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What’s the Difference Between Marijuana and Medical Marijuana?

The recreational use of marijuana in the US began around 1910, and by 1931 it was illegal in at least 29 states. Today federal law prohibits the cultivation, possession and sale of marijuana, but some states are trying to work around that. In fact, 23 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • DC
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

Meanwhile, marijuana treatment centers are popping up around the country which would suggest that marijuana is still a dangerous, addictive substance that ruins lives. The only difference between marijuana and medical marijuana is that in some states you will not be arrested for possessing the so-called medical version. However, even that is not absolute since marijuana possession remains illegal under federal law. Marijuana versus medical marijuana is a difference without a distinction.

History of Marijuana Use in US

Marijuana is produced from the hemp plant, which had more important uses in the 17th century. Hemp was used for ropes and sails at a time when American sovereignty and much of the world economy was dependent on sailing ships. Following the Civil War, hemp was replaced by other products for ropes and sails, so its primary use became medicinal. The medicinal use of marijuana dates back to ancient civilizations. They used it in various forms to relieve headaches and other pain, nausea, and inflammation. In the early 20th century, there was no regulatory agency (FDA) to confirm claims that the patented potions contained marijuana. Like with opium and other narcotic substances, manufacturers used marijuana to sell their product, get people to try it, or worse, get people hooked on it. It wasn’t until 1910 when Mexican immigrants introduced the US to recreational use of marijuana. Like immigrants from other countries during different time periods, Mexican immigrants had a stigma attached to them. People were afraid of these Spanish-speaking newcomers and did not trust their customs. Marijuana use was associated with the immigrant subculture, crimes, and violence. By the time of the Great Depression, marijuana use was so feared that it was linked by many people to the decline of society and staggering unemployment figures. Studies were conducted to show that marijuana was a driving force of criminal behavior, especially in immigrant and poor communities. It was believed to contribute to laziness and poor social behavior. In 1931, 29 states had already outlawed marijuana, the rest to follow shortly. Although hemp production was again encouraged during World War II for its industrial uses, just after the war penalties for marijuana use were increased to include required minimum fines and jail time. The drug sub-culture raged on for the next 40 years while the government tried to figure out ways to stop it. Marijuana was differentiated from other drugs at certain points during this time, and it almost became mainstream. It was celebrated in cult movies and a national periodical High Times was dedicated to its use. In many respects it was considered a harmless social drug, like alcohol. People started to believe that, although possession of marijuana was against the law, using it was no big deal. Marijuana did not get a pass, though, when the new war on drugs was declared in 1989. Almost ten years later, the first medical marijuana law was passed in California. It basically stated that with a doctor’s permission, a person could grow, possess, and consume marijuana. The doctor’s permission would indicate that it was medically necessary to treating some illness or symptom rather than just a recreational habit, and for that reason it would be legal.

Timeline of Marijuana/Hemp Use in the U.S.

Marijuana use has changed over time, and this timeline shows how laws and attitudes towards marijuana use have evolved: 1600-1890 Domestic production of hemp encouraged 1906 Federal law requires labeling on any product containing cannabis 1900-1920 Mexican immigrants initiate recreational marijuana use 1930 Fear of marijuana grows 1932 Federal government encourages states to adopt Uniform State Narcotic Act 1936 The Motion Picture Association of America banned depiction of narcotics in films 1937 Marijuana Tax Act criminalizes marijuana 1940 Domestic production of hemp encouraged for industrial uses 1951 Stricter sentencing laws enacted for drug-related offenses 1970 11 states decriminalize marijuana* 1996 Medical marijuana use legalized in California * By decriminalizing marijuana, Alaska, California, Colorado, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Maine, Minnesota, Ohio, and Oregon made it a civil offense, not a criminal offense, to possess small amounts of marijuana. Larger amounts are still considered criminal because they imply an intent to sell.

What is Medical Marijuana?

Medical marijuana is largely just a legal term to describe marijuana used according to a doctor’s prescription. The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved marijuana for medical use, but some states have issued their own guidelines. The FDA is the governing body for the medical prescription system in this country. States choosing to circumvent the FDA are technically breaking federal law. Whether you buy marijuana illegally on the street, grow it yourself, or get it from a dispensary with a prescription from your doctor, it is the same substance. A doctor may try to control the amount of active ingredients you take by prescribing a certain dose, but there are several variables that make that impossible. The National Institute on Drug Abuse confirms, “Most marijuana sold as medicine is the same quality and carries the same health risks as marijuana sold on the street.”

Controlled Substance

Even though you may obtain marijuana with a prescription from your doctor, it is not a highly controlled substance. Because it is not regulated by the FDA, there are no standards for purity, just like any other herbal supplement. And because medical marijuana is no different from street marijuana, it is available in large quantities even without the prescription. It is possible to begin using marijuana with a prescription, become addicted to it and continue using larger quantities even after the prescription runs out. Unlike synthetic drugs, marijuana is a plant. There is no way to control and specifically measure the chemicals in that plant. Professional growing operations can produce a more uniform product than the home grower by monitoring light, moisture, and nutrients during the growing process. However, no two ounces of marijuana deliver the exact same chemical dose. A prescription is also not going to keep you from abusing marijuana. Even if it were safe to consume in small quantities, your marijuana consumption will not be limited by the prescription your doctor gives you. Prescription medications of all kinds are misused and abused daily. Marijuana, like many other drugs, has an addictive component that cannot be controlled. It is readily available without a prescription on street corners in almost every community in America. Addiction plus access equals a big problem.

