Legalizing Medicinal Marijuana: The Benefits And Drawbacks

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One major topic of controversy in today’s society is the use of medicinal marijuana. Although marijuana is currently not an approved medicine according the Food and Drug Administration, it is legal in some states in the US (Vaughn, 2016). It is important to realize the actual marijuana plant is not being used, but the chemicals in marijuana called cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are not intoxicating, which is why it is so beneficial for various health conditions (National Institute on Dru()Abuse, 2019). Medicinal marijuana has proven to have various benefits, such as treatment of incurable diseases such as Sickle Cell disease and various neurological disorders. Although additional studies are being performed, legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes provides patients with improved quality of life and better outcomes.

The ethical theory that will be applied to the topic of legalizing medicinal marijuana is ethical egoism. According to our textbook, ethical egoism can be defined as “the theory that the right action is the one that advance’s ones own best interests” (Vaughn, 2016, p. 78). This theory falls under the category of consequentialist theories, which focuses on “how much good can result from actions performed” (Vaughn, 2016, p. 78). One example of a population studied showed improvement of symptoms with sickle cell disease, a disease which causes red blood cells to become sickled in shape, leading to pain and decreased oxygenation in the body (Roberts et al., 2018). These individuals could have decided to use illegal marijuana to help control disease symptoms. These individuals are practicing the idea of ethical egoism because they feel marijuana is beneficial for their disease and promotes the most good in their life. They could have tried other pain medications but maybe could not afford them or found they were not as beneficial as marijuana. They chose to obtain marijuana because it was most beneficial. Our textbook states even ethical egoists must consider the long term effects of their actions (Vaughn, 2016). Ethical egoists believe the individual must understand the benefits versus the risk of obtaining marijuana, specifically cannabinoids, for medical purposes. If medical marijuana became legal and this same individual had a provider’s order, they would not have to worry about an illegal act or consequences that follow, even though it is promoting the best outcome for themselves. They would not have to constantly worry about concealing the use of marijuana or trying to hide it if searched by the authorities because it is a schedule I controlled substance. If it were legalized, these patients could openly admit to their physician about taking this medication because it was the most beneficial, which would help with disease control in the future. The Greek philosopher Epicurus believed “the greatest good is pleasure, and the greatest evil, pain. The duty of a good ethical egoist is to maximize pleasure for oneself” (Vaughn, 2016, p. 79). In other words, we as individuals must be our own advocate. If we know something to be beneficial for ourselves, then it is our duty to utilize these resources. According to ethical egoism, it is ethically acceptable to use medicinal marijuana if it is the most beneficial to the individual using it.

While ethical egoists would advocate for legalization for marijuana to promote an individuals best self, there are areas of criticism and skepticism. Our textbook defines utilitarianism as “a theory asserting that morally right action is the one that produces the most favorable balance of good over evil, everyone considered” (Vaughn, 2016, p. 677). A utilitarian would want to consider the entire scenario and objectively identify positive and negative aspects. A utilitarian would only consider legalizing medicinal marijuana if it was beneficial to the entire population, not only certain groups. The individual may realize using medical marijuana is expensive, not as effective as treatment prescribed by the individual’s physician, creates a negative stigma for the individual, has increased risk for dependence and impaired judgment, as well as legal consequences for obtaining and using illegal marijuana, even if it is for medical reasons rather than recreational purposes (Marcoux, Larrat, & Vogenberg, 2013). A utilitarian would argue the negatives far outweigh the positives, voting against the legalization of medicinal marijuana.

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A recent study proved medicinal marijuana decreased pain associated with sickle cell disease, a disease in which the red blood cells become sickle shaped, leading to decreased blood flow and pain to those specific areas of the body. The results of this study proved twenty three percent of patients who underwent drug testing tested positive for marijuana. These patients justified use for treatment of various conditions such as pain, anxiety, mood, sleep, and appetite (Roberts, et al., 2018). These findings suggest medicinal marijuana has proven to be beneficial in patients with sickle cell disease, even though it was not a physician recommended treatment option. If medicinal marijuana were legal, these patients would not have to worry about justifying their reasoning for using marijuana. They could simply state it was prescribed by their physician for their disease.

Another study analyzed the use of medicinal marijuana as adjunctive treatment for neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, neuropathic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and seizure disorders (Maroon and Bost, 2018). This article explains how cannabinoids are beneficial and pose less risk to the patient. Maroon and Bost stated “In contrast to THC, Cannabinoid does not alter heart rate, blood pressure, or body temperature, does not induce catalepsy, nor alter psychomotor or psychological functions (Maroon and Bost, 2018). Yet again, it has been proven with evidence that cannabinoids decrease symptoms associated with specific diseases while decreasing the likelihood of addiction. Cannabinoids could be utilized in the medical field as an alternative therapy for individuals who have tried other treatment options that are ineffective.

A study performed by BioMed Research International analyzed the treatment options for cancer cachexia. According to the study, “ cancer cachexia is a multifactorial syndrome, which is the result from interaction between the host and tumors, characterized by weight loss, anorexia, and anemia. CAAs represents the direct cause of at least twenty five percent of cancer deaths due to the long-term lack of nutritional intake, digestion, and absorption dysfunction” (Wang, et al., 2019). The article further explains that the treatment for this condition is glucocorticoids, cytokine receptors, progestogens, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and cannabinoids (Wang, et al., 2019). This study noted cannabinoids aided in increasing appetite for cancer cachexia patients, but further research needed to be conducted to determine if patient safety and quality of life are at risk.

Although there are various medical benefits of legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, it would require strict regulation from physicians as well as state legislators. If legalized, a process would need to be implemented similar to the process for current medication prescriptions. The physician would have to determine the need for marijuana for the patient and prescribe it just as he or she prescribes other medications. The patient would then need to obtain the prescription from a credible source such as a pharmacy. Having this process in place will ensure the prescription is regulated in our society and will eliminate individuals from growing their own marijuana plants and using it recreationally. Legalizing medicinal marijuana will also facilitate open communication between the health care provider and the patient. The patient will be able to be open and honest with the physician without fear of judgment or criminal consequences.

Legalization of medicinal marijuana, specifically cannabinoids, could be very beneficial to our society. However, I personally feel as though many individuals are poorly educated on the subject and need correct information given to them to make an informed decision on the subject. In addition to individuals needing to be better educated, I also believe every state would benefit greatly to have marijuana legalized for medicinal purposes as long as there is a structured protocol in place to be able to monitor and regulate the usage.

Although the articles referenced above have proven that medicinal marijuana does benefit those with various diseases, further research should still be conducted. Additional research would further ensure safeness and accuracy of the studies that have been performed thus far. With further evidence, it could be clearly proven that the benefits outweigh the risks associated with legalizing medicinal marijuana.   

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