Many of the known illegal drugs today were once legally sold over-the-counter and used in public and private domains. However, throughout the 20th Century, these drugs were slowly illegalized because of people abusing them and the discovered harmful short and long term effects pf these drugs on the user. Most of the illegalized drugs are now sold and used in underground societies, hiding from the roving eyes of the government. One of these illegal drugs, Marijuana, has received a lot of favors and criticism for its legalization; the debate for its national legalization is still ongoing. This paper will discuss some commonly used and abused illegal and prescription drugs, the known uses of prescription drugs, and their effects (both negative and positive), which will be compared to marijuana. Marijuana has been known as an illegal drug throughout the course of the 20th century because of its harmful effects—short and long term—on the person and its abuse, yet it has been proven to possess therapeutic qualities that can be used to treat some diseases and disorders. For only this reason, marijuana should be legalized.
What makes a drug illegal in the first place? Two reasons for branding some drugs as illegal are (1) its harmful compositional effects and (2) the user’s abuse of the substance. The three most commonly used among illegal drugs are Heroin, Cocaine, and Methamphetamine.
Heroin is a more potent and volatile version of Morphine, which also came from the seed pods of the Opium poppy. Like all illegal drugs, heroin is used for recreational purposes since it gives the user a different kind of euphoria. Heroin is commonly administered through the use of a syringe (which provides the user its full effect), but it can also be smoked (combined with other substances) and snorted (rarely done). It is a very addictive drug which makes the users dependent on it for a very long period of time. Even though it gives the user a feeling of euphoria, it is still a highly destructive drug, especially when administered using a syringe. Some of its notable effects which can be fatal in the long run are delirium, hypotension, hypoventilation, and bradycardia. Heroin users also usually experience itchiness after usage (“Drugs of Abuse” 21)
Cocaine is a powdery white substance derived from the coca plant which is usually common in South America—the number one source of cocaine. It is an addictive drug that usually costs a lot. A logical reason behind this is the fact that it only gives a euphoric high that only lasts for a few hours, depending on the dosage. Hence, cocaine users would commit more money to buy more of the substance. Cocaine is commonly taken through insufflation (snorting), but it can also be smoked (crack cocaine), injected (not as common), and administered orally (rubbed in the gum line or wrapped in rolling paper). Even though it gives the user a feeling of euphoria just like any other stimulant, it still has effects which could endanger the user. Some short term effects that can be fatal at some point are increased blood pressure and constriction of blood vessels. Some devastating long term effects due to cocaine addiction are heart diseases, increased paranoia, seizures, and respiratory failures. An indication of cocaine users is their tendency to sniff constantly or scratch their noses (“Drugs of Abuse” 32).
Methamphetamine may be considered as the poor man’s cocaine, although more destructive. It is a chemical-based substance which is derived from the phenylethylamine family. The reason for it being dubbed as the poor man’s cocaine is the fact that it produces a longer lasting euphoric high compared to cocaine and other stimulants. The user only needs to buy the right amount to get the feeling of euphoria which allows the user to save more money. Like cocaine, it is commonly taken through snorting, but it can also be smoked and injected. Like all other illegal drugs, it is highly addictive and gives the user a euphoric feeling, yet it is one of the most destructive. Due to its longer lasting effects, the brain degenerates on a severe scale as opposed to the degeneration done by cocaine or heroin abuse. Some fatal effects of this drug are hypertension, hypotension, cardio-vascular complexities, and death (when abused) (“Drugs of Abuse” 34).
Although illegal substances such as the ones given can be more fatal than beneficial for the user, some prescription drugs contain harmful side-effects and can be just as deadly when abused. Generally, prescription drugs are drugs that can be purchased from a licensed dealer or a pharmacy. These drugs often have medical use since they are given to patients who suffer a specific ailment, unlike the users of illegal drugs. However, there are cases of prescription drugs abuse across the United States. Some of the most common abused prescription drugs are anti-depressants, painkillers, and valium. According to the article “Prescription Drugs More Deadly than Cocaine, Heroin, Amphetamines,” a study done in Florida reports that 2,328 people died of painkiller abuse, while 743 died from other prescription drugs (Baker, Natural News). This can be considered as proof for the fatal result of the abuse of such drugs. The most commonly abused, among the three, is valium which is apparently sold and distributed illegally; usually in parties, clubs, and bars. Like any other prescription drug of the same gravity, abusing valiums or increasing its intake can lead to coma, which in turn can lead to brain damage or death.
