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Health Benefits and Risks of Marijuana
Marijuana use is probably one of the most contentious points in the modern society. A brief comparison of sources, such as, for example, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), shows that there is no consensus on whether marijuana has more health benefits or risks (Bonander, 2010). The lack of reliable clinical trials leaves much space for manipulations, which complicates the problem even more. Some scholars provide conclusive evidence that this drug can help relieve the symptoms of some medical conditions (Armand, 2016). Others claim that marijuana use has adverse short- and long-term effects on memory, heart, and lungs (Bonander, 2010). In this research paper, the author aims to get insight into the public debate by reviewing the available evidence on marijuana-associated health benefits and risks.
Marijuana includes dried parts of a plant called Cannabis sativa. Its smoke contains nearly 500 different chemicals called cannabinoids, the most important of which is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It also contains formaldehyde, ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide – chemicals also found in tobacco smoke and proved to cause serious diseases (Watson, 2017). Moreover, Goldberg (2009) noted that marijuana releases much tar into the lungs, maybe even more than cigarettes. This drug is typically smoked in cigarettes, pipes, or water pipes, as well as mixed in food such as cookies, candies or brownies (NIH, 2017). Marijuana is popular due to its health effects, which include altered senses, mood changes, slowed coordination, and relaxation. It also causes dry mouth, difficulty with thinking, fast heart rate, and impaired memory.
Advocates of medical marijuana use claim that it can have positive effects on a person’s health. To begin with, studies have demonstrated statistically significant reduction of nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy in participants using marijuana (Carroll, 2015). Furthermore, marijuana was found to reduce the eye pressure, which in turn helps prevent and treat glaucoma (Welsh and Loria, 2014). Cannabinoids contained in this drug have also proved to reduce refractory pain, although researchers stress that the use of marijuana in this case should be considered only when other therapies bring no results. Still, given the fact that some painkillers have been found to be extremely dangerous, replacing them with marijuana to reduce pain looks a reasonable decision. Finally, marijuana’s sedative effect is believed to reduce anxiety and depression, although there is a lack of reliable, up-to-date evidence. In fact, the majority of the studies that demonstrate marijuana’s health benefits have been conducted decades ago or are at high risk of bias (Carroll, 2015).
Marijuana has multiple side effects that should be taken into consideration. It can cause hallucinations, confusion, and disorientation, which are not dangerous on their own but can lead to unpredictable outcomes when occurring in combination. Although marijuana is considered to be safer compared to other drugs, excessive regular consumption and overdose may lead to negative health effects (Bonander, 2010). In some individuals, marijuana smoke causes increased heart rate, which in turn can lead to a heart attack soon after smoking (Watson, 2017). Some studies suggested that prolonged marijuana use can lead to impaired memory and thinking skills, which in turn affects the quality of life and reduces a person’s ability to perform daily tasks (WebMd, 2017). It is difficult to predict the individual reaction to marijuana because it affects people differently depending on their mental state, anxiety level, health issues, personality, etc.
Furthermore, because the majority of those using marijuana inhale its smoke, there is a risk for developing life-threatening lung diseases. Researchers emphasize that marijuana smoke has some dangerous substances that may cause cancer over time, so its long-term effects can be compatible with those of cigarettes. It has been assessed that marijuana users like to inhale chemicals-rich smoke deep and hold their breath for periods long enough for their lungs absorb high amounts of hazardous fumes. Long-term use of this drug may lead to breathing problems, bronchitis, asthma complications, etc. (Armand, 2016). Moreover, studies have demonstrated that cigarette smokers who also use marijuana regularly risk having more problems with their lungs compared to those not smoking pot (Doheny, 2017).
One needs to admit, however, that researchers still do not know much about marijuana and its long-term effects. Apparently, occasional use of marijuana may not cause any negative effects, and may even be beneficial in some cases, but heavy use can actually be very dangerous. Until more longitudinal, large-scale studies are conducted, medical use of this drug should be restricted, and potential effects should be weighed against perceived benefits (Carroll, 2015). Marijuana debate has become too politicized and biased, which is not right given the potential for abuse; therefore, a careful investigation of all health benefits and risks is strongly recommended.
As seen, multiple studies have reported adverse effects of marijuana use, whereas others have not, so marijuana use for treatment or relaxation remains the subject of heated debates. On the one hand, this drug has positive effects on health and well-being by reducing anxiety and pain and serving as a powerful relaxation. On the one hand, it can have unpredictable effects, the most dangerous of which is heart attack. Moreover, studies have demonstrated that marijuana can have adverse long-term consequences by affecting lungs, memory, and cognitive skills. One has to admit that there are still many gaps in the current knowledge on marijuana, so until its effects and risks are clearly understood and evaluated, its use should remain limited or even prohibited.