“Make the most you can of the Indian Hemp seed and sow it everywhere.” –George Washington.
The first president of America, in 1794 encouraged the production of marijuana throughout the state and it took almost two centuries for the drug to be criminalized. According to the National Archives, around 1920 some North American states started turning the drug illicit and marijuana was made illegal for the first time in the United States altogether only in 1937, by the Marijuana Tax Act, a federal law signed by president Roosevelt, when the drug was made illegal for recreational use. That meant that if a person possessed marijuana and did not pay its taxes, that marijuana was considered illegal. That was the result of a fight that started full force in 1930, with the formation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN). Two Acts from 1952 and 1956 that were passed, the Boggs Act and Narcotics Control Act respectively, increased punishment on the drug, thus contributing to its restraint. What happened from George Washington to Franklin Roosevelt that caused this change? Why has cannabis been prohibited by law? And should this prohibition end?
Such a controversial subject is liable to arise many different positions as well as arguments to support such and all people are entitled to having one. However, reliability of information and consistency is crucial to assembling dependable and irrefutable argumentation. And, despite different viewpoints arguing for the legalization, strong evidence based on studies realized by experts and real life examples illustrate otherwise. Cannabis should continue being illegal in our societies due to its proven dependency development in users, due to not being the exclusive answer to helping cancer patients, and most importantly, due to its being inimical to people’s health.
But what exactly is cannabis legalization? And, furthermore, what precisely is Cannabis sativa? According to The Free Dictionary, Cannabis is “a strong-smelling plant from whose dried leaves a number of euphoriant and hallucinogenic drugs are prepared”. Landes Bioscience Database further explains, “Among the nearly 500 compounds belonging to a large variety of groups, cannabinoids (66 compounds) are typical to this plant”. The bioscience laboratory clarifies still, “while delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is responsible for psychoactive properties of Cannabis some of the other components modulate its activity.” This plant has been utilized for unrecreational use since before the birth of Christ, according to doctor Degenhardt, neurophysiologist from The University of New South Wales. The doctor further adds that only since 50 years ago recreational use has been employed deeply to the plant and that he estimates that presently more than 160 million people use the drug, mostly unlawfully. This happens due to the current state of possession, commerce and use of this plant being illegal in nearly all countries in the world. Thus, this is the reason why some people express the will to legalize it. That is, to make legal the act of planting, cultivating, using, selling and purchasing this plant.
Whether cannabis should be purchased and used legally or not is a matter that has been discussed worldwide for over five decades. There are those who are in favor and those who are against it. Among the most common arguments in favor of the legalization of this drug, according to Marijuana Legalization are the three following: firstly, that marijuana is not addictive, thus representing no harm to users and consequently, should be legalized; another assertion claimed by cannabis defenders, other than its lack of dependency, is that the drug is not only used for recreational purposes, but it is also useful in other areas such as the paper, rope and clothing industry, and most importantly, it is useful to cancer patients; and an ultimate defense provided is that the drug does not damage human brain and neither does it cause severe health troubles such as cancer, heart problems and birth defects, among others.
Those arguments express some of the views of people in favor of decriminalizing marijuana. They have been assembled in some website dedicated to the cause of fighting to defend their ideals of turning cannabis legal. Nonetheless, this intense discussion is not confined within virtual web pages and, being openly polemic, amasses different stances. The debate over whether this drug should be kept illicit or turned legal encompasses religious, universitarian, political and economic scopes among others. Additionally, contrary to favorable views, not only consistent, but also reliable arguments against this legalization are evidenced.
Firstly, despite defenders claims, cannabis has been proven to have levels of addiction. And addition is clearly an important factor and crucial to the defense presented for the legalization. That is why they want to claim that marijuana is not addictive. Because it would be insensible to argue that “personal freedom” is jeopardized if you cannot use the product you want to and later discover that that same product leaves you no freedom to stop using it. Accordingly, defenders of the cause affirm that marijuana is not addictive. However, no study at this point has been able to prove the drug’s deprivation from addiction. No study has also proven its severe addiction. Neurologist Eric H. Chudler, Ph.D., supported by the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), affirms that “Whether marijuana can produce severe addiction is controversial,” and that “Only future research will give us the answers”. On the other hand, in The Science of Marijuana (2008), Professor Iverson, from the University of Cambridge in England states, based on his laboratory research and survey research, pointed that between 10 to 30% of regular users will develop a dependency and that around 9% will develop serious addiction. Noticeably, the professor’s researches depict no zeroed statistics. And to responsibly and consistently affirm that a substance is not addictive is to affirm that there is no evidence of dependency shown, what has been proven not to be true.