From the details given on both illegal drugs and prescription drugs, the analysis on marijuana in comparison to these would now be easier. Marijuana was (and probably still is) generally an illegal drug mainly because of its short and long term effects like hallucinations, schizophrenia, and brain degeneration which prove to be more devastating than beneficial for its user. However, some medical researchers claim that it has a therapeutic use for the medical community as it can help cure some illnesses and disorders: “It has been proven that a synthetic form of one chemical property of marijuana can help cure cancer, HIV, and other diseases” (Armentano, NORML site). Smoking marijuana has also been proven to have no correlation with the occurrence of lung cancer from the user. It may be simply cast off as happenstance. It seems that the negative effects of marijuana usage are equaled by the health benefits it can contribute to the medical community. However, its brand as an illegal drug prohibits its full testing on the public as a prescription drug. The composition of marijuana is simply more of herbal than chemical. It comes from a plant Cannabis Sativa, the flowering tops which is usually dried up before it becomes ready for usage (“Drugs of Abuse” 49). It does not seem to pose any real threat upon the user, yet it was deemed illegal in many countries even if it has a long history of its legal usage.
Given the following circumstances about the drug, it may be safe to assume that legalizing it would not cause any mishaps in society. The article “Medical Marijuana, a Casual User’s Tale” suggests that it is easily accessible to the public. However, its accessibility to the public may cause problems for the society: “In fact, our behavior was just what some of the critics of medical marijuana have warned against—that [marijuana’s] easy availability opens the door to recreational use and encourages an aura of tolerance, at a time when marijuana abuse is a problem among young people” (Anderson, NY Times). Controlling it might pose a problem for the authorities, knowing how easy it is to acquire marijuana legally. However, legalizing it and at the same time applying laws to control its distribution can help minimize the risk of illegally acquiring it.
Even if it seems promising that legalizing marijuana might prove beneficial for the society, it is still uncertain if mishaps would be avoided. Marijuana has been illegal since the early 20th century. Changing its direction might not be as promising as the groups supporting its legalization think. Thus, the government may still be considering its medical use and weighing it against the drug’s known negative implications and effects towards its user. Marijuana still has destructive components which might require further research to reduce its damage towards the user’s brain. For now, it might not be a good idea to legalize it since a lot of people, even without ailments, would just use it more for recreational purposes. Aside from this, marijuana is still an addictive substance which the users can be regularly attached to. Continuous and uncontrollable usage might result in mental disorders and other diseases rather than help alleviate the condition of the patient.
However, since the year 1996, thirteen states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical use, and more states are eager to join the party. It has become an uncontrollable trend—for the government at least. The growth of supporters for its legalization might push the government into finally legalizing marijuana nationwide, but for now, it is clear that the government is opting not to legalize it on a nationwide scale and for recreational use (some legislators are pushing for this), as they seem to ignore the subject matter or push it on the side. It may be because of how people would react if it were legalized on a nationwide scale and the possible outcomes that the government may face in the future.
Nevertheless, with the United States facing yet another recession, it may also be a positive action on the part of the government to legalize marijuana usage and sale on a nationwide scale. Marijuana is known for its abundance; hence, it may come cheaper than any prescription drug. Once legalized, some multinational pharmaceutical companies might want to exploit this opportunity by creating products based on marijuana which in turn, would create more jobs for people. It has been mentioned in the article “Why Legalizing Marijuana Makes Sense” from the Time magazine that a lot of tax money can be earned from the drug: “It is estimated that pot is the largest cash crop in California, with annual revenues approaching $14 billion. A 10% pot tax would yield $1.4 billion in California alone” (Klein, Time Magazine). This may be a possible solution to cure the country’s financial woes. For now, the government is still debating on the issue of its legalization even though it can prove beneficial for society rather than degenerate it. What can be expected? Well, with more and more positive things about Marijuana surfacing, its legalization might not be far from today, after all.
Anderson, Lessley. “Medical Marijuana, a Casual User’s Tale.” The New York Times. 12 Jun. 2005. The New York Times Company. 7 Apr. 2009. <http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/12/fashion/sundaystyles/12POT.html?_r=2&pagewanted=print>.
Armentano, Paul. “Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis & Cannabinoids.” NORML. 15 Jan 2009. NORML Foundation. 7 Apr. 2009. <http://norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=7002>.
Baker, Sherry. “Prescription Drugs More Deadly Than Cocaine, Heroin, Amphetamines.” Natural News. 2 Sept. 2008. Natural News Network. 7 Apr. 2009. <http://www.naturalnews.com/024052.html>.
Klein, Joe. “Why Legalizing Marijuana Makes Sense.” 2 Apr. 2009. Time. Time Inc. 7 Apr. 2009. <http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1889021,00.html>.
United States. Department of Justice. “Drugs of Abuse.” 2005. Drug Enforcement Administration. 7 April 2009. <http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/pubs/abuse/doa-p.pdf>