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Myasthenia gravis, a rare neurological disorder that affects the muscles causing loss of strength with each use of that muscle, is one of many illnesses for which marijuana is prescribed. The naturally growing plant can aid in reducing side effects like loss of appetite and stomach cramps caused by medication taken to alleviate symptoms of the disease.
In California someone suffering from myasthenia gravis or a number of other illnesses can receive a prescription from a doctor allowing legal marijuana use at least under state law. But the patient can't wander down to Rite Aid to fill this prescription. And most places set up to provide marijuana to medical users called "Cannabis Clubs," are raided by narcotics agents. This prevents medical users from having a reliable source for the medicine and they are left to buy the beneficial herb off the streets.
The legalization of marijuana for medical use on the state level is a step in the right direction toward a system where AIDS, cancer and glaucoma patients could obtain the medicine in an organized, legal and safe way. But the federal government not only continues to oppose legalization for medical use, they refuse to declassify marijuana as a Schedule I substance: illegal and having no medical benefits.
Marijuana was technically still legal for doctors to prescribe until the Uniform Controlled Substances Act of 1970 placed it in the same class as heroin.
No medical benefits? Then why do cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy praise the drug, saying it reduces nausea and increases their appetite? Why do multiple sclerosis patients say it relives muscle spasms?
Research has proven its ability to protect brain cells from toxic levels of chemicals that occur during a stroke. For those who suffer from glaucoma, marijuana reduces pressure on the ocular nerve resulting in less damage to the nerve so vision is not lost.
With federal approval, research could be further explored to tap into the potential medical benefits of the primary components of marijuana, tetrahydocannabinol (THC) and cannabinol.
But the federal government is too stubborn to legalize marijuana. In 1992 the federal compassionate use program, which still provides "joints" to a handful of seriously ill patients, was discontinued because it was said to undercut the war on drugs.
The population is supposedly saved from marijuana at the expense of the sick and potentially sick.
Over the years, the government has called marijuana a "gateway drug" to heroin, the drug of choice for lazy potheads, and the cause of teenage psychosis. Since medical marijuana remains banned in the United States, it seems the plant's role as a potentially helpful medicine has been overshadowed by unfounded rumors of its dark side.
So where did the negative association with marijuana come from? To understand, one must understand the herb's history that dates back to 1 A.D. where it is identified in a Chinese pharmaceutical book as a cure for over 100 ailments. Over the centuries, marijuana was used all over the world as both a medicine and a recreational drug. In the United States during the early 1900s, cocaine and opium were available in over-the-counter elixirs. The population quickly became addicted to these narcotics, prompting a series of laws that eventually banned these drugs. But marijuana was left untouched until the 1930s when Harry J. Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, launched a campaign against the drug that was stereotypically used by jazz musicians and Mexican immigrants. This is where marijuana gained its reputation as an evil drug that drives its user to harder drugs or insanity.
Fearful, states quickly prohibited the non-medical use of the drug. But the federal government wasn't satisfied so it enacted the Marihuana Tax Act that imposed so high a tax on importation that doctors stopped prescribing the drug.
The government's control of marijuana has been sneaky and unfair. For thousands of years the sick used marijuana as medicine. Now we have many other drugs that have been developed, but current research has also shown new ways marijuana can help sick people.
Until the federal government is willing to listen to the patients, doctors, researchers and historians who support the legalization of medical marijuana, its use by the sick for healing will remain a criminal act and its values will be left untapped.