Additionally, University of Mississippi's Potency Monitoring Project director Mahmoud ElSohly, when interviewed by CNN International in 2009, said that “the average potency of marijuana, as measured by the drug's concentration of the psychoactive ingredient THC, which has risen steadily for three decades, has exceeded 10 percent for the first time – with some plants as high as 30%,” and predicts that “potency will continue to rise”. That is, the hallucinogen effect acts in a shorter period of time, using less of the drug. The Project director’s research also shows that younger, inexperienced users have a higher chance of developing dependency if compared to older users, from former days.
Moreover, Family Doctor alerts that there are two types of dependencies in narcotics: physical and psychological. Psychological being less related to the drug and more to the person. That is, regardless of the drug, anyone can get addicted, depending on the person’s psychological traits. And because marijuana is harmful to the health, even if the addiction was only physical, that would become a problem. So, be it in whichever ambit, whether physical or psychological, with scientific evidence to prove, it is undeniable that marijuana has some level of addictiveness. Yet, even if addiction does not constitute high levels, the benefit of doubt is a logical argument not to turn the drug legal. It is ill advised to decriminalize it, while further researches are being made to verify for more numbers, meanwhile having the population using it, risking having more and more people addicted to it. Furthermore, risking using the drug in order to check whether you are among the 30% or the 70% who will develop addiction does not seem like the most intelligent choice. And even more, if the drug had been proved to have no addition whatsoever, that would still not consist logical argument to legalizing it because the lack of addition does not make a substance fit for use. An example is another drug, the opium. It has been analyzed as less not-addictive than cannabis and it has been past proved that opium is severely detrimental to the health, according to Drugs.
In addition to being addictive, cannabis is not the solo answer to cancer patients. Defenders claim that cannabis can be used for a variety of things, and not only for recreational purposes. Its fiber can be used to make paper, rope and clothing, as well as its THC can be used to ease the pain, insomnia, nausea, loss of appetite and digestion problems from cancer patients.
Nevertheless, those are scarcely the reasons why the gross majority of users want it legal. This idea works very much like a façade of being concerned on behalf of the cancer patients or paper industry and not because of recreational use. The reason behind the illegality of the drug is hardly related to the concern traditional paper manufacturing felt towards the properties of cannabis, contrary to what THC, a website dedicated to the promotion of the drug, states: “ Hemp's potential for producing paper also posed a threat to the timber industry. Evidence suggests that commercial interests having much to lose from hemp competition helped propagate reefer madness hysteria, and used their influence to lobby for Marijuana Prohibition.” On the other hand, in the same paragraph they admit: “It is not known for certain if special interests conspired to destroy the hemp industry via Marijuana Prohibition.”
Moreover, not only cancer patients constitute the least portion of protestants, according to Drug Abuse, but also, as reported by NORML, Kara Rosen, “who is among the more than 100,000 Colorado residents who have become legal users of marijuana since 2009” affirms that in some states where medicinal marijuana is permitted, like Colorado, half the patients use the drug for stress alleviation and insomnia, instead of for cancer.
Actually, further still, this argument discredits the cancer patients, who do indeed benefit from the drug, making it all appear invalid. When perfectly vigorous people with dreadlocks, cannabis plan t-shirt and bloodshot eyes fight alongside cancer patients for the legalization of a drug, pretending they share the same interests with the result, it discredits not only the first, but both.
Furthermore, the American Cancer Society informs that about 30% of the world population suffers from some type of cancer. So if marijuana were decriminalized because of use for some industries or for symptoms lessening to some people (both benefits found in many other sources), once made available to these people, it would also becomes accessible to all the other 4.900.000.000 cancer-free and paper industry uninterested people, who have no reason, according to the argument, to use the drug.
