Where there’s smoke…

CANNABIS. Marijuana. Weed. Pot. Mary Jane. Electric Cabbage. Devil’s Lettuce. Whatever you call it, there’s little chance you haven’t heard of one of the most popular narcotics out there.

For a long time, the stereotypical stoner was either a washed-out slacker in his parents’ basement or a dread-locked Rastafarian chilling to Bob Marley. Opinions on the drug are certainly divided.

The poll conducted on the GO! & Express website shows 100% of participants favour full legalisation, but the response on Facebook shows a more divided opinion. While the public continues to debate medicinal marijuana, dispensaries have been opening up all over the US, with United States of America and while the first dispensary in Africa opened up in Durban earlier this year.

So what’s the deal? Should marijuana be treated as leniently as tobacco and alcohol? Or should it remain in the class of illegal narcotics?

It isn’t as if there aren’t good arguments against marijuana legalisation. For one, marijuana can be highly addictive to some. While not necessarily as addictive as other illicit substances, such as, say heroin or methamphetamine, it can still have averse affects on those who get hooked. The US-based National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that approximately about 9% of users will become addicted, a figure which rises to 17% if the user starts smoking in their teens. While that figure may seem small, especially when compared to the higher addiction rates of other substances, it is still something that one must consider when discussing marijuana.

There are also the negative effects on one’s health as that are a result of marijuana use. A 2012 study  published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in the US found that heavy use of marijuana had a detrimental effect on the neurological functioning of adolescents, even after controling for years of education. Our readers have noticed this effect on the people around them as well. Kita Botha, on the GO! & Express Facebook page, noted that they know of people who had smoked weed for a few years.

“Their reflexes are slow, as well as their speech. They seem distant and take a while to comprehend what you have told them.”

Then again, one could easily say the same thing of alcohol. It is well-known that alcohol abuse has averse effects on both the body and mind and yet one is legal – albeit heavily regulated – while another remains largely illegal. And there’s also the fact that marijuana is less harmful to your lungs than tobacco, according to a 2012 study published by the American Medical Association (although long-term use is still damaging).

There are also the varied medicinal properties of marijuana which have been responsible for its increasing popularity. In response to the GO! & Express’ calls for reader input, Beverly Young posted the following: “A mere blob, rubbed onto the back of your hands, the ‘essence’ hits the bloodstream in seconds. “From there, it zaps the nerves. I was a sciatica and vertigo sufferer for years, and was cured in 12 hours.”

Beverly’s experience is backed up by multiple scientific studies. Cannabis has been shown to be highly effective in pain management, as shown in a 2008 study published in the journal Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management, which claims that cannabis may be a useful alternative when more traditional opiates, anti-depressants and anti-convulsant drugs prove ineffective.

Cannabis oil has also been proven effective in treating breast cancer, according to a 2007 study published in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. The results of the study showed that medicinal marijuana reduced the growth of breast cancer cells and helped limit the invasiveness (ability to spread).

So in the end, the debate doesn’t seem as clean-cut as one might initially think.

On the one hand, marijuana is a potentially addictive substance which has proven to negatively affect the mind. On the other hand, it has also proven to provide a wide variety of medicinal benefits that could drastically improve the lives of patients. Perhaps then the best course is a compromise between the for and against camps. In a world where alcohol and tobacco are both legal, it makes perfect sense to treat marijuana in the same way: legalised, but with a clear set of rules and regulations on how, where and when it can be used.

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