Marijuana in the United States
Marijuana can be considered the most popular and widely used illicit drug in the United States. State drug policies have changed in recent years, however many American citizens still face prosecution for the cultivation, distribution and possession of marijuana. Despite the known benefits of legalizing marijuana on the economy and crime rate, the US federal government has still not changed its policy. The United States must acknowledge and change its role in the imprisonment and suffering of innocent people by legalizing marijuana on a federal level or the ongoing counterproductive prohibition of marijuana will continue to no avail. Marijuana is the American term for Cannabis sativa, a versatile plant that grows in temperate and tropical regions of the world (Morgan, 2011). It can adapt easily to various environments across the globe and is known to grow wild in North America (Morgan, 2011). The leaves and flowers of the marijuana plant contain tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, an intoxicating substance that ‘gives marijuana its psychoactive properties’ (Morgan, 2011). Unlike many other illicit drugs marijuana is not considered a stimulant or a depressant. While stimulants and depressants (such as cocaine, methamphetamine, alcohol, and heroin) interact with either the serotonin, dopamine or GABA nerve receptors in the brain, the chemicals found in marijuana react in a completely different manner. They react with CB1 and CB2, a set of nerve receptors unique to the chemicals in marijuana, and to a naturally occurring neurotransmitter called anandamide (Caulkins, Hawken, Kilmer, & Kleiman, 2012). An increase in appetite, a greater appreciation for humor and a boost in creativity are all possible effects of a marijuana high due to the unique chemical reactions within the brain. However, not all marijuana highs can be enjoyable, as high doses can cause anxiety and paranoia.
Many people are misinformed about the real dangers and benefits of marijuana, as well as the long term effects of commonly used legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana is not addictive, however it is possible to become dependent on or abuse marijuana as with any other substance including food. According to an epidemiological study conducted by James Anthony, only 9 percent of adults that have tried marijuana are susceptible to dependence, in contrast to the 15 percent of adults who are likely to become addicted after initially trying alcohol (Caulkins, Hawken, Kilmer, & Kleiman, 2012). Addiction to nicotine, the highly addictive substance in tobacco products, “is the most common form of chemical dependence in the United States” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). In 2010, 15,990 US residents died of alcoholic liver disease in addition to the 25,692 people that died due to alcohol-induced deaths, not counting alcohol related car accidents and homicides (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). Tobacco cigarettes cause cancer, heart disease, stroke, various lung diseases and are responsible for 443,000 deaths per year in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). Yet marijuana use, the only illegal substance at hand in this discussion, has never directly led to a fatal overdose (Caulkins, Hawken, Kilmer, & Kleiman, 2012) or been shown to greatly contribute to dangerous health issues. Although, as with any intoxicating substance, the drug still does have its risks. Like many other substances, materials and devices in modern American society, marijuana usage has been linked to accidents while driving and is known to contain carcinogens. Although thousands of motor vehicle fatalities are caused by drunk driving or cell phone usage, it has been proven that the consumption of marijuana before driving is dangerous. “Overall, marijuana is the most prevalent illegal drug detected in impaired drivers, fatally injured drivers, and motor vehicle crash victims”...
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Caulkins, J. P., Hawken, A., Kilmer, B., & Kleiman, M. A. (2012). Marijuana Legalization What Everyone Needs to Know. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
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Morgan, K. (2011). Legalizing Marijuana. Edina, MN: ABDO Publishing Company.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2010, December). DrugFacts: Drugged Driving. Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/drugged-driving
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