‘Why Weed?’

‘Oh wow, it smells so bad in that shop…’

‘You mean like the mary jane?’

‘Yes, like the mary jane.’

‘Imagine in Canada, it’s legal there!’

Just the other  day, my mum and I went to a corner shop near our house just to buy some chocolate for the icing of our chocolate cake. With such innocent intentions (and excitement to eat some chocolate cake), the smell of burnt rubber mixed with skunks and body odour surprised me much more than it should have. Living where I do, the smell of weed surrounds me often, it’s not very pleasant, and it’s something I can never get used to. On the contrary, this time, the foul odour sparked a very interesting conversation between my mum and I in the car!

‘Well, I don’t know, alcohol and smoking is legal too, and they have even worse effects’

‘What are you talking about? Marijuana will mess with your brain! You’ll hallucinate and get addicted’

‘I understand that! But that’s the same for alcohol! And think of how much more physical damage comes with smoking tobacco smoke!’

It is common knowledge for us that the legal recreational drugs (for us who live in the UK) are alcohol and tobacco smoke. Legal highs include ‘substances with stimulant or mood-altering properties whose sale or use is not banned by current legislation regarding the misuse of drugs’[1] such as solvents like deodorant and glue! That’s right, glue can get you high too. Here’s an article about solvent abuse:

https://www.themix.org.uk/drink-and-drugs/drugs-a-z/solvent-abuse-9613.html

Anyway, all I’m trying to get at is that drugs like alcohol and tobacco smoke are legal, but cannabis is not. Why?

There are many types of drugs[2], but the ones that I will be talking about are depressants and stimulants:

Stimulants are best described as the ones that make things speed up. They impact the central nervous system in a way that your heart rate increases, blood pressure increases, reflexes increases. Doctors will prescribe stimulants to people who have asthma as it increases breathing levels by opening up breathing passages. It can also be used to aid in weight loss as they can decrease appetite or help you perform better in sports and exercise. Stimulants include things such as caffeine, all the way to cocaine. If stimulants are overused, then it can lead to symptoms such as paranoia, psychosis, high body temperature, all the way to heart failure.

Depressants are basically the opposite. They also impact the central nervous system, but they do it in a way in which heart rate decreases, blood pressure decreases, and reflexes decrease too. Doctors will prescribe depressants to treat anxiety, insomnia, OCD – mostly medical and mental issues which stops a person from relaxing. If depressants are overused, it can lead to symptoms such as delirium, diabetes, impaired memory, hallucinations all the way to intense addiction leading to death from withdrawal.

Now that we know that, let’s get to comparing alcohol, tobacco smoke and marijuana.

Let’s start with alcohol. Alcohol is classified as a depressant. It’s short term effects include ‘slurred speech, unsteady movement, disturbed perceptions and inability to react quickly’[3]. In spite of this, many people will drink alcohol for its stimulant effects – alcohol will only ever start to have depressant effects when too much is drank. An alcohol overdose leads to a higher pain tolerance, toxicity to the point of vomiting, unconsciousness, even to the point of a coma from severe toxic overdose. After long-term uses of alcohol, there is damage to the liver and the brain – the liver is in charge of removing alcohol from the blood stream because, as I have covered, it is a toxic substance; inevitably, the liver will get damaged – this is cirrhosis[4]. However, in moderation, could alcohol possibly have health benefits?[5] The School of Public Health at Harvard University found that alcohol raises levels of lipoproteins – this is ‘good’ cholesterol associated with greater protection against heart disease. As well as this, the Catholic University of Campobasso reported drinking less than four or two, for men and women respectively, could lengthen your life for reason I don’t understand. Other benefits of alcohol consumption include reducing the chances of developing dementia, prevention from the common cold and lowering the chances of diabetes.