All in the Name

Calling it medical marijuana, although it is the same substance as the street variety, makes it seem healthy. A medical treatment is much different from an illicit drug. After all, doctors wouldn’t prescribe something that could harm you, would they? Changing the name, however, doesn’t alter the substance. It is still marijuana with all of the same potential health risks. By adding the qualifier “medical” to marijuana, we make it socially acceptable. It’s like opium in the early 20th century. Opium addicts were shunned as low-class degenerates, but when housewives were prescribed valium for their anxiety it was fine. The same harmful and addictive substance gained popularity because it was legitimized by the medical community. Addiction rates soared as you might expect. Marijuana is no less harmful if taken by prescription than it is when you buy it on the street or grow it in your basement. Calling it medical marijuana doesn’t change what it is. If you called it vitamins, that wouldn’t make it any less addictive. You would just get more people to try it. From 2007 to 2012, marijuana usage in this country increased from 14.4 million people to 18.9, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Medical marijuana may be helping to make the drug accessible to more people, but it is not cutting down on the addiction rate. Marijuana is the drug that most addicts begin with before moving to even more dangerous substances.

Marijuana Addiction Treatment

Although the legal system continues its centuries-old struggle to manage marijuana use and protect public health, marijuana addiction facts remain the same. In 2008, 17% of admissions to publicly funded addiction rehabilitation programs were for marijuana. Statistics for privately funded marijuana rehab programs are not available. There is no distinction made for marijuana addiction versus medical marijuana addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the United States and is particularly popular among teenagers. Teens tend to abuse substances that are easy for them to obtain. Because of its popularity, ease of production, and relatively low cost, marijuana has been a favorite with young people for generations. By adding legal access to marijuana, we are just increasing the number of opportunities for young people to use it and develop a drug addiction. These factors also contribute to marijuana’s role as a gateway drug. Many people consider marijuana as a sort of starter kit to drug addiction. It is easily accessible, and some consider it less harmful than other illicit drugs. Marijuana reduces inhibitions, though, kind of like alcohol, opening people to more risky behaviors. Combine the reduced inhibitions with a developing tolerance for the drug and suddenly you’re trying cocaine or heroin to get a better high. All drugs are dangerous, but some are even more addictive than marijuana. People who abuse marijuana often also suffer from other psychological disorders, a phenomenon known as comorbidity. For these people, treatment for marijuana addiction is more complicated and needs to include treatment for their other issues. In some cases, the other disorders were pre-existing and compounded by marijuana use, but in others the marijuana addiction led to the development of other issues. Either way, marijuana is not medicine. It does not cure disease; it actually creates disease.

Marijuana Rehab Programs

Marijuana rehabilitation can take various forms. To date, there is no medication available for the treatment of marijuana addiction, but some of the related withdrawal symptoms, like sleep disturbance, can be eased with sleep aids or anti-anxiety meds. Marijuana addiction treatment is primarily behavioral, not medical. Behavioral science is somewhat less tangible – but just as well researched – as medical science. In some cases, behavioral changes take longer to enact than physical changes, so patience and determination are required. There are three primary forms of therapy that can be used in marijuana addiction rehabilitation:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – an attempt to teach self-control, stop drug use, and solve other psychological problems related to behavior
  • Contingency Management – a therapeutic technique involving a reward system to reinforce positive behavior changes
  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy – an attempt to stimulate a person’s natural motivation to make changes for themselves

As with any rehabilitation program, marijuana rehabs depend in part on a combination of therapies. Addiction is a complicated disorder that is highly personal. The successful marijuana rehab center will assess some root causes, or underlying psychological issues, and work with a person’s personality to resolve them. Sometimes marijuana is being used as an escape from a family or work situation that is untenable. In other cases, the problems stem from relationship issues or self-development shortcomings. These underlying causes must be addressed for marijuana rehabilitation to work. Marijuana treatment centers attempt to reach each person with a combination of variables that are right for them. Some people respond well to structure and discipline, but others require a kinder, gentler approach. For those who have not learned to value and take care of themselves, a pampering environment is helpful. Marijuana rehab centers in Central PA and elsewhere provide treatment for marijuana addiction and allow you to focus on your recovery.

Marijuana Addiction Help

The first step to getting help for yourself or a loved one with a marijuana addiction is to get more information about marijuana treatment programs. There are various treatment options, so you have to find a marijuana treatment center that is right for you. You don’t want to do this on your own. As with any addiction, there is a high rate of relapse before abstinence becomes permanent. Your chances of beating a marijuana addiction are greatly increased by seeking professional help. If you want to help a loved one through this difficult process, you’ll need access to accurate information and professionals. Marijuana addiction, like any other, is a serious disorder. Don’t be lulled into believing that it isn’t a problem because someone referred to it as medical marijuana. No one uses an addictive substance for any reason without running a great risk of becoming addicted. If you want to break your marijuana addiction, start with information. Make an effort to educate yourself. Sign up for our free newsletter to get the latest in addiction treatment information or contact us today.

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