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Drugs and the Whole Person

Illicit Drugs: Marijuana

Whole Person
New Approach

Marijuana is the most widely used of the currently illicit drugs. The leaves and stems of the cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica) contain a number of psychoactive substances, the most important of which is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.

History of Marijuana

Marijuana is another of the illicit drugs that may have been known to the earliest people or even to their evolutionary ancestors. The first record of marijuana is in the writings of the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung and was supposedly written in 2737 BC. Certainly marijuana was in use in Siberia as early as 2500 BC and in India as early as 1500 BC.

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus reports the use of marijuana by the Scythians, who made cloth from its fibers and inhaled the smoke from the seeds smoldering on hot stones, with the result that they "shouted for joy." The Roman physician Galen wrote of persons who fried and ate the seeds to stimulate appetite and create a feeling of warmth. He also noted that this practice dehydrated the user (an early reference to the phenomenon modern users call "cotton mouth").

Marijuana was introduced into the Americas by the Spanish, who began cultivation of it in Chile in 1545. In 1611 King James I commanded that marijuana be planted at Jamestown in the colony of Virginia. Eight years later the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill to require every farmer in Virginia to include marijuana among his crops. This was not because of a craze for pot smoking among our colonial ancestors. It was because of the other use of the marijuana plant (Cannabis indica or Cannabis sativa, also known as hemp) as a source of fiber from which cloth or rope could be made. Hemp was to become the second largest cash crop of the
South up until the Civil War. The term "homespun" clothing was originally "hempspun" and referred to clothing made from hemp—the fiber of the marijuana plant.

Apparently some use was made of this most unrecognized of drugs for its psychoactive effects. An often quoted passage from one of Washington's letters from Valley Forge refers to the practice of separating male from female plants on his Mount Vernon hemp (marijuana) plantation; this is a practice that produces more potent marijuana but has no value in raising hemp fiber. Other documentary evi¬dence suggests that many of the intelligentsia of the age smoked or ate marijuana for its psychoactive effects—Washington and Jefferson among them. This interpretation of the evidence is disputed by other historians who feel that too much is being read into a few ambiguous statements.

In 1839 William B. O'Shaughnessy, an Irish physician, introduced the use of hashish into Western medicine. Among those who adopted the daily use of hashish as a tonic was Queen Victoria. One of the biggest spurs to increased medical use of marijuana was the claim in 1850 by Dr. Frederick Hollick of Philadelphia that marijuana was an aphrodisiac and could cure impotence.

With marijuana readily available over the counter in any pharmacy and even by mail order, some individuals began to experiment with the psychoactive effects of large doses of the concentrated form known as hashish. The poet Gautier and the painter Boissard founded the Club des Haschishin at the Hotel Pimodan in Paris. With a membership list including famous names such as Baudelaire, Hugo, Balzac, Flaubert, and Dumas, the club gathered to eat hashish and to experience effects more like those of LSD than the effects modern users expect from smoking the much smaller amounts of marijuana used today.

In England DeQuincey and Coleridge experimented with hashish eating as well as with opium eating. In America the marijuana-eating writers and artists became known as the Transcendentalists because they believed the drug allowed them to transcend mundane reality and see deeper into the hearts of people and the nature of the universe. The Transcendentalists included Whitman, Thoreau, Emerson, Whittier, and Melville. In 1856 an anonymous pamphlet entitled "The Hashish Eater" (probably written by Bayard Taylor) was published in England; it recounted the experiences of a group of these intellectual marijuana users. In 1857 Fitz Hugh Ludlow of Poughkeepsie, New York, published a book titled The Confessions of a Hasheesh Eater, which gained widespread popularity, further stimulating interest in the drug among intellectuals and artists.

The 1876 Philadelphia World's Fair celebrating America's centennial attracted the attention of the world. Most popular was the Hall of Industry, with attractions such as a giant steam engine and the telephone. A close rival was the Turkish Pavilion, which offered two attractions: belly dancers and hashish smoking.

