There are relatively large numbers of people suffering from serious afflictions that claim to have received at least some form of symptom relief when using medical marijuana. That is one of the few facts in the debate around medical marijuana that nobody disputes. So, if everybody accepts that some people claim to benefit medically from its use, what’s the big problem?
It would be possible to write tens of thousands of words trying to analyze the history of the various belligerents in the debate but space isn’t going to allow that. We will try, instead, to pick out the key pertinent points.
The pro camp:
• Some sufferers of serious illnesses claim symptom relief that cannot easily be replicated through conventional medicine.
• Marijuana, in a medical context, is a natural product (though there are synthetic forms available).
• It is a product that can be grown and processed in a relatively ‘eco-friendly’ fashion (even at home) and does not need a major manufacturing or industrial process.
• It has been used in medicine for thousands of years and its effects and side effects are relatively well documented (though they may vary considerably between individuals).
The con camp
• Some people claim that marijuana is addictive (though most will admit that some other routinely prescribed medications may also be addictive).
• The effects of the main chemical constituent (THC) are cited as having undesirable secondary effects on the user’s mental state.
• The traditional method of delivery (combustion and smoke inhalation) has significantly harmful side effects including those that are carcinogenic.
The problem with the debate on the subject is that people in one camp may easily refute many of the other camp’s points. For example, let’s consider for a moment, the efficacy of this substance as a method of symptom relief. Those that are against medical marijuana will point out that the FDA has stated that there is no evidence whatsoever of any therapeutic benefit being obtained through its use. Some people interpret this to mean that many supposed benefits are merely in the mind of the user.
However, the advocates point out that this criticism can be made of many other forms of analgesia or symptom relief medicines. For example, aspirin may prove to be very effective for the relief of migraine symptoms in some but perhaps useless for others. The extent to which these differences of effect are attributable to physiological or psychological processes is not always clear. Ultimately, it is perfectly possible to play this challenge and refutation game all day long and get absolutely nowhere.
A way forward
Just about every responsible health care professional knows that some medications may prove beneficial to some patients and not to others. They are also typically well aware that some medications may have undesirable side effects that may, in hopefully a minority of cases, also prove to be dangerous. Many healthcare practitioners also know that symptom relief is obtained, at times, by relief mechanisms that are not entirely clear and which may be attributable to the placebo effect. It is also very widely accepted that some medications may prove to be addictive if the medical professionals and patient concerned do not control their use.
It is, therefore, difficult to see the why medical marijuana should not be considered in the same fashion – i.e. a treatment to be used in circumstances where qualified medical professionals believe it justified. The logic has been accepted by several states in the US at the current time, and it is to be hoped that a rational assessment of the issues continues to progress in the states that currently do not accept the logic.