionally, and young people are still experimenting with it. In 1969, 20 percent of high school seniors had used marijuana at least once, in 1979, 60 percent had; and in 1985, 54 percent. The attitudes expressed in surveys show why habitual marijuana use is in decline. In 1978, 65 percent of high school students said they disapproved of it; in 1985, 85 percent disapproved. A recent government survey shows: · Over 70 million Americans over the age of 12 have tried marijuana at least once. · About 10 million had used the drug in the month before the survey. · More than 5 million Americans smoke marijuana at least once a week. · Among teens aged 12 to 17, the average age of first trying marijuana was 13.5 years old. A yearly survey of students in grades 8 through 12 shows that by 10th grade, nearly 16 percent are "current" users (that is, used within the past month). Among 12th-graders, nearly 40 percent have tried marijuana/hash at least once, and 19 percent were current users. Other researchers have found that use of marijuana and other drugs usually peaks in the late teens and early twenties, then goes down in later years. GENERIC VS. BRAND NAME: There are stronger forms of marijuana available today than there were in the 1960s. The strength of the drug is measured by the amount of average THC in test samples confiscated by law enforcement agencies. Sinsemilla (sin-seh-me-yah; it's a Spanish word), hashish ("hash" for short), and hash oil are stronger forms of marijuana. · Most ordinary marijuana has an average of 3 percent THC. · Sinsemilla (made from just the buds and flowering tops of female plants) has an average of 7.5 percent THC, with a range as high as 24 percent. · Hashish (the sticky resin from the female plant flowers) has an average of 3.6 percent, with a range as high as 28 percent. · Hash oil, a tar-like liquid distilled from hashish, has an average of 16 percent, with a range as high as 43 percent. ACTION: THC disrupts the nerve cells in the part of the brain where memories are formed. This makes it hard for the user to recall recent events (such as what happened a few minutes ago), and so it is hard to learn while high. A working short-term memory is required for learning and performing tasks that call for more than one or two steps. Some studies show that when people have smoked large amounts of marijuana for many years, the drug takes its toll on mental functions. Among a group of long-time heavy marijuana users in Costa Rica, researchers found that the people had great trouble when asked to recall a short list of words (a standard test of memory). People in that study group also found it very hard to focus their attention on the tests given to them. It may be that marijuana kills some brain cells. In laboratory research, some scientists found that high doses of THC given to young rats caused a loss of brain cells such as that seen with aging. INDICATORS: One beneficial effect of THC is the lowering of intracular pressure, which can be helpful in the control of glaucoma. However, because it causes tachycardia, relatively rapid heart action such as physiological (as after exercise), and increased work for the heart, it can not be used in most elderly persons, in which age group glaucoma is most common. THC can also be used for the control of severe nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy in cancer patients. CONTRAINDICATORS: Doctors advise pregnant women not to use any drugs because they might harm the growing fetus. Some scientific studies have found that babies born to marijuana users were shorter, weighed less, and had smaller head sizes than those born to mothers who did not use the drug. Smaller babies are more likely to develop health problems. Other scientists have found effects of marijuana that resemble the features of fetal alcohol syndrome. There are also research findings that show nervous system problems in children of mothers who smoked marijuana. Researchers are not certain whether a newborn baby's health problems, if they are caused by marijuana, will continue as the child grows. DOSAGE FOR BODY WEIGHT: Under U.S. law since 1970, marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. This means that the drug, at least in its smoked form, has no commonly accepted medical use in this country. In considering possible medical uses of marijuana, it is important to distinguish between whole marijuana and pure THC or other specific chemicals derived from cannabis. Whole marijuana contains hundreds of chemicals, some of which are clearly harmful to health. THC, manufactured into a pill that is taken by mouth, not smoked, can be used for treating the nausea and vomiting that go along with certain cancer treatments. Another chemical related to THC (nabilone) has also been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating cancer patients who suffer nausea. The oral THC is also used to help AIDS patients eat more to keep up their weight. Scientists are studying whether THC and related chemicals in marijuana (called cannabinoids) may have other medical uses. Some think that these chemicals could be useful for treating severe pain. But further research is needed before such compounds can be recommended for treatment of medical problems. SIDE EFFECTS: Most recent research on the health hazards of marijuana concerns its long-term effects on the body. Studies have examined the brain, the immune system, the reproductive system, and the lungs. Suggestions of long-term damage come almost exclusively from animal experiments and other laboratory work. Observations of marijuana users and the Caribbean, Greek, and other studies reveal little disease or organic pathology associated with the drug. For example, there are several reports of damaged brain cells and changes in brain-wave readings in monkeys smoking marijuana, but neurological and neuropsychological tests in Greece, Jamaica, and Costa Rica found no evidence of functional brain damage. Damage to white blood cells has also been observed in the laboratory, but again, its practical importance is unclear. Whatever temporary changes marijuana may produce in the immune system, they have not been found to increase the danger of infectious disease or cancer. If there were significant damage, we might expect to find a higher rate of these diseases among young people beginning in the 1960s, when marijuana first became popular. There is no evidence of that. The effects of marijuana on the reproductive system are a more complicated issue. In men, a single dose of THC lowers sperm count and the level of testosterone and other hormones. Tolerance to this effect apparently develops; in the Costa Rican study, marijuana smokers and controls had the same testosterone levels. Although the smokers in that study began using marijuana at an average age of 15, it had not affected their masculine development. There is no evidence that the changes in sperm count and testosterone produced by marijuana affect sexual performance or fertility. In animal experiments THC has also been reported to lower levels of female hormones and disturb the menstrual cycle. When monkeys, rats, and mice are exposed during pregnancy to amounts of THC equivalent to a heavy human smoker’s dose, stillbirths and decreased birth weight are sometimes reported in their offspring. There are also reports of low birth weight, prematurity, and even a condition resembling the fetal alcohol syndrome in some children of women who smoke marijuana heavily during pregnancy. The significance of these reports is unclear because controls are lacking and other circumstances make it hard to attribute causes. To be safe, pregnant and nursing women should follow the standard conservative recommendation to avoid all drugs, including cannabis, that are not absolutely necessary. A well-confirmed danger of long-term heavy marijuana use is its effect on the lungs. Smoking narrows and inflames air passages and reduces breathing capacity; damage to bronchial cells has been observed in hashish smokers. Possible harmful effects include bronchitis, emphysema, and lung cancer. Marijuana smoke contains the same carcinogens as tobacco smoke, usually in somewhat higher concentrations. Marijuana is also inhaled more deeply and held in the lungs longer, which increases the danger. On the other hand, almost no one smokes 20 marijuana cigarettes a day. Higher THC content in marijuana may reduce the danger of respiratory damage, because less smoking is required for the desired effect. This is true only as long as no significant tolerance develops, and as long as users do not try to get a proportionately more intense effect from a stronger form of the drug. WARNINGS: All forms of marijuana are mind-altering. This means they change how the brain works. They all contain THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the main active chemical in marijuana. But there are also 400 other chemicals in the marijuana plant. THC can with heavy smoking, narrow the bronchi and bronchioles and produce inflammation of the mucus membranes, and also increases the risk of lung cancer. There is some evidence that marijuana increases the risk for miscarriage and birth defects. When a nursing mother uses marijuana, some of the THC is passed to the baby in her breast milk. This is a matter for concern, since the THC in the mother's milk is much more concentrated than that in the mother's blood. One study has shown that the use of marijuana by a mother during the first month

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