The close of the nineteenth century brought with it two final related events in England. One was the 1890 publication in the prestigious British medical journal Lancet of a paper by Dr. J. Russell Reynolds on the long-term effects of the medical use of marijuana in which he reported that he had been prescribing daily doses of hashish for Queen Victoria for the past 30 years. The second was the report in 1895 of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission. The commission, after a 1-year study and 86 hearings in 30 cities in which the testimony of 1193 expert witnesses was heard, released a seven-volume report. They found no need for public concern over marijuana use. Their report stated that regular use of small doses of marijuana was beneficial, moderate doses were harmless, and large doses were harmful but less so than drinking whiskey.

Concern over marijuana use was developing, however, in the American Southwest. As the economy in the Southwest boomed during World War I, many Mexicans had come to America to perform unskilled labor that had been abandoned by
most White workers. When the economy began to slow down after the war and veterans returned home looking for jobs, the Mexican workers began to compete with whites for jobs. Racial enmity toward the Mexican workers began to blossom.

The use of marijuana by Mexicans was soon being blamed for lawlessness and rioting. In 1914, following a race riot between whites and Mexicans, the city of El Paso, passed the nation’s first law against marijuana. The ordinance was a means of preventing future riots and of legally harassing “troublesome” Mexicans. By 1930, marijuana was either prohibited or available by prescription only in 29 states, the majority of them west of the Mississippi. The Mexican government, yielding to U.S. pressures, outlawed marijuana in 1920. Meanwhile, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was encouraging farmers to grow marijuana because of its value as a cash for export as hemp rope.

As racial conflicts worsened during the depression of the 1930s, public concern over marijuana use by Mexicans and African-Americans increased. Marijuana was pictured as a "killer weed" that spurred its users to violence and eventually drove them permanently insane. The movie Reefer Madness, which today is treated as a hilarious comedy, was treated as a serious documentary at the time.

Federal Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger claimed that criminals commonly smoked to give them courage "before making brutal forays". Beginning in 1936, the Federal Narcotics Bureau's annual report contained a section on "Marihuana Crimes" that recounted horror stories of brutal murders and : attacks by persons under the influence of marijuana. Most of these reports were apparently fictional, since no corroborating records can be found by modern researchers.

In 1937 Marihuana: Assassin of Youth by Harry Anslinger was published. This book collected all the hysterical myths and racial slurs about marijuana and offered them to the public. Its appearance was authoritative because of its authorship by the Federal Narcotics commissioner. One month later Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act that, in effect, outlawed marijuana. The bill was passed almost without debate. The only opposing testimony heard in committee was from a lobbyist for the birdseed industry, who pointed out that marijuana seeds were an essential part of birdseed and
won an exception in the law. The one expert witness who tried to testify against the law, a representative of the American Medical Association, was informed that testimony against the bill was not wanted by the Congress.

In 1943 Colonel J. M. Phalen, editor of The Military Surgeon, wrote an editorial entitled "The Marijuana Bugaboo" in response to inquiries about marijuana use among soldiers in Panama. In the editorial he argued that smoking marijuana was no more harmful than smoking tobacco. He concluded that "It is hoped that no witch hunt will be instituted in the military service over a problem that does not exist."

In 1944 a panel of 31 eminent physicians, psychologists, sociologists, phar¬macologists, and chemists appointed by New York City’s Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia issued a report on the use of marijuana in New York City. They concluded that the effects of the drug were relatively trivial, that it did not contribute to insanity or crime, that it was not addictive, and that it caused no serious chronic effects. The study was strongly attacked by the Federal Narcotics Bureau and in an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The editorial called the study unscientific but did not find a single flaw in the way it was conducted. Although it was actually an adequately designed and conducted scientific study, the "La Guardia report" was discredited in the eyes of the public. This was virtually the last serious challenge to the marijuana mythology of the "killer weed" until the 1960s.

