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Schedule I Drugs, Research Paper Example

Pages: 9

Words: 2380

Research Paper

The United States classifies drugs in five categories or schedules. Schedule I drugs are the most severely regulated, and must be seen to have high likelihoods for abuse, no medical value, and a lack of safety in the use of this drug. Drugs with this classification are illegal to use recreationally and no doctor is allowed to prescribe their usage. Prominent drugs with this classification include heroin, MDMA (commonly referred to as ecstasy), and marijuana. Since these regulations were created by Congress, they certainly are not infallible and at least one could be improperly categorized. To determine this, one must figure out if any of those three drugs are significantly less dangerous or more likely to have medical benefits.

The first of these drugs, heroin, is an opiate based drug used by almost fifty million people across the world (National Institute on Drug Abuse). While the United States government bans its medical usage, this is not true everywhere. Originally used as a painkiller, it is still legally used for these medical purposes in some countries, including the United Kingdom. Its usage can essentially be seen as a morphine substitute in these cases. This type of use is illegal in the United States, but some people begin their addiction trying to avoid withdrawal from opiates they were legally prescribed. Occasionally it is also used to help addicts avoid withdrawal (American Center for Disease Education).

Heroin is highly addictive as are most other opiates and therefore its recreational use can be highly damaging. Recreational users crave the feeling heroin gives out, an intense high that leaves them feeling warm very rapidly, especially is the drug is used intravenously. After the initial high, the user will be slower in mental functions, breathing, and heart rate. The drug binds to opioid receptors in the brain and users can quickly develop a tolerance, which makes the potential for addiction even stronger (Drug Library).

Users who build up a physical addiction will find heroin withdrawal to be extremely unpleasant and difficult to go through. It can include cold flashes, restlessness, pain, insomnia, diarrhea, and uncontrollable limb movement. Heroin withdrawal can also be lethal to the fetus of a pregnant woman, although it is not fatal for adults to go through. Usually these symptoms peak within the first couple days after usage, but heroin withdrawals can often linger for a period of months after consumption.

Heroin is also dangerous because of the method of consumption. Most heavy users use the drug via syringes, after heating it up to turn it liquid. This provides the quickest route to get it into the brain through the bloodstream. Heroin users frequently share needles, making it a very high risk activity for diseases such as HIV or some types of hepatitis. On top of that, constant injections by people without medical training can lead to issues of its own. Lung complications, scarred veins, and bacterial infections can all be caused due to this method of consumption. Beyond that, heroin is rarely sold on the streets in pure form; rather it is mixed with additives that make it more profitable for dealers (NIDA).

MDMA is another Schedule I drug, commonly used in the club and rave scene as it can create a sense of euphoria and collectiveness. MDMA itself is the pure form of the drug, while ecstasy is the name for the drug when it is mixed in with other additives (World Health Organization). Although it is most famous as a club drug, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that is now much more common in many other settings and has become a popular choice outside of the Caucasian demographic that initially embraced it. They also report that it is now commonly used along with other recreational drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, marijuana, or psychedelics such as LSD and mushrooms.

The desired effects of MDMA are the euphoria and diminished sense of anxiety it can provide for users.  It works by increasing the effects of serotonin, a naturally produced bodily chemical, on the brain. Serotonin is a mood regulator and MDMA therefore strongly affects the mood of its users who report positive feelings during the use of the drug, hence the street name ecstasy. After the initial effects, ecstasy can often produce feelings of restlessness, depression, and confusion. Chronic users score poorly on cognitive tests, although the authors of these studies usually concede that MDMA usage is positively correlated with many other recreational drugs that could be the source of cognitive impairment (Cosmor).

MDMA has some history of medical usage, as many psychiatrists saw it as a window to self-exploration minus the feelings of anxiety this can normally cause.  Shortly before it was classified as a Schedule I drug during its rise to popularity in the club scene, George Greer published a study on the medical usage of the drugs that reported many positive psychological benefits as well as some instances of pain relief. Other studies report potential benefits in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Despite these potential benefits, there seems to be little momentum for removing the restriction on MDMA as a medical tool.

