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Biology 202
2002 Second Paper
On Serendip

Psychological Effects of Medicinal/Recreational Marijuana

Alisa Alexander

Is there a difference in the psychological/healing effects between the use of "recreational" marijuana and medicinal marijuana?

Before researching this question, I could not understand what difference medicinal marijuana would have on cancer patients that was not already known through previous studies on the drug. I thought I fully understood marijuana's effects on the brain until the issues of medicinal marijuana arose. Prior to the research on the subject, I assumed that much of what is known now about the drug is due to the extensive research on its affects on Cancer and AIDS patients. If the use of marijuana is controlled for therapeutic purposes, are the effects different if used regular for non-medicinal purposes? This is the question I attempt to answer through extensive web research.
In the past 5 years, there has been an increased debate about the use of medicinal marijuana in treating cancer and AIDS patients. Marijuana has been used in alternative medical treatment by doctors around the country and by patients themselves who seek relief from the pain caused by cancer and AIDS. Controlled use of marijuana has been used to treat a number of diseases:

"AIDS. Marijuana can reduce the nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite caused by the ailment itself and by various AIDS medications.

Glaucoma. Marijuana can reduce intraocular pressure, thereby alleviating the pain and slowing -- and sometimes stopping -- the progress of the condition.

Cancer. Marijuana can stimulate the appetite and alleviate nausea and vomiting, which are common side effects of chemotherapy treatment.

Multiple Sclerosis. Marijuana can limit the muscle pain and spasticity caused by the disease, as well as relieving tremor and unsteadiness of gait.

Epilepsy. Marijuana can prevent epileptic seizures in some patients.

Chronic Pain. Marijuana can alleviate the chronic, often debilitating pain caused by myriad disorders and injuries." (1)

Institutions nationally have conducted studies on the use of medicinal marijuana on disease stricken patients. The Institute of Medicine published a journal on the use of marijuana and the effects it as a recreational drug and medicinal drug. Because the substance, when used medicinally, is monitored/controlled, the psychological effects on the patient is slightly different, and its effects also vary depending on the type of the disease the patient is suffering from. A complete report done by the National Academy of Sciences details the psychological effects of recreational and medicinal marijuana. In the 20th century, marijuana has been used more for its euphoric effects than as a medicine. Its psychological and behavioral effects have concerned public officials since the drug first appeared in the southwestern and southern states during the first two decades of the century. (2) After extensive research of the drug in the past decade, its actual effects used medicinally and recreationally were found. Research on cannabinoid biology offers new insights into clinical use, especially given the scarcity of clinical studies that adequately evaluate the medical value of marijuana. For example, despite the scarcity of substantive clinical data, basic science has made it clear that cannabinoids can affect pain transmission and, specifically, that cannabinoids interact with the brain's endogenous opioid system, an important system for the medical treatment of pain. (3)

When marijuana is taken without regulation of the intake, the effects are quite similar. Those taking the drug, whether recreationally or medicinally experience similar effects. Marijuana has been linked to psychological dependence but not proven to be physically addictive.

"Many users describe two phases of marijuana intoxication: initial stimulation, giddiness and euphoria, followed by sedation and pleasant tranquility. Mood changes are often accompanied by altered perceptions of time and space and of one's bodily dimensions. The thinking process becomes disrupted by fragmented ideas and memories. Many users report increased appetite, heightened sensory awareness and pleasure. Negative effects can include confusion, acute panic reactions, anxiety attacks, fear, and a sense of helplessness and loss of self-control." (4)

Some researchers conclude that constant recreational use of marijuana in high doses can cause lung cancer, respiratory problems and brain impairment. Those advocating the use of medicinal marijuana argue that because it will be controlled by the doctor administering the drug, there isn't a chance of psychological addiction or any other problems believed to be connected with marijuana use.
Only long-term research can show concrete long-term effects of marijuana use. The short-term usage of the drug is helping many cope with their illness, it is because of these effects doctors, patients, and medicinal marijuana supporters rally for legal use of the drug in America. Many who rally for legal use of the drug do so because the statistics fail to prove any long-term psychological effects even when used recreationally.


WWW Sources
1)Medical Marijuana Briefing Paper
2)National Academy Press
3)National Academy Press
4)The Effects of Marijuana

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