The Marijuana Debate: Healing Herb or Dangerous Drug?

Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court ruled that federal drug laws trump policies in ten states that permit medicinal marijuana use.

Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court ruled that federal drug laws trump policies in ten states that permit medicinal marijuana use.

The decree reignites a smoldering debate among scientists, activists, and lawmakers about how to leverage marijuana's medical benefits while minimizing its potential for abuse.

Known by the scientific name Cannabis sativa, marijuana is an annual herb closely related to the hops used in beer brewing.

Cannabis has been "used since antiquity for both herbal medication and intoxication," according to a 1999 study commissioned by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a Washington, D.C.-based component of the National Academy of Sciences.

"There is scientific evidence that [marijuana] helps with pain relief and nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, for example,

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