Tobacco contains many different harmful substances, the three worst and most important ones are nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar[6]. Nicotine is highly addictive, it is a stimulant and increases heart rate. Carbon monoxide combines with haemoglobin in red blood cells so they cannot carry as much oxygen so the heart has to beat faster and harder leading to heart disease and potentially stroke. Tar is a carcinogen, tar deposits get stuck in the lung so it cannot perform in the way that it should. We know that tobacco smoke leads to lung cancer due to the carcinogenic tar. So why do people smoke? Nicotine in cigarettes affects the brain so that it becomes reliant and you become addicted – within 10 seconds, the nicotine reaches your brain and makes it release adrenaline creating a buzz of energy. This rush of adrenaline only lasts for a short burst of time and thus the user will want to use it again. This makes it very hard to stop using it and in fact, if one tried to, it would lead to horrible withdrawal symptoms such as depression, insomnia, slower heart rate and more[7]. And this part will be mind-boggling, and I don’t even want to write it, but it needs to be done to make a clear, fair comparison: what are the health benefits of smoking?[8] Smoking decreases the risk of arthritis (according to the study from the university of Adelaide in Australia). Specifically, in the knees; this is due to the fact that arthritis occurs most commonly among the obese and people who regularly exercise – smokers do not tend to fit into these categories as smoking leads to a decreased appetite and people who smoke are less likely to be active due to lung problems. Numerous studies have also identified that smoking lowers the risk of Parkinson’s disease – the reason: unknown! Harvard researchers found that it came after smokers quit. What do you guys think? Could this just be a spurious correlation? Other benefits of smoking include lowering the risk of obesity.

Finally, let’s talk about weed. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the chemical in charge of most of cannabis’ psychological effects[9]. Here’s how it works: when one smokes marijuana, THC passes from the lungs into the bloodstream; the blood carries the chemical to the brain and other organs so they absorb the THC. The THC acts on specific brain cell receptors and over activates parts of the brain that contain the highest number of these receptors leading to the short term effects of altered senses, mood change, impaired movement as well as impaired memory. In higher doses, marijuana causes hallucinations and psychosis[10]. The receptors that THC bind to play a role in normal brain development and function, consequently, if marijuana is used from a younger age(teenage years), it can cause impaired thinking, memory, and learning functions – at the moment, scientists are still studying if these effects are permanent. In addition to this, marijuana usage can lead to breathing problems, increased heart rate, problems with child development, intense nausea and vomiting, as well as hallucinations and paranoia. Simultaneously, it is not a secret that marijuana has many health benefits including treating chronic pain, depression and anxiety, as well as alleviating symptoms of cancer and chemotherapy as a result of cannabinoids slowing down the growth or even killing some types of cancer (they are a safe but not yet completely reliable treatment) [11]. In fact, it is prescribed by doctors around the world to treat conditions such as multiple sclerosis, spinal cord disease, arthritis and so many more![12] Basically, marijuana is used as an alternative to opioid painkillers – why? The quality of life of a patient is a priority for doctors. With chronic pain comes relatively little hope for a cure, but hope for effective management of symptoms that still allow them to live their lives to the fullest. Medical cannabis is chosen as opioids tend to cause drowsiness, lethargy and other symptoms that stop the patient from doing different activities.[13] Not only this, but marijuana is shown to be much safer than opioids, this is due to the fact that cannabis has a much lower risk of overdose and addiction in comparison to opioids, this is because the peak plasma concentration of THC (the amount your body can physically hold) is 100-200ng/ml and it would take a lot of weed to get to that point, you would have to have 80kg in an hour. When THC binds to receptors, there is also a release of a hormone which weakens the THC’s action on the receptors, so overall a negative feedback loop is created [14]

In my opinion, alcohol and tobacco smoke are much worse than marijuana. Doctors will actually prescribe marijuana to help people overcome drug addiction and alcoholism – if marijuana was worse, why would they prescribe it as medication? You don’t see a doctor prescribing alcohol to a person addicted to heroin or a person with chronic pain. So why is alcohol and tobacco smoke legal, but weed isn’t? I think that legalising and allowing more drugs which cause impairment and other bad symptoms is just unnecessary. Alcohol and tobacco smoke already has large, major companies and they were discovered first. This might be a bad analogy, but it’s like guns in America. It’s got more bad effects than good ones, but to just get rid of them completely will be so difficult as there is already many companies for guns etc. but legalising the use of poison bombs because the poison chemical has less potential to kill and some potential to have some benefits to plants or something will not solve the problem of guns! I think that the usage of marijuana as an opioid alternative is fine and would be good if legalised, but marijuana should only be used in an enclosed section of the hospital so as not to pose a threat to illegal recreational use as well as others in the hospital who could potentially be negatively affected (patients with asthma or schizophrenia). However, the biggest reason why I think marijuana is not legal, is because it is still being studied – there needs to be more solid research and evidence with explanation as to why marijuana is beneficial in the way that it is.

What do you guys think?

By Antonia Marie Jayme

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