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Should the UK Allow Medical Marijuana?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Health
Wordcount: 5253 words Published: 7th Feb 2019

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Should Marijuana be Decriminalised and or Legalised for Health Reasons in the U.K?

Research Plan

Today most young people use some type of drug, even though they are illegal. According to Gov (2017) marijuana is the most commonly used drug in the last year and has been for over 15 years.  Marijuana originates from the cannabis sativa plant. It comes in a variety of forms such as dried plant leaves, flowers and oils which can be smoked or eaten. Better Health (2013) state that there is a chemical in cannabis called tetrahydrocannabinol (also known as THC); this is marijuana’s main mind-altering ingredient, which makes users feel high. THC is a psychoactive substance, which means that it travels in a person’s bloodstream to the brain. It disrupts the brain’s normal functioning and causes certain intoxicating effects. The fastest way to feel the effects of marijuana is to inhale the smoke, the effects are usually felt within minutes. The immediate sensations—increased heart rate, lessened coordination and balance and a “dreamy,” unreal state of mind—peak within the first 30 minutes. These short-term effects usually wear off in two to three hours, but they could last longer, depending on how much the user consumes and the potency of THC (Drug free world, 2018).  According to Addiction (2011), countries such as Finland, Israel and Portugal have all decriminalised marijuana. Portugal, view drug taking as a health issue rather than a criminal issue in the country. Instead of arrests, those found with drugs are sent to medical panels, consisting of a psychologist, social workers and legal advisor for appropriate treatment.  Around the world there are a growing number of countries where marijuana use is permitted and regulated for recreational purposes such as Amsterdam, Nevada and Colorado. Also, there is growth with pharmaceutical grade marijuana due to its acceptance for medicinal properties. 29 American states including Florida, Michigan and Arizona have legalised marijuana for medical reasons (Gov, 2018).  

This essay will research and analyse five areas surrounding marijuana consumption to determine whether it should be decriminalised and/or legalised for medical reasons. This essay will investigate different societal perspectives: who uses it and why they use it.  The implications from both a legal and health perspective and whether the health benefits outweigh the risks – all incorporated into the following questions.

  1. Societal and sociological implication of cannabis use
  2. Is the current legislation fair?
  3. What are the negative effects on health?
  4. What are the psychological causes of using marijuana?
  5. What are the benefits?

The type of research undertaken will be key to the validity and accuracy of this document. To achieve this, three types of research will be explained and analysed. The first to be discussed is quantitative research. Quantitative research is factual, information gathered from statistics and numbers. For example, how many individuals consume marijuana regularly. This data specifies the actual number of users but does not clarify the reasons why. Primary research involves gathering new data that has not been collected before, such as, surveys using questionnaires or interviews with groups of people.  Secondary research involves gathering existing data that has already been produced. For example, researching the internet, newspapers and company reports. This essay will utilise this method as opposed to primary reserch due to the absence of an ethics panel at the college. The research carried out will look at statistics, legitimate websites, journal articles and newspapers; these along with further reading will be analysed and evaluated in an attempt to address the essay question with an unbiased viewpoint – despite potentially conflicting findings.

Project timetable

January 11-25 Decide topic; begin research; meet supervisor to discuss subject matter; finalise essay question.
February 1-22 Continue research; analyse data.
April 8-23 Compile information into essay format; final meeting with supervisor.
May 9-14 Audit essay form a conclusion; evaluate; proof read and submit essay.

The essay will endeavor to contain conflicting points to enable the reader to sum up their own conclusion. The information gathered and utilised will be obtained from reputable sources, along with the most recent government data and health statistics to ensure reliability and validity of the information. Health and safety will also be in mind while completing the essay. Regular breaks will be taken whilst using a computer to avoid the occurrence of visionary side effects and repetitive strain injury. Data will be reported accurately and contain references throughout to avoid plagiarism.

Should Marijuana be Decriminalised and or Legalised for Medical Reasons in the U.K?