Over time the myths about marijuana underwent a change. The myth that it produced "murder, insanity, and death" was gradually replaced by the myth that its use inevitably led to heroin addiction. Strangely, Commissioner Anslinger had testified before Congress in 1937 that he knew of no case where a marijuana user became a heroin user. In 1955 he testified to the exact opposite—that the principal danger of marijuana was that its use led to heroin addiction.

Forms of Marijuana

Marijuana is the term used to describe all the plant material from a cannabis plant, dried and prepared for smoking. It is also known as bhang. This total plant mixture will contain 0.5 to 8 percent THC; the average for marijuana sold in the United States is about 5 percent.

Ghanja refers to the flowers and top leaves of the cannabis plant. It may contain up to 10 percent THC.

Sinsemilla is Spanish for "without seeds" and refers to marijuana from female cannabis plants that have never been pollinated and, therefore, have continued producing THC beyond the point where pollinated plants would have stopped. It may contain as much as 15 percent THC.

Hashish is the resin of the cannabis plant; it is also known as charas. It contains about 10.0 percent THC.

Hash oil is a liquid or tarry substance produced by percolating a solvent such as ether through marijuana to extract the THC. Hash oil sold on the illicit market may contain up to 63.0 percent THC; in theory preparations with higher percentages of THC are possible.

Kif is an Arabic term for a mixture of ghanja and tobacco; in the United States it is often used as a slang word for hashish.

Marijuana tea is a beverage prepared by brewing marijuana in water. In the United States this beverage is often called "terrible tea," a name given it by Margolis and Clorfene (1975) presumably in reference to its taste. In India a similar beverage called bhang is brewed from marijuana and black pepper.

"Alice B. Toklas" brownies or fudge is a term often used to refer to fudge or brownies containing marijuana; the name comes from Gertrude Stein's lover who supposedly served such fudge in the 1920s.

Effects of Marijuana

Acute Effects

The psychological effects of marijuana at the most common dosage levels resemble the effects of the sedative-hypnotics or alcohol at low doses. Relaxation, relief of mild anxiety, and euphoria are the major effects. More severe anxiety, however, may be worsened rather than relieved, by marijuana. For this or other reasons associated with set and setting, marijuana may sometimes produce dysphoria (an exaggerated sense of distress or unhappiness) instead of euphoria. This sort of ambiguousness, where the drug may sometimes produce one effect and other times produce the opposite effect, is perhaps the one thing most typical of the effects of marijuana.

Mirthfulness is the most consistent effect of marijuana. Marijuana tends to make users find things funny. Uncontrolled laughter and giggling are common results of marijuana use. Fantasies, flight of ideas, and loss of train of thought are also common effects. Short-term memory may be impaired; users may have difficulty in remembering what they were doing a few minutes ago, although older memories are unaffected. Perceptions of size, distance, and time may be distorted.

As with the sedative-hynotics, inhibitions are lowered by marijuana. Sexual pleasure may be enhanced. Unlike the sedative-hypnotics or alcohol, marijuana does not increase aggressiveness. In fact, in direct opposition to the claims on which the marijuana laws were originally based, marijuana reduces aggression and violent behavior.

Marijuana is like the stimulants in that it heightens sensitivity to external stimuli. Immediately after smoking marijuana the user may experience a stimulant-like excitement and increase in energy, but this is usually of brief duration. Like the stimulants, marijuana seems capable of enhancing one's attentiveness to a job or task. A number of studies (Ames, 1958; Carter, et al., 1976; Rubin and Comitas, 1975) indicate that workers at routine tasks, such as those in agriculture or on assembly lines, concentrate more on their task, expend more energy, and do a more thorough job when under the influence of marijuana. Rubin and Comitas (1975) report that in Jamaica the major reason given by marijuana smokers for their use of the drug is its perceived stimulus to energy and work motivation.

