Marijuana: Friend or Foe?

As the global debate on marijuana legislation rages on, Ekaterina Tikhoniouk examines the merits and failings of one of the world’s favourite recreational drugs

Marijuana, weed, pot, grass, hash, reefe… the product of the plant Cannabis Sativa has been called many things throughout the years. With its earliest recorded usage being in the third millennium B.C., marijuana has been around for thousands of years.

Over five thousand years ago, Chinese physicians used it as anaesthetic, while the shamans of the Dacians – as well as the Hindus of Nepal and India – believed it to be a sacred drug and burned cannabis flowers in order to induce a state of trance. Many other cultures, such as the ancient Assyrians, Persians and Aryans, used it during important religious ceremonies.

But presently, there has been a large amount of debate and controversy over the legality of marijuana. One side is trying to legalise marijuana, while the other side battles to close the increasing number of Head Shops dotted around the country, which are sell ‘herbal’ cannabis by means of a loophole in legislation.

Marijuana has had a turbulent legal history – but ironically, the first cannabis law to ever exist was enacted in the state of Virginia in 1619, which actually ordered farmers to grow hemp, a variety of the cannabis plant. The next significant legislation, called the Marijuana Tax Act, was about in 1937. This tax stamp led to an instant halt in the production and usage of hemp and marijuana, declaring all forms of cannabis to be illegal. Illegal it would stay, except for a brief stint during the Second World War – the main reason for its original ban being that it was believed to make people violent.

Certainly this notion was not true. In this day and age we know that, for the most part, marijuana has the opposite effect: it induces relaxation. Short-term effects include a notable change in mood, increased heart rate, lowered blood pressure, and impairment in motor coordination and short-term memory.

Long-term effects are a lot less clear, but some studies report a shift in perception, and loss of drive and energy.  The user is more likely, in the words of one particularly opinionated study, to “become relaxed and lose interest in engaging in society, being content to sit around and smoke pot in their basement all day.” There’s also uncorroborated evidence that excessive use can lead to a decrease in mental capacity – in short, that it kills off brain cells.

But official studies have shown that prolonged use in young teens right through to adulthood can have damaging effects on their development, both social and psychological, as well as exacerbating existing genetic conditions of mental illness such as schizophrenia or psychosis. Other research has shown that the children of mothers who used it during pregnancy were more likely to develop problems with psychological development.

Another argument against marijuana is that it can act as a ‘gateway drug’ – that using it increases the probability of the person graduating to harder drugs. Some theorists have described pot as a stepping stone to cocaine. The ‘gateway’ theory has a valid point – because of the illegality of cannabis, its users are more likely to find themselves in situations which allow them to meet people who deal stronger drugs.

The legality of cannabis has been much debated, however, because it also has its benefits.  Recent research has shown us that small amounts of unadulterated marijuana may be even good for you. Experiments showed that there’s a solid possibility that controlled amounts of clean marijuana could stimulate the brain cells, improving memory and overall intelligence.

Cannabis actually has significant medicinal value – it can slow Alzheimer’s, relieve pain and stress, increase appetite, and alleviate nausea. Indeed, many medical conditions respond favourably to it, such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, depression, anxiety and others.

Yet another myth about the drug was busted recently by Dr Donald Tashkin, emeritus professor at UCLA, who has published evidence finding that marijuana – when smoked the correct way – is not a direct cause of lung carcinoma. In fact, other studies have shown that excessive alcohol consumption has a much worse effect on an individual’s brain cells than a couple of ‘joints’. In fact, during the ten thousand years of marijuana usage, there hasn’t been a single documented case of death from marijuana alone.

Many experts predicted that keeping marijuana banned would do very little to actually stamp out its usage. And they were right – the States currently have one of the largest underground markets of any country, and approximately 0.8 per cent of the world’s adult population use it on a daily basis.

Activists for the legalisation of hash often liken the ongoing ban on marijuana to the prohibition of alcohol in America in the 1920’s, which failed disastrously – alcohol abuse escalated during those years of prohibition, creating even more social problems. Many believe that the same is happening with marijuana.

