More reasons to worry about marijuana

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the societal problems fully legalized marijuana has brought to Holland. Those facts ran counter to the “marijuana is harmless compared to hard drugs” line of reasoning that has been used to justify legalizing marijuana. It now looks as if the “marijuana is less harmful than cigarettes” argument may also be a fallacy:

Smoking a joint is equivalent to 20 cigarettes in terms of lung cancer risk, scientists in New Zealand have found, as they warned of an “epidemic” of lung cancers linked to cannabis.

Studies in the past have demonstrated that cannabis can cause cancer, but few have established a strong link between cannabis use and the actual incidence of lung cancer.

In an article published in the European Respiratory Journal, the scientists said cannabis could be expected to harm the airways more than tobacco as its smoke contained twice the level of carcinogens, such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons, compared with tobacco cigarettes.

The method of smoking also increases the risk, since joints are typically smoked without a proper filter and almost to the very tip, which increases the amount of smoke inhaled. The cannabis smoker inhales more deeply and for longer, facilitating the deposition of carcinogens in the airways.

“Cannabis smokers end up with five times more carbon monoxide in their bloodstream (than tobacco smokers),” team leader Richard Beasley, at the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, said in a telephone interview.

“There are higher concentrations of carcinogens in cannabis smoke … what is intriguing to us is there is so little work done on cannabis when there is so much done on tobacco.”

The researchers interviewed 79 lung cancer patients and sought to identify the main risk factors for the disease, such as smoking, family history and occupation. The patients were questioned about alcohol and cannabis consumption.

In this high-exposure group, lung cancer risk rose by 5.7 times for patients who smoked more than a joint a day for 10 years, or two joints a day for 5 years, after adjusting for other variables, including cigarette smoking.

“While our study covers a relatively small group, it shows clearly that long-term cannabis smoking increases lung cancer risk,” wrote Beaseley.

I’m not using this post to advocate that we keep marijuana classified as an illegal drug.  Indeed, I think it ought to be legalized, since I would place it with alcohol and cigarettes as another socially accepted low-level, mind-altering substance.  However, I do believe that, before we do anything, we have an obligation to examine what marijuana really is, what it does to people who use it, and what it does to the societies in which it is used.  Only in that way can we have (a) an informed citizenry when it comes to its use and (b) reasonable laws to protect the larger society from any fallout associated with the drug.

In this regard, my stance is exactly the same as it is with regard to abortion.  In previous posts, I’ve castigated the abortion rights crowd for arguing the issue as if we’re still locked in the pre-1973 era.  Abortion can be approached honestly and intelligently only if we look at the way things are now, which includes a relaxation in attitudes towards out-of-wedlock (including teen) pregnancies, and increased knowledge about fetal viability and (through sonograms) the essential humanity of a fetus — none of which were issues back in the late 1960s through 1973, when Roe was decided.  It’s telling when advocacy groups feel that they can advance their agenda only from hiding the truth, not advancing it.


7 Responses

  1. Hardly anyone I know except the heaviest smokers smoke anywhere near as much as one-two joints per day down to the roach as nowhere near that much is necessary for an effect. The study would seem to underscore the point that stronger marijuana is in fact preferable, as less smoke is needed. Also, the growing popularity of vaporizers along with the time-honored method of ingesting marijuana would reduce the risk of respiratory damage.

  2. […] Read the rest of this great post here […]