Official statistics from Gov (2017) show that in 2016/17, 6.6% (around 2.2 million) of people aged 16 to 59 consumed marijuana. This has dropped since measurements began in 1996 (when the proportion was 9.4%). Since 2009/10 it has remained essentially stable at between 6 and 7 per cent. Out of the possible 2.2 million users, one million of these were 16-24-year olds. In addition to this, 34% of 16-24-year olds who consume marijuana claim to be frequent users. Its use is also more prevalent among men than women, in the 2017 survey 9% of men admitted to using marijuana compared with just 4.2% of women. Lastly, people living in deprived areas were more likely to be frequent drug users. A larger proportion (4.5%) of respondents who lived in deprived areas consumed marijuana frequently compared with those who lived in the least deprived areas (2.3%). Therefore, young working-class boys are the biggest consumers of marijuana. However, official statistics need to be treated with caution as they can be misleading and misinterpreted, – not everyone who uses marijuana will give admission of their consumption. On the other hand, official statistics are useful in determining the changing rate of crime in certain areas over a period. In addition to this they can also help to highlight police bias and stereotyping. Interactionist Howard Becker (1963) cited in Hazeldine et al, (2016), attributed that the police label and target young working-class people as potentially criminal and frequently stop, search and arrest them. Meaning, it is more likely for young working-class boys to be found with possession. Sociologists Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin (1961) suggested that adolescents form retreatist subcultures (drug gang) because they have failed in the opportunity structure of society (Haralambos et al, 2013). Although, this is a naïve explanation of drug misuse. Drug misuse is also common among successful middle-class professionals and not just failed criminals or gang members as suggested by Cloward and Ohlin. Also, interactionist Albert Cohen (1955) cited in Giddens and Sutton (2015) claims that working-class boys lack opportunities to succeed, largely due to cultural deprivation. Tension from status frustration is realised through the creation of a deviant subculture in which the values of society are reversed.  Like the interactionists view-point marxists argue that the exploitation and oppression from the capitalist’s system leads to feelings of alienation. Thus, encouraging drug consumption which leads to dangerous addictions. However, not everyone suffering alienation from the capitalist system turns to drugs (Browne et al, 2014).

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Marijuana has been classified as a Class B drug in the UK since 2008 and carries significant penalties associated with possession and production including a maximum prison sentence of 14 years (Legislation, 2018). Statistics from Gov (2017) show that in 2016 there were 99,779 seizures of cannabis in the U.K. According to Browne et al (2014) marxists argue that illegal drugs help to safeguard class inequalities by providing excuses for the police to criminalise the working-class by giving drug convictions; whereas, the ruling class are more likely to be let off with a slap on the wrist.  Interactionist Jock Young (1971) cited in Haralambos et al (2013) studied marijuana users in London. Young argued that police respond to marijuana users as ‘dirty, scruffy’ deviants which consequently, pushes them into that role. They no longer feel a conventional part of society and so become more unconventional as a reaction. Marijuana has been placed in the same category as the dangerous drug Ketamine. Talk to Frank (2018) write that Ketamine is a powerful general anaesthetic and is used for operations on humans and animals. Ketamine temporarily paralyses the body and gives a ‘out of body’ near death experience which can cause hallucinations and bad ‘trips’. Overdose can result in a coma, respiratory failure and death. According to I the Office of National Statistics (2016) Ketamine was responsible for 160 deaths in 2016.  Furthermore, in the U.K alcohol comes top of the list in the most commonly used recreational drugs.  Alcohol is legal and widely available to adults over the age of 18 in the U.K. According to MPP (2018), marijuana is less toxic than alcohol, less addictive, less harmful to the body, and less likely to contribute to violent or reckless behaviour. Alcohol related car accidents are far more likely than marijuana related car accidents. In 2015, over 200 people were killed in a road collision involving a driver over the legal limit (Department of Transport, 2017). Alcohol is also connected to many long-term side effects such as high blood pressure, raised cholesterol, liver disease and cancers. Alarmingly, in 2016 there were 7,327 alcohol specific deaths (Official for National Statistics, 2016). Many online articles claim that marijuana cannot and is not responsible for any deaths due to overdose. However, Dr Robert Gable (2004) of the Psychology department of Clermont university, cited in Caulkins, Kilmer and Kleinman (2016), concluded from a review into marijuana that it may be responsible for two deaths of a direct overdose. While it may be factual that it is extremely rare to die from a marijuana overdose, it is an undeniable fact that nobody dies from a tobacco overdose. People do not smoke themselves to death, tobacco causes lung cancer, which is what causes death. So, in that same way marijuana can kill people in the form of mental illnesses, suicide and in the form of a car accident while driving under the influence. In addition, there are also problems with consuming marijuana that is sold on the black market. It is often contaminated with toxic components which may cause more harm than the substance itself. Thus, a regulated legal supply can be contaminant free, pure and therefore safer as correct dosage can be prescribed.

