As a chemistry major from the University of Illinois, I used to be able to explain anything by the laws of chemistry and physics. However, the government sometimes challenges me to explain their actions when it defies logic, let alone the laws of physics, chemistry, or even biological science. Such is the case with Illinois legalizing medical marijuana. Why? Entropy, the 2nd law of thermodynamics, states that systems have a tendency drift to low performance. This is true for all things; machines, people and even governments (though I think they tend to start at a very low level of performance). This constant drift to low performance is the only way I can explain the government’s legalization of medical marijuana.
To determine medical marijuana’s medical usefulness, answer a few questions. First, is medical marijuana’s active ingredient, THC, a new treatment not available to patients until now? Absolutely not. Marinol is a prescription medication that contains THC. THC has been demonstrated to stimulate hunger in some disease cases like cancer and HIV and proved helpful in reducing the pain associated with multiple sclerosis.
Second, is there an advantage to delivering THC through smoking medical marijuana versus taking the pill Marinol? Nope, just the opposite in fact. Smoking provides inconsistent THC delivery. There is no standard THC percentage in the various forms of prescription marijuana. Smoking marijuana also causes significantly more respiratory irritants than cigarette smoke and users tend to develop chronic cough, excess phlegm and frequent respiratory illnesses. What about glaucoma, anxiety or headaches? No study demonstrates treating anything with smoking marijuana is preferred to using pills containing THC.
Before a medication in pill form is approved by the FDA, it must demonstrate that medication in each pill is consistent. This is not done with medical marijuana. The level of THC in marijuana depends on variables like nitrogen, sunlight, hybrid variety, etc. Medical marijuana might also be contaminated by pesticides or microbes.
Are there side effects of medical marijuana? Yes, and with the pills, too. There is known brain function impairment due to THC binding cannabinoid receptors in the brain effecting pleasure, memory, thinking clearly, concentration, movement, coordination, balance, sensory/time perception, and new memory formation. A significant side-effect from marijuana use is “amotivational syndrome,” defined as losing interest in typical rewarding activities.
Does the use of medical marijuana affect drug screen results with the legalization of medical marijuana? If detected, it still causes a positive drug screen. It may be legal to use in certain states, but the federal government still upholds the Drug Free Work Place Act, which says marijuana is illegal. Consider the use of alcohol. Alcohol is legal, but if used at work or if one is found under alcohol’s influence at work, termination is likely. The metabolism and blood levels that cause alcohol impairment are well known. The effects of marijuana vary for each use and among people. The current level associated with impairment by marijuana causes the positive drug screen. The clearance of marijuana from the body is very slow. The typical weekend user will be positive for 3-4 days. A daily user may be positive for 6 weeks after stopping.
The legalization of medical marijuana was not made to offer physicians a better treatment plan for their patients. It was a political decision that cannot be explained medically. See www.nida.nih.gov/PDF/RRMarijuana.pdf for more information.