U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether anti-drug laws should apply to the medicinal use of marijuana

The U.S. Supreme Court is to decide whether anti-drug laws should apply to the medicinal use of marijuana.

On Monday 28th June 2004, the court agreed to hear an appeal filed by the U.S. Attorney-General, John Ashcroft. The appeal will push President Bush's stance prohibiting the use of marijuana "in all instances".

The Ashcroft v. Raich case came to the Supreme Court after the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a federal law outlawing marijuana does not apply to California patients whose doctors have prescribed the drug.

California and eight other states have legalized medical marijuana.

In most nations, marijuana is rarely prescribed by physicians due to its legal status. When prescribed, it is often prescribed as an appetite stimulant and pain reliever for terminal illnesses including cancer and AIDS. The medical use of marijuana is controversial and is dealt with under the article medical marijuana. See section on History for information on historical and other medical use.

Marijuana has been used for medicinal purposes since at least 2,000 years ago. Surviving texts from China, India, Greece and Persia confirm that its hallucinogenic properties were recognized, and the ancient doctors used it for a variety of illnesses and ailments. These included a whole host of gastrointestinal disorders, insomnia, headaches and as a pain reliever, frequently used in childbirth. The earliest recorded reference to medicinal marijuana is in the Ry-Va (ancient Chinese Pharmacopeia), believed to have been written in the 15th century BC. These ancient uses are well-documented, but are not proof that marijuana is a useful medicine.

Marijuana as a medicine was common throughout most of the world in the 1800s. It was used as the primary painkiller until the invention of aspirin. Modern medical and scientific inquiry began with doctors like O'Shaughnessy and Moreau de Tours, who used it to treat melancholia, migraines, and as a sleeping aid, analgesic and anticonvulsant.

By the time the United States banned the plant (the first country to do so), it was no longer extremely popular. The only opponent to the bill, The Marihuana Tax Act, was the representative of the American Medical Association.

Later in the century, researchers investigating methods of detecting marijuana intoxication discovered that smoking the drug reduced intraocular pressure. High intraocular pressure causes blindness in glaucoma patients, so many believed that using the drug could prevent blindness in patients. Many Vietnam War veterans also believed that the drug prevented muscle spasms caused by battle-induced spinal injuries. Later medical use has focused primarily around its role in preventing the wasting syndromes and chronic loss of appetite associated with chemotherapy and AIDS, along with a variety of rare muscular and skeletal disorders. Less commonly, marijuana has been used in the treatment of alcoholism and addiction to other drugs such as heroin and the prevention of migraines.

In 1972 Tod H. Mikuriya, M.D. reignited the debate concerning marijuana as medicine when he published "Marijuana Medical Papers 1839-1972".

Later in the 1970s, a synthetic version of THC, the primary active ingredient in marijuana, was synthesized to make the drug Marinol. Users reported several problems with Marinol, however, that led many to abandon the pill and resume smoking the plant. Patients complained that the violent nausea associated with chemotherapy made swallowing pills difficult. Smoked marijuana takes effect almost immediately, and is therefore easily dosed; many patients only rarely smoke enough to feel the mental effects, as this is usually far more than is necessary for the medical effects -- many complained that Marinol was more potent than they needed, and that the mental effects made normal daily functioning impossible. In addition, Marinol was far more expensive, costing upwards of several thousand dollars a year for the same effect as smoking a weed easily grown throughout most of the world. Many users felt Marinol was less effective, and that the mental effects were far more disastrous; some studies have indicated that other chemicals in the plant may have a synergistic effect with THC.

In addition, during the 1970s and 1980s, six US states' health departments performed studies on the use of medical marijuana. These are widely considered some of the most useful and pioneering studies on the subject.

Portions of this article are licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Medical Marijuana".


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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