Effects of marijuana on non-routine or intellectual tasks have not been directly assessed in any study. Rubin and Comitas (1975) report that Jamaican users state that marijuana use enhances their ability to solve problems and to learn. No scientific evidence for or against this contention has yet been developed.

Very high doses of marijuana may result in distortion of body image or feelings of depersonalization -- loss of identity or humanness. Acute panic-anxiety reactions, usually characterized by the user's fear of "going crazy", may result from marijuana use. Such effects usually occur in first-time, or at least relatively inex¬perienced, marijuana users, especially those who have fears or guilt feelings regard¬ing the use of marijuana. Older persons and persons who are depressed or suffering from chronic pain also have a greater likelihood of experiencing a panic reaction. Milder anxiety, in the form of "paranoia" about police surveillance or friends' motives, is also reported at least occasionally by most marijuana users.

The physical effects of marijuana are not very impressive. Most obvious are dilation of the conjunctiva! blood vessels, resulting in reddened or "bloodshot" eyes, and coughing. The latter effect, of course, results only when the marijuana is smoked; it is not seen when the marijuana is eaten. Dry mouth and throat (known to users as "cotton mouth") is almost universally reported. Both thirst and appetite are stimulated. Heartbeat is increased. Blood pressure seems to be lowered in marijuana users when standing (sometimes resulting in dizziness or even faintness) but re¬mains normal or increases in users who are lying down. There may be a serious danger of severe drops in blood pressure in marijuana users who are also taking belladonna, which is found in many cold medicines. Marijuana produces some degree of muscular weakness. The one obvious manifestation of this weakness is drooping eyelids.

Marijuana and Driving

The effects of marijuana on driver performance are important to us all. With 16 million regular marijuana smokers and several million more occasional marijuana smokers in America, there are inevitably a good many drivers on the highways under the influence of marijuana. If their driving ability is seriously impaired, our safety is affected.

Early studies of this question compared the effects of marijuana on driver performance to the effects of alcohol on driver performance. Given such a comparison, marijuana was reported to present no hazard for driving. Marijuana clearly impairs driving ability to a much lesser degree than alcohol does. But, of course, we know that drinking drivers are a danger to us all; the real question was whether people drove significantly worse under the effects of marijuana than when not under the effects of any psychoactive drug.

The finding by Weil, Zinberg, and Nelsen (1968) that marijuana slowed reaction time in first-time users but speeded up reaction time in experienced users was also cited as evidence for lack of hazard. In fact, it was argued that by speeding up reaction time marijuana use might improve driving ability and safety, especially with regard to emergency braking.

Marijuana users, meanwhile, reported that they felt that marijuana impaired their ability to drive. Most frequently reported was a tendency to drive much too slowly. Marijuana users also reported that they had trouble deciding when it was safe to pass another car, pull away from a stop sign, or merge with traffic, and that they tended to be excessively cautious in doing so.

Klonoff (1974) tested the effects of high and low doses of marijuana and placebos (cigarettes looking, tasting, and smelling like marijuana but containing no THC) on driving performance on a closed course and in traffic. In the driving course the abilities to drive between cones, judge whether there was enough distance to drive between cones, and brake in an emergency were tested. Some drivers were unaffected, but the average performance without marijuana was better than the performances with either high or low doses of marijuana. In traffic the drivers were rated on the same test used to examine drivers for their driver's license. High doses of marijuana significantly impaired driving ability as measured by this test. Low doses, more typical of most recreational use, did not.

It is true that marijuana is far less hazardous for drivers than alcohol, but it apparently is a hazard. The situation is further complicated when drivers use both marijuana and alcohol.

Effects of Chronic Marijuana Use

The effects of long-term use of marijuana have been studied for many years. The India Hemp Drug Commission attempted to assess the effects of chronic use and found them to be negligible. The La Guardia Committee found no significant differences between a group of prisoners who were chronic marijuana users and a group of prisoners who were not marijuana users. The most recent studies have been those conducted among marijuana users in Jamaica and Costa Rica. These studies have been important because these users have been smoking highly potent marijuana, usually starting while fairly young, thus resembling the population about which we are most concerned today in America -- those who are beginning to use marijuana in early adolescence. Examination of the Jamaican and Costa Rican marijuana users allows us to see a population exposed to the drug at potencies and at life stages like the young American users of today. An added benefit of these cross-cultural studies is that they more clearly point out the true effects of the drug, independent of our cultural stereotypes.

