Medical marijuana has become extremely talked about recently, with it now being legal for medical use in 33 U.S. states. Marijuana is claimed to help with chronic pain, neuropathic pain, spasticity, nausea, and PTSD. Cannabidiol, which is extracted from the hemp plant, is also claimed to relieve insomnia, anxiety, and pain. (health.harvard.edu). Studies have shown that marijuana is actually very safe, as it’s not addictive and cannot cause overdose. Although there is still some controversy around it, the drug has been so much discussed lately that it doesn’t seem as surprising or taboo as it once was. However, there are many other illicit drugs that are looked down upon that similarly can have a variety of medical uses.
One being psychedelics, or more specifically LSD. Psychedelics were banned all the way back in 1970 after a few “horror stories” arose from bad experiences on the drug. Recreational use of the drug can often lead to the user taking too high of a dosage which is what puts the user at risk of having a “bad trip.” However, according to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, a controlled dose of LSD, “can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Its benefits are also being studied in relation to helping individuals who are trying to overcome drug dependency.” Even healthy people can benefit from the drug with studies showing that a dose can overall make people happier, kinder, and calmer. (washingtonpost). And, just like marijuana, LSD is far safer than other drugs as there is no risk of dependency or overdose. However, this doesn’t mean people should experiment with this kind of medicinal treatment on their own. A treatment like this would have to be completely under the supervision of a doctor in order to get the right dosage and to ensure the patient has a good experience. Fortunately, trips to the doctor to undergo this procedure wouldn’t be too frequent, as the benefits of using LSD can last anywhere from two weeks to even 12 months. While LSD is still an illicit drug with no talks of it becoming legal anytime soon, there still seems to be a decent number of people who are aware of its benefits.
Of course, this isn’t the case for most illicit drugs, such as heroin. Most people are under the false impression that heroin is a drug that has no potential benefits to the user. It’s commonly associated with addicts, overdose, and death. However, research has been done into using heroin to help opiate addicts. While heroin is an opiate itself and a number of the population faces addiction with the drug, the more serious problem comes with prescribed opiates. In all years through 1999 to 2014, there has been more deaths from prescription opioids than from heroin itself, with about 5.9 opioid deaths and only 3.4 heroin deaths in 2014. (cdc.gov). Heroin-assisted treatment has been briefly studied, but the benefits in the research has been clear. Treatment is overall effective as it has decreased the overall use of illicit drugs in the patients studied. (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). In fact, a similar treatment method has been legalized in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and Switzerland where addicts can legally inject heroin at the facility under supervision. The treatment has had similar benefits and is also beneficial in terms of cost and has been shown to be more effective than other existing opioid-treatments such as MMT. (tni.org).
Even ketamine, a drug that is steered clear of even from some of the most heavy drug users, has been shown to be a fast-acting anti-depressant for both depressive disorders and mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder. (jbrf.org). Although there has been some negative side effects, they’re generally minimal and predictable and some children and adults with bipolar disorder have responded extremely positive when dosed with ketamine when previous treatments for their disorder were overall ineffective. Similarly, MDMA, or more commonly known as ecstasy, has been studied to treat PTSD and is possibly even more effective than other treatments for the disorder. (maps.org). There were again some limitations to the treatment tested, but the study was a start to researching the use of medical MDMA.
In fact, all of these drugs have some sort of limitations to them. Unfortunately, all of these drugs are illegal and are therefore very hard to research and study. So although the tests that have been done have shown the possibility of new outstanding treatments that could be done with these drugs, it would be very hard to change around laws that have been around for decades in order to put a new medical treatment into effect.
Which brings into question how some of these drugs became as outlawed as they are today. It’s not all about the dangers of the drugs, as one might think. Marijuana, for example, was used by Anglo-Americans and Europeans for its medicinal benefits throughout the 19th century. It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that people began to turn against the drug when rumors spread throughout the US that it made Mexican immigrants violent and crazy, and it was eventually banned with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Similarly to marijuana, most illicit drugs that we have now were once legal, popular, and used medicinally. It seemed that the same cycle would repeat with all future drugs. Opium became banned after bad rumors started with the drug and the Chinese immigrants that commonly used it, and cocaine was made illegal after the rumors spread in the South about the drug making the newly-freed slaves incredibly violent. (huffingtonpost). These racist and prejudice laws would be effective more recently as well, with President Nixon using a War on Drugs as a political tool in (add the year). According to Harpers Magazine’s article “Legalize It All”, one of Nixon’s own advisors had said about the political tool, “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminilizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities…Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” Even President Reagan had gotten in on the action, by making the users of crack cocaine out to be “black, poor, and urban,” when it had in fact been used equally between both white and black people at the time. (huffingtonpost). Unfortunately, these old prejudices can still affect Americans today, with arrests still being targeted towards certain groups of people. Additionally, it would be hard to change current laws into back to how they were pre-Raegan and pre-Nixon days.
The law isn’t the only reason for people being against such drugs. A high moral stance can also get in the way of using controversial drugs for medicinal purposes. However, these same people might not be against things like alcohol and cigarettes which are legal, but can also be dangerous and deadly, with tobacco use causing about 6 million worldwide deaths every year (cdc.gov) and alcohol consumption causing about 3.3 million deaths worldwide per year. (niaaa.nih.gov). A couple of reasons some may give for the argument against drug use is that it’s both unhealthy and unnatural. However, drug use is only unhealthy depending on the amount and frequency that a person uses. And in the case of medicinal drug usage, both of these factors would be completely controlled by a professional. It can also be argued that even though these substances are “unnatural” and alter mental states, the same goes for things like listening to music and reading works of fiction. (philosophynow.org).
While there has been some tests done on these controversial substances with many positive results, it’s only a start to the possibility of medical usage for these drugs. There is still a lot to be learned about these drugs, with the law often standing in the way of research. But, hopefully, there will be a future where patients are able to be prescribed these controlled substances in the right form to treat their variety of disorders and diseases.
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