This can be traced to some of the negative effects that MDMA can have. For one, forty-three percent of users show the signs of addiction according to a study. Along with that, many ecstasy users can undergo medical problems when using the drug, although this is similar to heroin in that many of the ill effects of the drug may be caused the number of additives in the drug when it is sold for personal consumption. As a stimulant, it can lead to increased heart rate and blood pressure, while also making the user unable to regulate his or her own body temperature (Narconon).

The other major drug given the Schedule I classification is marijuana. It is the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States, with eight percent of the adult population using it at least monthly (United Nations Officer on Drug and Crime).. Its legal classification is perhaps the most controversial of all the drugs in the country, with some states having approved it for medical usage, which clashes with the Schedule I classification from the federal government. This often results in jurisdiction disputes between state and federal enforcement groups. On top of this, there are growing movements to legalize it entirely, with three states having direct referenda on the issue in the 2012 general elections. At this point though, it seems likely that it will remain a Schedule I drug in the eyes of the federal government for the foreseeable future.

Marijuana practice is desired in recreational situations for its mood altering capabilities, which include a change in perception and mood for the user. Less desired are the immediate short term effects of increased heart rate and increased appetite. It is most often consumed through smoking, which carries ill effects for the lungs. However, it can be ingested through oral methods or after vaporizing, which removes the adverse effects on the respiratory system. Long term effects are much more difficult to state confidently as the drug has been used by such a wide spectrum of the population. The proposed long term effects include chronically decreased motivation, feelings of paranoia even when off the drug, depression, and the infamous gateway effect. This refers to the way drug users often report marijuana as their first illegal drug, with the theory being that it leads them into drug communities and has them constantly desiring more intense highs that lead to more intense drugs being used (Gierenger).

The medical usage of marijuana is also unclear, as the drug has been banned in medical use by the federal government since the 1940s. There are also a great number of restrictions on the studies that can be done on the drug. This all leads to a situation where the advisability of medical marijuana usage is not entirely known. Some things that seem well established include its ability to restrict nausea and feelings of pain in users. One of its well-known effects, increased appetite, can be beneficial for patients undergoing a loss of appetite on chemotherapy. Despite the restrictions on marijuana itself, the FDA has approved Marinol, a synthesized medicine with cannabis like effects, for medical usage (NORML).

The issue over the addictiveness of marijuana frequently comes down to ones definition of addiction. Marijuana can certainly be habit forming, with some users lapsing into daily use of the drug for extended periods of time. However, there is no physical addiction from the drug and no withdrawal symptoms for anyone who ceases using it suddenly. In “The Science of Marijuana” by Leslie Iverson, the rate of dependency was estimated to be between ten and thirty percent, with a smaller proportion developing dangerously addicted characteristics. This shows a potential for abuse, but at a lower rate than the other drugs in this paper.

If any of these drugs were to be removed from the Schedule I classification and into a Schedule II classification, the obvious answer seems to be marijuana. Its medical usage is unclear due to research restrictions that should have been removed years ago, if ever put into place at all. However, despite these uncertainties it does seem to be an easy solution for the reduced appetite that chemotherapy patients suffer from. As well as that, marijuana has some effects as a painkiller and much lower dependency rates than opiate based pain killers. It may not be as effective as them, but certainly there is a use for a painkiller that one cannot overdose on and is less likely to lead to addiction. Other studies show multitudes of medical usage for the drug, but they require further studies before anything can be concluded there. However, the drug should be approved for medical usage as soon as possible in a limited scope, with more expanded uses to be explored.