Lastly, marijuana should continue illegal because of all harms cannabis cause, and because it causes more harm than other possible benefits that may come with it, likewise because there are other answers to the problems it could help solve. US National Library of Medicine, a governmental information provider, within the National Institute of Health (NIH) lists over 15 medicines directed for heavy pain releasing, over 200 web pages with names of medication for eating disorder, more than 500 pages listing remedy for sleeping disorder, over 1000 pages with medicine that combat loss of appetite, and more than 2000 pages with names of nausea medication. Clearly, there are a number of other choices to help cancer patients other than cannabis. Thus, constituting no necessity for decriminalizing the drug.
Finally, rather than being deprived of causing harm, cannabis has been proven to do the opposite precisely. A number of experts offer consistent evidence to support that. First, on the whole, breathing smoke of any type is harmful to the human health. With cannabis smoke, not only the user is inhaling smoke, but also he or she is holding it there for a long time and that is injurious to the tissue. In fact, a study conducted by the British Lung Foundation with doctor Mark Britton, chairman of the Foundation, established that cannabis cigarettes are almost 10 times more damaging than tobacco cigarettes. He further informs that his research has shown evidence that the tar from cannabis cigarettes contains 50% more cancer causing carcinogens than tobacco cigarettes.
Neurologist Eric H. Chudler, Ph.D., supported by the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), states that “Because there is a high level of tar and other chemicals in marijuana, smoking it is similar to smoking cigarettes. The lungs get a big dose of chemicals that increase the chances of lung problems and cancer later in life”. Doctor Chudler supplements that marijuana’s THC “acts on cannabinoid receptors which are found on neurons in many places in the brain. These brain areas are involved in memory (the hippocampus), concentration (cerebral cortex), perception (sensory portions of the cerebral cortex) and movement (the cerebellum, substantia nigra, globus pallidus). When THC activates cannabinoid receptors, it interferes with the normal functioning of these brain areas.” And this interference, in higher dosage, is likely to cause hallucinations, delusions, impaired memory, and disorientation. Additionally, THC can affect two neurotransmitters: norepinephrine and dopamine. Serotonin and GABA levels may also be altered, according to doctor Chudler.
Another expert, Neurophysiologist and researcher doctor Tanya Zilberter, has evidenced in her researches over 20 years, that in beginning users, the most common reactions to the drug are anxiety, panic reactions including tachycardia, and psychotic symptoms. The average heart rate increases between 20% and 100% just after using marijuana and this effect can last for three hours. This increases significantly the risks of undergoing a heart attack. On the other hand, chronic users are likely to suffer from memory deficits and motor performance impairment. Decreased levels of testosterone and increased rates of birth defects in babies born to mothers taken cannabis during pregnancy are other adverse effects. Doctor Zilberter explains still:
Cannabis use changes brain functions that can be detected by modern methods like positron emission tomography, and electroencephalography. Among most reproducible effects of cannabis withdrawal are: lower brain blood flow in certain regions of brain cortex, less activity in brain regions involved in memory and attention and changes in cannabinoid receptor activity in the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and cerebellum.
In what concerns neurophysiology still, Anxiety Panic Hub shows that marijuana can cause panic attacks and if there is an existing condition, the risk of triggering it is high. Mental Health Examiner, Paul Bright, conducted a research that proves that adolescent users, who are still in development, can have basic emotional development inhibited and progress into paranoia. The International Mental Health Research Organization cites 30 studies that show the emergency of schizophrenia being higher in younger users of cannabis.
Lastly and perhaps more importantly, the European Respiratory Journal, an official scientific journal, presents a study performed by 9 doctors and 3 medical institutes, which demonstrates the connection between cannabis use and lung cancer. Their abstract informs: “the risk of lung cancer increased 8% (95% confidence interval (CI) 2–15) for each joint-yr of cannabis smoking, after adjustment for confounding variables including cigarette smoking, and 7% (95% CI 5–9) for each pack-yr of cigarette smoking, after adjustment for confounding variables including cannabis smoking. The highest tertile of cannabis use was associated with an increased risk of lung cancer (relative risk 5.7 (95% CI 1.5–21.6)), after adjustment for confounding variables including cigarette smoking”. So it cannot be stated that marijuana does not harm health.
In sum, because marijuana is not free from causing dependency, as well as because it is not the only remedy for cancer patients, and finally because it is harmful to the health, marijuana should not be legalized. After analyzing such steady evidence, not only is it possible to perceive why president Franklin Roosevelt made marijuana illicit, but also, it is possible to perceive why it should continue that way.