Keeping marijuana use illegal has created many problems. With no quality control, anything can be added to the bag, which makes underground cannabis potentially dangerous to a person’s health. Also, no control means anyone who knows the right people can access it- there’s no way to stop it from falling into the hands of children or adolescents. Thus, many believe that shutting down the Head Shops would merely push marijuana even further underground and cause even more damage.

The legality of marijuana is a strongly contested issue, and many people believe that marijuana should have no criminal penalty attached to it – and yet, marijuana remains as illegal now as it was seventy years ago.

  • Sam Sharpe

    As you have noted in your article, marijuana is only considered a ‘gateway drug’ because it is illegal. If it was legalized it wouldn’t have any connection to crack, heroin, meth, and various pills – the real killer drugs. At least a million people worldwide are sitting in jails for non-violent crimes related to the consumption of marijuana alone – spare a thought for their freedom. So many people die from tobacco, alcohol and other drugs each day, and so many harmful prescription drugs are abused, but ganja does not kill. For those who like it, it relaxes the body and mind, in some cases it makes them more talkative or creative, it makes them hungry, sleepy… that’s all. So don’t believe the propaganda please. Something is not bad just because its illegal; the reasons for outlawing it were useless reasons and if it were legalized and taxed it could be a great source of revenue for governments and economies worldwide. So… LEGALIZE IT! Don’t criticize it! And I will advertize it.

  • Mike

    “…marijuana remains as illegal now as it was seventy years ago.” Simply untrue.

    Seventy years ago, marijuana was under the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, this is true. What is also true is that the Tax Act was deemed UNCONSTITUTIONAL by the US Supreme Court in 1969.

    Just because it’s a law, that doesn’t make the law just. That’s as true as it was 233-plus years ago.

    Think of how many lives were ruined by this illegal enforcement of what was probably one of the first major lobbying jobs by big business against the american public.

  • denbee

    As a Vietnam vet I was introduced to cannabis over 40 years ago. I come from an alcoholic family background and my choice, 40 years ago, to quit drinking and take up toking has probably saved my life. I missed out on the blackouts, the slurred speech, the stumbling, the vomiting, the violence and domestic abuse that I grew up with. Although I have been a criminal for over 2/3rds of my life I believe I made the right choice for my life. Here is what 40 years of regular cannabis use will do to a person: I have held only one job in that time, same job for 40 years. I have never missed a day of work in 40 years. I have been married for 30 years and have a 16 year old daughter. I run 30 miles a week and I have never felt better! Put that in you’re pipe and smoke it! The evils of cannabis use are in the laws that try to control it. We have made criminals of over 25 million cannabis users in America since the drug war started. 25 million lives and futures ruined in an insane effort to keep people from using a herb that gives the user a mild euphoric feeling and a brief sense of well being! Like most long time users, I really don’t care if I get the governments blessing or not, I will continue to use it.

  • MedUser

    denbee There is much more to this than people realize. Yes this plant has the most potent anti-psychotic properties known to us and is side effect free. Vets such as yourself along with sexual abuse and clergy abuse victims will attest to the suitability of this plant and for their own well-being they too simply chose to use what they know is of benefit to them.

  • Al Ciccone

    can I ask what you mean in saying sexual abuse and clergy abuse victims will attest to the suitability of this plant?
    Suitability to deal with Trauma?
    While I agree with legalising Cannabis, I can’t agree with it’s use simply to deal with Psychological pain.

  • MedUser

    What gives the Pope and those who support him and this broken part of society the idea that they and their broken church and broken religion can demand that their broken ideas and broken ideals come before the rest of the planet and the people?

  • I just like it ?

    I’m just a young guy, going off to college next year and i can’t wait. I think it should stay illegal… When people ask what i think on the subject and i answer them that people tend to ask why ? I smoke at least once a day sometimes more and i love the high and the relaxing feeling it gives me. For an hour or two i just don’t have to worry about any thing at all and in today’s society we don’t get to experience that any more. Its sad really because its pushing more and more people to smoke. But imagine if it was legal “lets just pretend for a minute” and any one the wanted to smoke could if they wanted to… Would it really be that great ? I think it would just make the people that smoke it already abuse it even more ! And it would no longer be special it would just be normal. Now wheres the fun in that, it would be like going out side for a smoke “on a side note i hate cigarettes”. Every one would be doing it witch would make it even less special. I mean com on guys as if it being illegal stopped us before ?