Many argue that legalisation for medicinal purposes could make cannabis more socially acceptable and so encourage use of the substance and other drugs alike which may be more dangerous. However, according to Cerda et al (2015) research has shown that countries which have already legalised marijuana for medical reasons like the US have not seen an upsurge in the numbers of individuals using it. Additionally, the NHS (2017) write that 10% of regular cannabis users become dependent. Despite this, many claim that marijuana does not have addictive properties and that individuals become addicted to the nicotine (which the marijuana is smoked with) and not the marijuana itself. While this may have some truth, withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, difficulty sleeping, mood swings, irritability and restlessness are all common among individuals who consume marijuana regularly making it difficult to quit. Correspondingly, if a person smokes marijuana with tobacco, there is also great risk of contracting tobacco-related diseases such as cancer and heart disease.  Although, this criticism has a contradictive element. Hartney (2018) points out that there are already many highly addictive medications currently being prescribed by doctors in the U.K which have more dangerous side effects than marijuana. One being Tramadol, according to Office for National Statistics (2016) Tramadol was responsible for the lives of 208 people in 2015. However, when consuming marijuana it is common for the user to inhale more smoke and hold it in longer than they would a cigarette, to maximise the effects. Like other addictive drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, individuals can develop a tolerance to marijuana. Therefore, individuals need to consume more and more to get the same effect (Drug Wise, 2017).  The mental consequences of marijuana use are equally severe. Marijuana smokers have poorer memories and mental aptitude than do non-users.  Baler et al (2014) state that recent studies on young adults who smoke marijuana, found abnormalities in the brain related to emotion, motivation and decision-making. Regular cannabis use from a young age can also increase the risk of developing psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia. This is because the brain does not stop growing and forming connections until it is 25, and cannabis interferes with this process (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2018).  Although, this statement is a tricky one, According to Casarett (2015), a surprising number of people especially men will not seek professional help because they do not like the idea that they require help to manage their issues. This may be another reason why the vast majority of marijuana smokers are men. Some individuals report consuming marijuana helps relieve their depression and anxiety. It could be argued that they turn to marijuana to self-medicate as opposed to admitting to another individual, for example, a doctor that they cannot cope. In other words, individuals may have turned to marijuana to help with their psychological problems in the first place. Thus, the psychological issues were not created from consuming marijuana. Despite the negative, the harm and benefit of marijuana should depend on patient’s medical severity situation and needs; the addiction of marijuana trades off with the expected length of a patient’s life. If a situation is terminal, it could be argued that the benefits meaningfully outweigh the risks.

According to the Behaviourist Model addictive behaviour is considered as learned. Therefore, the root to smoking marijuana is a psychological one. Albert Bandura’s (1961) cited in Gross (2015) social learning theory suggests that children learn social behaviour from observing a model. Children are four times more likely to smoke if their parents do (Ash, 2018). Additionally, individuals who smoke are also more likely to divulge further in recreational drugs such as marijuana. Some individuals may use marijuana to gain acceptance. A behaviour explained by psychologist B. F. Skinner (1948), cited in Eysenck (2012), through operant conditioning – a person starts to smoke to gain the powerful reinforcement of peer approval.  The new smoker associates these positive feelings with smoking. Positive reinforces cause production of dopamine which provide the positive feelings and reward the behaviour. Thus, behaviour which is followed by pleasant consequences is likely to be repeated. Another psychological theory is Ivan Pavlov’s (1927) cited in Gross (2015) classical conditioning. Classical conditioning is realised when a specific stimulus causes a specific response. For example, individuals who regularly consume marijuana to relax and de-stress after work while watching the soaps, will start to associate relax time in front of the tv as a time to light up a joint. In this case, sitting in front of the television after work and watching the soaps (specific stimulus), can induce powerful cravings for marijuana (specific response) which can lead to relapse behaviours.

