Amidst a myriad of controversial subjects in medicine, the use of medical marijuana in the clinical setting might stand at the forefront. Like any treatment in medicine, there are advantages and risks to the prescription of marijuana. Immense benefits have been found with the clinical use in oncology patients receiving chemotherapy, those suffering from Parkinson’s, and individuals with epilepsy. Healthcare professionals that support the implementation of medical marijuana argue there are far too many known benefits of cannabis for it to be suppressed any longer than it has been (Gardenier et al., 2013). But there is also risk involved, as this is a substance with minimal scientific research surrounding it; we are still unsure of the long-term effects marijuana can have on an individual. And that very unknown is what seems to be the major concern on the use of clinical cannabis; opposers claim there are adverse effects on mental health, an irreversible decline in intelligence, and the potential for respiratory system damage (Wilkinson, 2013). Both the pros and cons of medical marijuana are outlined in this essay to equip nursing professionals with a complete understanding of the benefits and dangers involved with cannabis, in order for them to offer complete and competent care to patients.
As previously mentioned, the legalization of marijuana and its use in medicine is rising exponentially and will only continue to do so. With that being known and cannabis being a valid treatment option for an array of clients, it’s important for nurses to be educated on the use of medical marijuana so they can better serve their patients. But this is still very much an ethical issue that certain professionals may find extremely problematic and inappropriate. While individuals are valid in their views on marijuana and its role in their own lives; it’s important to be cognizant of the clinical benefits and relief it could bring their suffering patient. After all, one of the most important responsibilities of the nursing profession is to advocate for the patient; which might mean putting personal beliefs aside in order to relieve the suffering of a client.
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The commonality amongst opposing arguments is the fact there is still research to be done in regards to the long-term effects of marijuana, as well as how national legalization would impact society. While many of the risks of cannabis have only been speculated upon, one that has actually been substantiated are the harmful effects on a growing fetus (Gardenier et al., 2013). Which has lead some to draw the conclusion that the effects had on a fetus would be the same for all human beings at any level of physiological maturation. It has also been alleged that marijuana smoke contains chemicals and carcinogens that have a detrimental consequence than the smoke from a cigarette (Gardenier et al., 2013). However, like many of the other claims made against the negative ramifications of cannabis, this has not been scientifically proven to be true. However, a valid concern is the actual process of prescribing cannabis to a patient (Wilkinson, 2013). Unlike other prescription drugs commonly used in medicine, marijuana is grown independently and under varying regulatory protocols so contamination is possible. As Samuel T. Wilkinson explained in his article opposing the legalization of marijuana and its uses in medicine, dispensaries experiment with different cannabinoids so without rigorous clinical trials, there is not a way of knowing which combination of cannabinoids is the most therapeutic (Wilkinson, 2013). There is immense variation within the world of marijuana but if the future of medicine includes cannabis, there is certainly a way to implement uniform regulations and protocols; like those that exist for any other prescription drug.
Unlike the speculated negatives, the benefits of medical marijuana are known and substantiated. Doctor Lydia Marie Weber claimed, “the use of medical marijuana is essential” (Gardenier et al., 2013, para. 7). She describes herself as a practitioner who is deeply committed to patient advocacy and argues there are extensive known benefits of cannabis. She gave the example of cannabidoil oil; stating, “if it can help a patient more than other prescription medications, then it is our duty as healthcare providers to enter new territory in treatment regimens” (Gardenier et al., 2013, para. 7). In Corbin Davis’ article, Medical Cannabis in Patients with Advanced Cancer: Challenges Remain, he outlines a clinical study that was done with stage four oncology patients who utilized medial marijuana for pain management (Davis, 2020). The results of the study showed one-third of patients were able to cease their opioid use, while another 10% significantly reduced their opioid use with only 11% reporting adverse side effects (Davis, 2020). These findings are staggering; opioids have been the primary route for oncology patients to manage their pain so the fact that individuals were able to find an alternative, that doesn’t have nearly the same side effects, is truly incredible and illustrate the important role medical marijuana could play in healthcare.
In analyzing the benefits and dangers of marijuana, it’s evident there is still an immense amount of research that needs to occur before cannabis becomes a widely used, and accepted, form of treatment. The field of medicine will continue to evolve and exemplify cutting-edge clinical advancements, some of which may conflict with a nurse’s personal ethical beliefs but it’s vital for healthcare professionals to assess data provided on ethical issues, such as this one, and do their very best to draw conclusions without bias. And as the exploration of medical marijuana continues, healthcare professionals have a responsibility to follow along with the experimentation to ensure they are offering the most competent care to the patients they advocate for (American Nurses Association, 2015).
- American Nurses Association. (2015). Code of ethics for nurses with interpretive statements. https://www.nursingworld.org/coe-view-only
- Davis, C. (2020). Medical Cannabis in Patients with Advanced Cancer: Challenges Remain. Oncology Nurse-APN/PA, 13(1), 8.
- Gardenier , D., Brennan, M., & Weber, L. (2017). Should Marijuana be Legalized? The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 13(2), 116–117. Retrieved from https://npjournal.org/article/ s1555-4155(16)30757-7/fulltext
- Wilkinson S. T. (2013). Medical and recreational marijuana: commentary and review of the literature. Missouri medicine, 110(6), 524–528.