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The Medicinal Use of Marijuana

An Intimate Debate Case


Clyde Freeman Herreid
Department of Biological Sciences
University at Buffalo
Kristie DuRei
Political Science Department
University at Buffalo


Whether marijuana should be legalized for medicinal purposes has been contested for decades. The claims, counter-claims, issues, and judgments in this high profile controversy make it an excellent candidate for “intimate debate.” While similar to traditional debating formats and ground-rules, the method of intimate debate has important differences. There is no audience, each student argues each side of the issue seated across from their opponents in pairs, and the session concludes with opposing teams reaching consensus. The case is suitable for any course where medical issues and social issues of science are discussed and in any classroom setting, from high school to professional school programs such as nursing and pharmacy.


  • Consider the medical evidence for and against the use of marijuana.
  • Explore how social and political forces are involved in scientific/medical decisions.
  • Evaluate arguments and marshal evidence for or against a position.
  • Learn how to civilly discuss a controversial topic, looking at both sides of the question.


Marijuana; cannabis; medical use of marijuana; medical marijuana; legalization of marijuana; substance use; drug use; drug abuse; War on Drugs

Topical Areas

Legal issues, Policy issues, Scientific argumentation, Social issues

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division, Graduate, Professional (degree program), General public & informal education



Type / Methods

Intimate Debate



Subject Headings

Biology (General)  |   Medicine (General)  |   Public Health  |   Nursing  |   Pharmacy / Pharmacology  |   Sociology  |   Botany / Plant Science  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Robert Wahler, PharmD
Department of Pharmacy Practice
University at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY 14260
I have developed a related activity for one of my classes that others may be interested in:

PHC 250 Apothecarial Adventures 2009
Medical Marijauna - A Mythbusters Approach

Based upon the popular Discovery channel show Mythbusters, the class will examine a number of "myths" surrounding the use of marijuana as a medicine. Mythbusters takes myths from various sources, subjects them to the scientific method and, based upon their results, determines if the myth is "Busted," "Plausible" or "Confirmed."

Since the class does not have the time to conduct hands-on research with marijuana (nor the legal authority to do so), we are going to use scientific data to test our myths.

In teams of 2, the class will research literature on a selected myth. The teams will present their data in a brief presentation (approx. 5 minutes) during class time. Teams should include at least 3 references. References should be identified and evaluated for bias. Teams should approach each myth in an unbiased manner.

The remaining members of the class and the faculty facilitator will ask questions of each group to help clarify the data presented. The class will then vote on each myth whether it's busted, plausible or confirmed.

Understand that medical marijuana is typically intended for certain patients that fall into the following groups:

  • Terminally ill
  • Life-threatening
  • Debilitating chronic illness
  • Otherwise healthy, but refractory to standard therapy

In preparation of your data presentation, be cognizant of the fact that to be considered as a useful medication, the following areas should be addressed; we will also use these criteria when voting in class:

  • Appropriate/Indicated
  • Effective
  • Safe
  • Convenient to administer

Finally, the myths:

  1. Marijuana is useful in appetite stimulation.
  2. Marijuana is useful in nausea and vomiting following anti-cancer therapy.
  3. Marijuana is useful in neurological and movement disorders (epilepsy, multiple sclerosis).
  4. Marijuana is a useful analgesic (chronic pain from osteoarthritis, migraine, cancer pain).
  5. Marijuana is useful in glaucoma.
  6. Marijuana is useful in pruritis.
  7. Marijuana is useful in premenstrual syndrome, menstrual cramps.
  8. Marijuana is useful in depression.
  9. Marijuana is addictive.
  10. Marijuana smoking is just as harmful as tobacco smoking.
  11. Marijuana causes brain damage.
  12. Marijuana causes fatal overdoses.
  13. Marijuana causes reduced immune response.
  14. Marijuana side effects are "pleasurable," tolerated well.
  15. Marijuana causes infertility in males.
  16. Marijuana causes long term memory impairment.