MDMA is a drug with less medical uses than marijuana and certainly the more dangerous of the two. Perhaps further studies would reveal more uses, but the current studies, such as the Greer study are not conclusive enough at the moment. Greer used only eighty subjects, which is a fine start, but well below the threshold that should be met before doctors even consider prescribing the drug. Perhaps these studies will show the drug is not worthy of medical usage and that it should remain a Schedule I drug, but no one has ever made a worse decision due to more information. Increasing our knowledge base on MDMA should be a priority, with government restrictions on its study removed and even encouragement as long as the government is involving itself in scientific research.

Finally, heroin is the drug of these three that most needs to remain a Schedule I classified drug. It is undeniable that the drug possesses many painkilling qualities, as shown by its former use in that fashion and the current use of similar drugs, such as morphine, to do the same thing. However, the question is not whether or not heroin has medical benefits, but whether or not there are less dangerous ways to use the painkilling powers present in opiates. Due to the extremely high addiction rates and the grave dangers associated with abuse, it seems like heroin is not the best way to do this. Not permitting it for medical usage is much more advisable than doing the same for MDMA and especially more so than cannabis.

However, there is a certain amount of question begging in the premise of the paper. Moving one of these three drugs from Schedule I to Schedule II implies that none of them should be legal, or that we should maintain the currently method of classifying drugs, just that we got one drug wrong when it was classified. There seems to be very little reason for a five sizes fits all approach to drug usage. Regardless of where the lines are drawn and which drugs end up in each category, there is still going to be an issue where two relatively dissimilar drugs are classified together. MDMA and heroin have little in common and neither do codeine and amobarbital, both of which are in the Schedule II categories. Applying individual regulations to drugs would make much more sense than these large groups.

Another option is to take approaches other than prohibition. Drugs like heroin and ecstasy carry significant dangers on their own, but other aspects of their usage culture have similar issues. If heroin was not just strictly prohibited, perhaps we could ameliorate the effects of shared needle usage. In the case of both drugs, a significant danger is the unpredictable nature of the additives in them, which can often result in more danger than the drugs themselves.

In conclusion, there is very little reason for the total restriction on medical usage of marijuana and even less so for the restrictions on studying it. Better reasons exist for MDMA and heroin being considered Schedule I drugs, although further studies could convince that MDMA does not belong in that category either. However, reclassifying drugs does not satisfy all the need for drug reform in this country. One solution would be more individualized policies towards each drug or at least towards each class of drugs. Another idea is to cease using prohibition as the only tool for limiting the harm drugs can cause in society. Treatment, education, and promotion of safer practices in drug use could all come with significant benefits of their own.

Works Cited

“Basic Facts About Drugs: Heroin.” Basic Facts About Drugs: Heroin.N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct.  2012. <http://www.acde.org/common/Heroin.htm>.

Csomor, Marina. “There’s Something (potentially Dangerous) about Molly – CNN.com.”CNN.   Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 21 Oct. 2012. <http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/16/health/molly-mdma-drug/index.html>.

Greer, George. “The Therapeutic Use of MDMA.” (n.d.): n. pag. Print.

Gieringer, Dale, Joseph St. Laurent, and Scott Goodrich. “Cannabis Vaporizer Combines Efficient Delivery of THC with Effective Suppression of PyrolyticCompounds.”Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics 4.1 (2004): 7-27. Print.

Heroin: Abuse and Addiction.” What Is the Scope of Heroin Use in the United States?N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2012. <http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin   abuse-addiction/what-scope-heroin-use-in-united-states>.

“How Addictive Is Heroin?” How Addictive Is Heroin? N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2012.            <http://www.druglibrary.org/gh/how_addictive_is_heroin.htm>.

Iversen, Leslie L. The Science of Marijuana. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.

“MDMA / Ecstasy Addiction.” Ecstasy Addiction Info. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2012.            <http://www.narconon.org/drug-information/ecstasy-addiction.html>.

“MDMA (Ecstasy).” Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2012.            <http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/mdma-ecstasy>.

Neuroscience of Psychoactive Substance Use and Dependence. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2004. Print.

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