  • Al Ciccone

    ‘I just like it’

    It’s not a question of it being fun because it’s illegal. There are far bigger issues than you feeling special.
    De-criminalising Cannibas would take the power away from dealers and criminal gangs who illegally import it to make money to fund other more harmful activities.
    Also it would give the public the freedom to do to themselves what they wish and not have such rules enforced by the government.

  • forrest

    ‘MedUser’ No, the pope probably doesnt support legalizing marijuana, but that doesn’t make his beliefs a “broken religion” as you seem to think. I for one am a christian-not catholic, but thats s different subject-and don’t use it myself, but DONT think it should be illegal. As has been said, about as many people get high and die every day from things that are considered normal or alright in today’s society as the things that are considered bad for you. And also, I believe that marijuana SHOULDN’T be used just for the thrill or the danger of being caught. You can get that from things other than this plant, and saying things like that tends to give a bad rap to anyone that uses it.

  • kev

    As a gulf war vet, i understand where denbee is coming from. As i watched my brother vets drink themselves into oblivion, divorce and jail, i quietly smoked (after service, of course) The anxiety, depression, and insomnia that could have ruined my life was removed and I am a fully functioning, tax paying, middle class citizen. I’ve watched my brothers spend thousands of tax payers dollars in “therapy” and meds with life altering side affects and no success. To say it has no medicinal value (hence the Sched 1 classification) after literally thousands of years of success and NO deaths from acute use, proves that Americans couldn’t be more pompous. HU’AH!

  • GlebeSound

    I am a fulltimer and have been for the last 10 years or so. Theres nothing i enjoy more than coming home from a hard days work cooking up a bit of food and sittin down with a cup of tea and a spliff. I am in my eyes a law abiding citizen. I do not drink alcohol or take any other drugs and if i didnt make you aware of my secret past-time i am pretty confident it wouldnt even cross your mind that i smoke every evening. In fact i have only a handful of fellow smokers that know about my after hours toking. I am a firm believer that cannabis can have a negative effect on some users while others may handle it differently. Same as with alcohol. I know alcohol does not suit me personally and therefore i do not consume anymore.Simple as that. What really bugs me is the rational behind the anti cannabis campaign. I go to work, pay my taxes, live as green and eco friendly life as i possibly can yet i am considered a criminal and the youth roaming the streets of Dublin(Ireland) every weekend are tanked up on alcohol committing “public disorder” after “public disorder” and no one takes any notice. Public or Media. It just doesnt make ANY sense at all!!!!

  • appey

    while it may make logical sense for government to legalize 3/4 of drugs and make legal age for drinking 16 . The decision has to be voted for by 100s of tds who in turn want the votes of their local constituents who are mostly middle aged conservatives ,and why anger them over something like that !!!!!
    Also it just brings a lot of issues for governments to deal with , it needs people to control and regulate people to test the products, people to deal with the angry parents , and the majority of Govs. just dont want to deal with that !! especially in our current economical climate , so i guess legalization has to wait for another while !!

  • Rosie

    I think all drugs should eventually become legal, for the simple reason that it would give the power back to the people (well government), generate revenue and eliminate some of the control from gangs etc. But, and that is a big but a change like this would obviously result in large scale war (world), So whats the answer. We don’t have one yet exactly! The fact that we are talking about it, still talking about it that is, can only result in an eventual resolution of the issue at some stage and when that happens we all will still have the same result….some will agree and some won’t. Oh and by the way I’ve tried everything, yes everything….I’ve given them all up now and the hardest thing to give up was alcohol. So I reckon legalise the lot and spend some of the revenue on research of the positive effects for medication and so on and raise awarness of the negative effects with a strict percentage of the profits going to treatment centres.
    Well, thats my uneducated view anyway