Germany recently passed legislation authorizing the use of cannabis for medical use, following suit of nineteen other countries that have decriminalized its use.
It is expected for the new law to take effect some time next year.
There are restrictions on its prescription as a treatment for pain, allowances only when other treatments are ineffective and there is “no therapeutic alternative”. The German drug commissioner made clear the reason for the legislation:
“The use of cannabis as a medicine within narrow limits is useful and should be explored in more detail… cannabis is not a harmless substance…legalization for private pleasure is not the aim and purpose of this [legislation]. It is intended for medical use only.”(1)
Health Benefits of Cannabis
The positive effects of cannabis use in the context of pain management are undeniable.
Where the controversies arise is in its recreational use and application as a true medicine to treat disease.
When it comes to treating disease, cannabis is hard to beat—it may well be the most medicinal plant on Earth.
Numerous studies all over the world have found cannabis effective in treating autism, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn’s disease.(2) Further, cannabis can prevent heart attacks and cognitive decline through its anti-inflammatory properties.(3).
Cannabis Fights Cancer
It’s important to distinguish the delivery method of cannabis in the treatment of disease, which many studies ignore.
Often, the assumption is that cannabis will be inhaled into the lungs. Taking any substance into the lungs other than air is always a sketchy proposition and one can see how long-term marijuana smoking can be potentially detrimental in that context. It has been suggested that ingestion may be a better transmission method for cannabis as a therapy.
There is an underlying question to the issue of marijuana use—for any purpose, whether medicinal or recreational.
Why is marijuana illegal? It’s a plant that’s used exactly how it grows from the ground.
Unlike cocaine, heroin, or crystal methamphetamine, it’s not manufactured or processed (drying the leaves before use doesn’t qualify as “processing”), nor is it physically addictive (although there may be arguments to the contrary, there is no scientific evidence to show that it is).
Unlike the vast majority of pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter medications, cannabis has no adverse side effects, even with regular use. Compared to alcohol the use of marijuana doesn’t incite one to violence but quite the opposite, having a calming effect.
How Did Marijuana Become Illegal In The First Place?
Marijuana was made illegal in the United States in 1937 against the advice of the American Medical Association. Prior to that, cannabis was widely used as a medicine to treat various conditions and was available at every drug store.(6)
A wave of Mexican immigrants entered the U.S. in the early part of the twentieth century. They smoked “marihuana” similarly to how Americans smoked tobacco—it was part of their everyday lives.
As part of the political effort to control the new immigrants, propaganda began to emerge demonizing marihuana and anyone who used it. From bigotry against Mexicans, this excuse began to be used against other people of color, purporting that use of cannabis was the cause of violence and crime. Possession and use of cannabis became illegal to suppress minorities in the U.S.(7)
Canada had made marijuana use illegal fourteen years earlier. According to a CBC report, no one really knows why or who added cannabis to the list of prohibited drugs in an existing bill that was being put before the House of Commons and Senate. No one really paid attention to the amendment because it was a non-issue in Canada and marijuana was made illegal, along with cocaine, eucaine, morphine, and opium.(8)
If the reasons marijuana was made illegal were only political and had nothing really to do with the substance itself, then why is it still banned? The answer is the same, although the motivation is different. But that’s another story.
Kudos to Germany for taking a step in the right direction toward helping its citizens manage, treat, and cure their illnesses.