  3. Neo and BW,
    I understand the point of view about legalization – I don’t personally agree with the argument, especially in light of the anti-smoking legislation and highly restrictive laws regarding alcohol.
    Vaporizers and ingestion do nothing to reduce the carcinogens – most of which are just as dangerous in their non-volatile state, and the research has been around for years showing that one “normal” marijuana cigarrette is equivalent to about ten to fifteen regular tobacco cigarrettes in terms of lung capacity loss and particulate deposits.
    Tie this to the studies showing links to Alzheimer’s-type symptoms in “recreational” users as young as 45 and there is a major problem in my eyes. A lot of items remind me of the bad old days of cigarrette companies saying there is “no risk” in the product. As one allergic to both types of plant (and their smoke) I really cannot see a reason to push for legalization. Especially since some cities are trying to stop smoking in private residences. I am, however, opposed to the bans – areas heavy with smoke or that fail to ventilate smoker vs. non-smoker areas don’t get my business. Let the market decide.
    The other major problem I have with legalization/semi – permissive status is the lack of a way to show marijuana intoxication via an easy, cheap, and portable test. I lost a friend in high school who was a passenger with a high driver. No alcohol in the system, but he was flying high when they flipped over. Because there was no way to check for intoxication, it became another “one-vehicle accident, with fatality.” And ultimately, we (as insurance holders and taxpayers) pay for these incidents that are far from “no-fault” but cannot be proven because the intoxicating agent has an irregular and elusive breaking point for individuals to lose significant motor skills.
    Anyhow, just watching pot smokers (even one joint a week types) will reveal a lot of coughing and wheezing, similar to regular smokers, especially on the two to three days following their adventure. Pot has a longer lasting anasthetic effect on pulmonary cilia than tobacco, as THC has a longer “life” in system than nicotine. The effects are cumulative – if you have questions about it look at the density of pneumonia cases in areas known as tolerant of or with a high percentage of marijuana users. The pneumonia also has a lower age of incident and a broader, more “atypical” pattern with a large percentage of outliers compared to “normal” outbreaks.
    My two cents, rubbed smooth and hand delivered,
    SGT Dave – “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?” (apologies to Adam Ant)

  4. SGT Dave — I hate smoke of any kind. To me, smoking — smoking anything — has all the charm of running behind a bus sucking on the exhaust pipe. Smoking is one of the areas where I support the Nanny State laws that corral smokers so they’re not near other people. Normally, I’m libertarian about what people do — if they want to do something harmful, let them. But until they figure out a way to make it so smoke stays next to their bodies, and doesn’t drift over to mine, I’m adamantly against allowing smoking in any place where I might be affected.

    Having said all that, if I and other non-smokers are not affected, and if users are fully apprised of all the risks, I don’t see how we, as a free society, can deprive them of weed, while at the same time allowing citizens to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and eat Big Macs, all of which are hazardous activities too.

  5. I’m somewhere between BW and Sgt Dave — in a free society, if you aren’t coercing someone else, you ought to be able to do prety much as you please……

    BUT, I can tell you, BW, that before the State stepped in, the problem you mention was gradually being taken care of by the free market….it still is, in some cases. Where is it mandated that hotels have non-smoking rooms? That car rental companies have non-smoking cars? Yet they do — because of Sgt. Dave’s (and my) refusal to patronize companies that don’t respect my preferences enough to have non-smoking facilities.

    When I was a LOT younger, in grad school in Fort Collins, CO, there was a restaurant in town that advertised some fancy new ventilation system — we sat at a table adjacent to another table at which someone was smoking…..and we could not smell it. I’m serious about this – and my sweetie is a lot more sensitive than I am. It CAN be done, but no one can make any money on systems like that, anymore…..because the long arm of the State has decided what is good for EVERY public place!

    I object.

  6. Yeah well. Something is rather odd with this new study. Actually a large double-blind study involving more than 600 cancer patients investigating specifically whether any link between cancer and marijuana existed, was performed a few years ago and concluded that there was no correlation between MJ and cancer at all:

    The study was performed by Donald Tashkin of UCLA, a leading expert on the negative effects of cannabis-smoking on the lungs (and absoluty no advocate of cannabis – recreational or otherwise…). He expected:

    that we would find that a history of heavy marijuana use–more than 500 to 1,000 uses–would increase the risk of cancer from several years to decades after exposure to marijuana” but “found that even those who smoked more than 20,000 joints in their life did not have an increased risk of lung cancer. (you can google a lot more about the study – try “Tashkin cannabis” or something like that…)

    Which study to believe is anybody’s guess, but it would appear to me, that Tashkin’s is a bit more serious than just interviewing a relatively small number as 79 patients and interviewing these without comparing to a control-group.

  7. IF restaurants and bars want to permit smokers, it’s up to me whether I want to patronize that establishment or not. They are private places.

    I’m not a smoker and try to avoid smoky places. But, it should be up to the owner of the establishment, not the state, to decide.

    As far as marijuana is concerned, my sister in law died well before her time from an aggressive form of lung cancer. She never smoked cigarettes but did smoke marijuana regularly when she was young. Since the “marijuana” boomer generation is only now reaching the golden years, it’s only now that statistics documenting whether my sister’s case was related or not should come to the fore.

    That being said, I always got a kick of people I knew that complained about chemicals in food but never seemed to make the same connection with marijuana. Bad ju-ju!

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