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Should medicinal marijuana be legal?

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Medical experts say marijuana can help patients manage chronic pain

A growing number of people, including doctors, judges and politicians are giving marijuana the official nod of approval for several medicinal uses.

The Canadian Alliance recently called for a free vote in the House of Commons on the issue of medicinal marijuana.

Neither the Liberals nor the Progressive Conservatives have a problem with medicinal use of marijuana. Recreational use is a different story.

However, the NDP would like to see the drug completely decriminalized.

"The law is absurd," says Svend Robinson, NDP member of parliament for Burnaby Douglas. "It's absolutely cruel to deny a person who is suffering pain something that can ease their suffering."

John McNeill, a professor in the University of British Columbia's department of pharmaceutical sciences, agrees that marijuana can be helpful in pain management.

"People say they use it and it decreases their pain, increases their appetite and decreases pressure," he says.

Medicinal marijuana is commonly used to help prevent nausea and vomiting in patients suffering from cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other diseases. It also reduces pain and stimulates appetite, helping to slow weight loss in patients.

While a "marijuana pill" is available, patients who suffer from nausea and vomiting sometimes have difficulty taking oral medication. Smoking marijuana generates faster and more predictable results.

In Canada, marijuana is still considered an illicit drug. A handful of people who suffer from chronic illness have been granted an exemption. They are legally permitted to smoke marijuana but do not have access to a safe, reliable and affordable supply.

Marijuana was first used therapeutically in China more than 5,000 years ago. Although there is significant scientific evidence supporting the medicinal use of marijuana, some still want to keep the substance banned.

Opponents of marijuana fear that long-term, heavy use may cause brain damage and that users may experiment with stronger, more dangerous drugs.

In his testimony before the American Crime Subcommittee on cannabis (marijuana) three years ago, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, supported the medicinal use of marijuana: "Cannabis (marijuana) is remarkably safe. Although not harmless, it is surely less toxic than most of the conventional medicines it could replace if it were legally available."

Grinspoon says that some widely used drugs, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, have been linked to stomach bleeding and ulcers, causing 7,000 death each year in the U.S.

He maintains that marijuana is far safer. "Despite its use by millions of people over thousands of years, (marijuana) has never caused an overdose death."

But he points out that smoking marijuana is not risk-free. "The most serious concern is respiratory-system damage from smoking," explains Grinspoon.

As cases of cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis increase, law-makers in Ottawa need to have a serious discussion on medicinal marijuana.

Patients in Canada won't let the issue blow over.

Newshawk: Herb
Pubdate: November 13, 2000
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Page A12
Copyright: 2000 The Province
Contact: provedpg@pacpress.southam.ca
Address: 200 Granville Street, Ste. #1, Vancouver, BC V6C 3N3 Canada
Fax: (604) 605-2323
Website: The Province (see Student Vote 2000)
Author: Lydia Lovric

Tell us What You Think

Do you marijuana should be legalized for medicinal use? Why or why not?

Students, please e-mail your questions or comments to
llovric@pacpress.southam.ca or leave your comment at 605-2071 and include
your name, grade, school and phone number.