Studies of chronic users in the United States are often complicated by the difficulties in identifying a representative sample of a group that is breaking the law—persons who will admit to illicit drug use may be atypical of illicit drug users. Persons who are arrested for drug use are certainly not typical of marijuana users, most of who are never arrested. Persons who are being treated for drug abuse problems are far from typical of marijuana users, most of who never receive or need such treatment.

Also, most Americans who have been using marijuana long enough to be included in a study of chronic, long-term effects began using marijuana as young adults or in their late teens, and they started by smoking marijuana that was much less potent that that generally available today. Thus they are not as likely to show any chronic effects, as may be the case with contemporary users who are starting younger on more potent marijuana.

At one time a major concern with marijuana was the so-called "amotivational syndrome." It was widely argued that marijuana caused users to become disinterested in conventional goals and to lose the motivation to achieve. As long as marijuana use was primarily found among the least economically productive groups in our society, this seemed to be true. Marijuana was used primarily in the slums. and people with good jobs do not usually choose to live in the slums. It was inevitable that marijuana use would be associated with unemployment and low income.

As marijuana use spread to the suburbs, any association with unemployment became tenuous. To the extent that some association is still found, it is impossible to say whether marijuana use contributed to the unemployment or whether being unemployed contributed to becoming a marijuana user. The cross-cultural evidence, which illustrates increased work as an effect of marijuana, and the fact that marijuana use is very common among highly motivated groups such as medical and law students argues strongly against the amotivational syndrome.

Effects on academic performance have also been a serious concern. Many early studies showed poorer academic performance on the part of marijuana users than nonusers. However, the difference in grades generally preceded the marijuana use, indicating that poor students were more likely to turn to marijuana instead of marijuana users becoming poor students. More recent studies, however, have failed to find any significant differences between marijuana users and nonusers in terms of academic performance. One exception is the finding by Mellinger, et al. (1976) that in a population of freshmen at an academically select university, long-term users of marijuana had significantly better grades than nonusers. This finding in only one case may simply be because nonusers were a minority in the population studied.

Respiratory System Effects. One major concern about marijuana has been its effects on the lungs and respiratory system. Obviously, marijuana is irritating to the respiratory system, as evidenced by the coughing its use produces. Chemical analysis of marijuana smoke has shown it to contain more benzopyrene, a known carcinogen, than tobacco smoke contains.

A great deal of media attention has been given recently to a study reporting that smoking 1 marijuana cigarette per day is as harmful as smoking 16 tobacco ciga¬rettes per day (Tashkin, 1978). A television documentary, "Reading, Writing and Reefer," in 1979 cited Dr. Donald Tashkin's study as showing that a person who smokes 5 marijuana joints does the same amount of harm to the lungs as the person who smokes 112 tobacco cigarettes. Neither of these figures is actually stated in the paper that Tashkin (1978) presented to the Academy of Thoracic Surgery, nor would it be methodologically possible to calculate any such figure from his a study.

The Tashkin study, despite the frequency with which it is quoted by the media, is a poorly designed study comparing a nonrandom sample of marijuana smokers to matched "controls" from a population of persons participating in another study, some of whom may have been marijuana smokers. Of eight tests of respiratory function, significant differences were found between marijuana smokers and nonsmokers on two tests. The marijuana smokers seemed to have increased mucous deposits in the larger airways or decreased size of such airways. The respiratory function findings for the marijuana smokers were, however, within the normal range for the tests. Given the serious questions about the design of this study, it seems reasonable to put much greater faith in the respiratory function studies done in Jamaica and Costa Rica. These studies showed that marijuana smoking damages the lungs to the same degree that tobacco smoking does, but since marijuana smokers smoke much less than tobacco smokers, the health consequences are far less.

