Medical marijuana less harmful than prescription painkillers
The medical industry has many tools for treating pain and illness, and while America has some of the most advanced medical treatments in the world, treatment is a tricky thing and sometimes has unintended side effects.
One issue that afflicts Americans in particular is reliance on painkiller prescriptions.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 10,000 men and 6,600 women died in 2010 from painkiller overdose. Women in particular are facing a tremendous increase in the number of overdoses each year, with a 400 percent increase since 1999 compared to 265 percent among men.
In contrast to this worrying trend, a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that states with legalized medical marijuana have significantly fewer painkiller overdoses than states where marijuana is still completely illegal. In fact, they had nearly 25 percent fewer lethal overdoses.
In spite of many states having recognized the medical potential of marijuana, most have still not legalized marijuana for medical usage, and all usage is still illegal under federal law. Marijuana is illegal nationwide according to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug. In comparison, cocaine is considered a Schedule II drug, making it legal for some very restricted medical usage.
Fortunately, public opinion of marijuana has moved in favor of legalization over the years as people become more aware of the medicinal potential.
Although drugs like Marinol deliver THC — the main ingredient of marijuana — in a legal manner, such drugs can be expensive and not as effective as the real deal. While the effects of marijuana have not been studied in full, prescribed uses for the plant include helping appetite, curbing pain and most relevantly, dealing with chronic pain.
Many ailments and conditions — such as glaucoma, migraines, fibromyalgia and other chronic pains — can be treated with both painkillers and marijuana. Combined with the recent findings, it seems obvious why medical marijuana seems to cut down on lethal overdoses; the side effects of marijuana simply aren’t as lethal as those of prescription painkillers.
While opinions have been shifting in favor of legalization and decriminalization, there are still many Americans against any use of marijuana. It is hard to imagine medical marijuana being legalized in Texas; however, even in Texas there are more and more people pushing for the right to let their doctors decide what is best for their health rather than politicians.
Many simply don’t seem to find marijuana prohibition reasonable, including some UH students. Undeclared freshman Zack Arrazola said he believes that medicinal marijuana needs to be encouraged as an option for those dealing with illness.
“I think it should be promoted more often, but I believe Texas is too conservative of a state to legalize it anytime soon,” Arrazola said.
Although Arrazola said he supports medicinal marijuana options, he also said he believes recreational use should not be legalized.
“It shouldn’t be completely legalized because the benefits that come from legalizing it, like being able to tax it and collect revenue, are outweighed by all the costs on healthcare and the money it will cost citizens to provide governmental help for junkies. And also, that’s a lot of productivity loss,” Arrazola said.
Medicinal marijuana has plenty of potential in the medical field; however, current laws in Texas ignore that potential due to misinformation in public opinion. Education on the potential medical benefits will be necessary for Texas to change its mind.
Unfortunately, most education on marijuana tends to be about the negative effects, and is often intentionally misinformative in order to “protect” children from drugs. Many are familiar with D.A.R.E. from their school days. The program is known by many for omitting information, and often exaggerating the negative effects of drugs such as marijuana in order to discourage students from abusing drugs.
Even studies during the 1990s found that D.A.R.E.’s methods were ineffective in discouraging drug usage, and D.A.R.E decided to drop marijuana from its curriculum in 2012. This may be due to the fact that marijuana simply isn’t as dangerous as people once thought.
Perhaps with time and a balanced education on marijuana’s positive and negative effects, Texas and the rest of the nation will open up to marijuana as a medicine. More states may decide to regulate marijuana like alcohol, but certainly people can start to agree that the entire country should allow its usage for medicinal purposes.
It’s time that people allow doctors to decide what is right for their patients. This doesn’t mean one has to support getting high for a good time’s sake, but people need to question whether their tax dollars are best spent on policing medicinal usage for those who really might need it. Prescription painkillers are not more moral, and they are not healthier than prescription marijuana.
Opinion columnist Shane Brandt is a petroleum engineering senior and may be reached at [email protected].