There are a number of ethical issues that a nurse faces while in the clinical setting. One of these issues deals with using marijuana as medicine to treat patients. There has been controversy over medical marijuana ever since it was discovered that patients respond to it. There are many arguments supporting the use of medical marijuana in the health care field and many arguments in opposition of its use. The United States Congress classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance meaning it has high abuse potential and is of no medical value.
However, “physicians and the general public alike are in broad agreement that marijuana shows promise in combating diverse medical illnesses “(Bostwick, 2012). As a nurse, it is important to understand both the pros and cons of medical marijuana before forming an opinion on the issue. Having all the information necessary will allow a nurse to better care for a patient in circumstances where their beliefs and values are different from your own. The number one benefit of marijuana in healthcare is its use in treating symptoms that cannot be controlled as well by other medications.
One example of this that has been supported by extensive research is in patients who are undergoing chemotherapy for cancer who have reported that marijuana controls symptoms of nausea and vomiting, increases appetite, and improves sleep. One study, in which 362 participants undergoing chemotherapy who had breast, colon, lung, lymphoma, or other malignancies showed that “cannabinoids are more effective than placebo and comparable to antiemetics such as prochlorperazine and ondansetron for chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting” (Cotter, 2009).
Marijuana is also useful for a variety of psychiatric disorders. According to an article from Clinical Psychiatry News, “about 75% of respondents said they used marijuana for psychiatric disorders, including bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and persistent insomnia. Unlike some psychiatric drugs, they said, marijuana didn’t leave them feeling like zombies” (Otto, 2012). Another way marijuana is medically beneficial is in stimulating appetite in patients experiencing weight loss and wasting syndrome associated with AIDS.
The results of one experiment, in which THC in the form of dronabinol was studied in patients with AIDS-associated cachexia, “showed it effective in increasing weight as well as being well tolerated” (Hollister, 2001). These are only a few examples of how medical marijuana has been of benefit. There are numerous other conditions and diseases in which marijuana has been proven to be effective including Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Glaucoma, Arthritis, Depression, Anxiety, and Hepatitis C.
While marijuana is clearly beneficial in many ways, it is also important to consider the negative effects. One concern is the negative effects of smoking marijuana on the lungs. According to an article from Canadian Nurse, “Marijuana smoke contains more tar and toxins than tobacco smoke. One joint is equal to two and a half cigarettes in terms of lung damage” (Halpern, 2010). Smoking marijuana over a long period of time can lead to bronchitis and emphysema.
Although there are oral “cannabinoid” medications to prevent problems to the lungs, the oral forms can also have negative side effects including dizziness, sedation, and intoxication. Another negative component to consider is the possibility of becoming addicted to marijuana, which is a big concern to those who use marijuana frequently for therapeutic and nontherapeutic uses. The ethical issue of medical marijuana can have an impact on a nurse’s ability to perform their job.
For example, if a patient comes in and lets a nurse know they are smoking marijuana for symptom control because it is the only thing that helps and yet a nurse knows they are acquiring the drug illegally, it poses questions as to whether or not the nurse should support the patient’s continued use or try to talk them into alternatives. A nurse should also be concerned as to whether it is breaking the law and if there could be legal ramifications for not turning the patient in.
Many agencies deal with these concerns by offering nurse’s the option to refuse to assist a patient if a situation arises that violates their religious or moral beliefs. However, this is only true in cases where a patient is in no danger. While the issue of marijuana use is still controversial today, a total of eighteen states in the US as well as Washington, DC have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana. As more states are starting to join in the legalization of medical marijuana, it is important for nurses to know both the pros and cons so they are able to consider their ethical opinion on the issue.