Effects on the Heart. It is known that marijuana has acute effects on the heart; it accelerates the heartbeat and alters blood pressure. Whether marijuana damages the heart is uncertain. Recently initiated studies should provide at least partial answers in the next few years. The Jamaican study found no difference between marijuana users and nonusers on electrocardiograms, chest x-rays, or clinical examinations. These results suggest that marijuana may not cause any damage to the heart. This finding, however, is complicated by the fact that there is a high incidence of heart abnormality among Jamaicans in general, which might obscure any relatively minor damage caused by marijuana use.

There is good reason to suspect that marijuana use might damage the heart, not primarily because of the drug effects of the marijuana itself but because marijuana is usually smoked. Inhaling smoke means inhaling, among other things, carbon monoxide. The human bloodstream will carry carbon monoxide, which the body cannot use, in preference to carrying oxygen, which the body must have. Smoking does not introduce enough carbon monoxide into the bloodstream to cause death by asphyxiation, but it does make the heart work harder while getting less oxygen. Therefore it would seem that smoking itself is potentially damaging to the heart.

Effects on the Reproductive System. In 1974 Kolodny and his associates reported that levels of the male sex hormone testosterone were depressed in a group of marijuana users and improved with abstinence from the drug. Cushman (1975), however, reported that the testosterone levels of chronic marijuana users were in the normal range. Two studies (Mendelson, et al., 1975; Schaefer, et al., 1975) that administered large doses of marijuana to subjects over 21-day and 3-day periods, respectively, showed no change in testosterone levels. Reports of breast enlargement in male marijuana smokers have also been impossible to confirm in any controlled study. Like lowered testoterone levels and homicidal mania, breast enlargement seems to have been another marijuana myth.

Several studies have reported chromosome breakage in marijuana users. A larger number of studies have reported that such chromosome damage is no more common in marijuana users than in nonusers. No presently available evidence indicates that marijuana use causes birth defects.

Effects on the Brain. Americans seem to expect any drug that affects the mind to damage the brain. In fact, very few do. There is no evidence that marijuana causes any damage to the human brain. Tests of intelligence, cognitive processes, sensory processes, and psychomotor function have all failed to show differences between long-term marijuana users and nonusers.

Effects on Immune Response and Disease Susceptibility. Some studies have reported that marijuana use interferes with the body's ability to develop immunity. Other studies report no such effect. There is evidence that marijuana smoking may increase susceptibility to respiratory infections much as tobacco smoking does. Again, when marijuana smokers are clinically compared to nonusers, they do not seem to be different in terms of their state of health.

Marijuana as "Stepping Stone" or "Gateway". Beginning in the 1950s, the main argument against marijuana was the stepping stone hypothesis, which maintained that marijuana use inevitably led to heroin use. Today this myth is thoroughly discredited. Most marijuana users do not become heroin users. Many heroin users began using heroin without ever trying marijuana. The two drugs are connected only by the fact that they are both illegal and any pattern of marijuana use preceding heroin use is simply due to marijuana being the more widely available and popular illicit drug (Duncan, 1975a).

The current version of this myth is the gateway hypothesis (Yamaguchi & Kandel, 1984; Kandel, Yamaguchi, & Chen, 1992). This hypothesis suggests that drug use follows a typical progression beginning with use of alcohol and/or tobacco, then of marijuana, and subsequently of other illicit drugs. It is suggested thus that if adolescents don’t use marijuana, then they will not use heroin, cocaine or other illicit drugs. Reviews conducted by both the World Health Organization (Hall, Room, & Bondy, 1998) and the Institute of Medicine (Joy, Watson, & Benson, 1999) found that the hypothesis was not supported by the evidence. Hall, Room, and Bondy suggested that any association between marijuana use and subsequent use of other illicit drugs was due to the fact that "exposure to other drugs when purchasing cannabis on the black market, increases the opportunity to use other illicit drugs." A study conducted by the RAND Corporation concluded that the findings on which the gateway hypothesis had been based were as readily explained by the simple fact that marijuana is the most available drug for persons who have a "propensity" to use drugs Morral AR, McCaffrey DF, Paddock SM. (2002). Two studies by Agrawal, Neale, Prescott, and Kendler (2004a & 2004b) provide further support for such a model being superior to the gateway hypothesis.