It has been proven that chemicals found in marijuana can relieve pain in people living with illnesses like multiple sclerosis and arthritis. According to Goldacre (2013), scientific studies of the chemicals in marijuana, called cannabinoids, has led to two FDA-approved medications that contain cannabinoid chemicals in pill form in Canada, USA and some parts of Europe. Marijuana has also been effective at relieving some of the highly stressful side effects that emerge from chemotherapy treatment such as nausea and vomiting (Doweiko, 2015). According to Drug abuse (2017), there is also evidence to suggest that the marijuana chemical cannabidiol (CBD) can treat certain conditions such as childhood epilepsy, a disorder that causes a child to have violent seizures. Scientists in the US have been reproducing marijuana plants and making CBD in oil form for treatment purposes.  CBD oil has low levels of the mind-altering THC, making it unpopular for recreational use.  Nancy and Willard (2014) suggest that marijuana is used in a similar manner to alcohol. Most adults consume marijuana while socialising with friends or to relax after work. Some use marijuana for medical benefits, with others consuming marijuana for therapeutic purposes, such as, help to facilitate with falling asleep and to alleviate arthritis. Some advocates believe that marijuana can relieve stress, anxiety and depression. On the contrary, many argue that consuming marijuana can trigger anxiety and depression. In fact, it is true the THC is linked to feelings of paranoia and anxiety as it activates the amygdala area of the brain, which is responsible for fear. However, CBD counteracts such feelings from THC. Studies show that taking CBD on its own can lower – even eliminate anxiety (Gould, 2015). According to the American Cancer Society (2018), scientists reported that THC and other cannabinoids such as CBD slow growth and/or caused death in certain types of cancer cells growing in lab dishes. Studies on animals also suggest that certain cannabinoids slow growth and reduce the spread of certain forms of cancer.

This essay has investigated various aspects of marijuana consumption – why people use it what are the consequences in regard to legislation and health. Many argue that marijuana has been put on a pedestal and falsely labelled a miracle drug. It is inevitable to say that there has been a lot of scaremongering and wishful thinking concerning marijuana consumption. However, there is not enough reliable evidence into the extent of how good or bad marijuana is for ones’ health.  Some evidence and findings are very controversial and contradict one another. For example, the claim that consuming marijuana can reduce the risk of certain cancers when it is a well-known fact that smoking in the first place is responsible for almost all lung cancers. Due to the insufficient amounts of reliable evidence more independent unbiased research needs to be carried out to fully determine the abilities and side effects of marijuana. In conclusion, based on the current evidence marijuana should be decriminalised in the U.K. – individuals who are caught consuming marijuana and who may have an addiction should be helped and not punished and labelled a criminal. Correspondingly, marijuana should be made legal for medicinal purposes as it clearly carries benefits for some people. However, only if the benefits outweigh the risks. For example, if the individual has a possible life-threatening illness.  Moreover, advances in science, accompanied with further research into the current medications already available, (in the US) additional medications can be administered.  If the drug is as beneficial as some research suggests then science could be bordering major breakthroughs concerning marijuana, accepting and encouraging use further.   

Reference List

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The essay introduction stated some clear figures of the trends of marijuana over the last few years and determined who in society is most likely to consume marijuana. On the contrary, the introduction failed to generate a definitive answer as to why young working-class boys are the biggest consumers of marijuana, due to the absence of primary research. However, links to sociological theories supported the results that young working-class boys are the biggest consumers of marijuana.

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The research within the essay was obtained from a wide range of reputable sources with the most recent information available. As discussed, due to the absence of primary research there was not an opportunity to examine the reasons on a more personal level as to why young working-class boys choose to consume marijuana when evidence portrayed from the UK government suggest that it can lead to psychological issues and can cause certain types of cancers.

The data researched and presented was analysed and evaluated where possible; official statistics from legitimate sources are generally accepted as reliable and informative in their own right. In addition, further relations to sociological theories along with psychological theories strengthened the conclusions of certain studies. In comparison, due to the lack of reliable sufficient unbiased research, there could have been further analysis into the government’s role.  With the recent claims that marijuana has certain cancer killing properties along with many other health benefits, the government should be aiming to provide newly found definitive answers concerning the risks and gains of marijuana.

The conclusion acknowledged that the lack of reliable and thorough research into the strengths and weaknesses of using marijuana has influenced the answer to the question; that it should be decriminalised and legalised on the grounds of medicinal use only if the benefits outweigh the risks. However, the conclusion is based only on the research analysed within the essay. Due to a limited word count further research and analysis which may have had an influence on the overall conclusion may have been missed. Thus, the conclusion is relevant to the findings within the essay however, additional and future research may lead to a different prognosis.


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