Medicinal Marijuana

The U.S. government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug -- a drug with a high potential for abuse and no recognized medical use. In fact, marijuana has at least two recognized medical uses, and perhaps others will gain recognition in the near future.

Cancer. Marijuana does not cure cancer, but it does reduce the severe nausea that is a common side effect of cancer chemotherapy. The extent of nausea and continuous vomiting is often so severe that some cancer patients discontinue treatment, even though this may hasten their deaths. A number of drugs are used to reduce these side effects, but many patients are not helped by any of them. Marijuana is apparently more effective in reducing the side effects of cancer chemotherapy for more people than any prescription drug. Synthetic THC, known as dronabinol, is legally prescribed for this purpose but because THC is poorly absorbed when taken orally the results prove unpredictable, producing no effect some times and producing gross intoxication other times. As a result, thousands of cancer patients are illegally obtaining and using marijuana as the only reliable form of relief from the nausea their cancer treatment causes. Unfortunately, many other cancer patients are suffering needlessly because they cannot le¬gally obtain marijuana and will not break the law to obtain it, and many others are dying needlessly because they cannot tolerate the pain of cancer chemotherapy.

Glaucoma. Glaucoma is a chronic disease that gradually destroys its victims' eyesight. Prescription drugs are available that will slow or stop the progression toward blindness in some glaucoma sufferers. Marijuana seems to be effective for many glaucoma victims who are not helped by the other available drugs. Some glaucoma patients have successfully sued the federal government to obtain marijuana treatment but countless others are going blind for lack of the drug, or else are obtaining it illegally.

Other Possible Uses. Marijuana is effective in relieving mild to moderate pain. Its well known effect of increasing appetite points to its likely value in treating AIDS wasting syndrome or malnutrition resulting from loss of appetite in cancer patients. Studies showing that marijuana use reduces muscle spasticity, suggest that it may have value in the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS) and spinal cord injuries. Some asthma victims may find marijuana medicinally useful, although the use of a respiratory irritant to treat a respiratory disorder can seem a questionable approach. Marijuana is an effective, mild tranquilizer that does not have the hazards of physical dependence or overdose which the prescription tranquilizers present. There are numerous anecdotal reports from patients who have experienced therapeutic benefits from marijuana for these and other conditions. But such patient testimonials are worthless as evidence of a drug’s effectiveness. Treatments from the ancient use of leaches to Vitamin C for the common cold have had legions of satisfied patients despite the ineffectiveness of the treatment. Whether marijuana is truly effective for these conditions will only be known if researchers are allowed to conduct clinical trials.


Carter, W. E., Coggins, W. J., & Doughty, P. L. (1976). Chronic Cannabis Us in Costa Rica. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida.

Duncan, D. F. (1975). Marijuana and heroin: A study of initiation of drug abuse among heroin addicts. British Journal of Addiction, 70(2), 117-122. Available online at

Duncan, D. F. (1987). Lifetime prevalence of "amotivational syndrome" among users and non-users hashish. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 1(2), 114-119. Available online at

Hochman, J. S. (1972). Marijuana and Social Evolution. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Rubin, V. & Comitas, L. (1976). Ganja in Jamaica: The Effects of Marijuana Use. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press.

Weil, A. T., Zinberg, N. E., & Nelson, J. M. (1968). Clinical and psychological effects of marijuana in man. Science, 162, 1234-1242.

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