Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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According to a group of experts from the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand (who did not receive any funding from the NIH or any other American Health agencies), smoking one cannabis (marijuana) cigarette (“joint”) is as harmful to a person’s lungs as smoking up to five cigarettes.

Up to.


To do this study, the researchers tested 339 people, which they divided into four groups; those who smoked only cannabis, those who smoked only tobacco, those who smoked both, and non-smokers. Cannabis (“pot”) smokers were included if they smoked at least one joint per day for at least five years, while tobacco smokers had to have smoked 20 cigarettes per day for one year.

The researchers found that only those who smoked tobacco suffered from the crippling lung disease emphysema (as well as cancer), whereas cannabis use was associated with symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and excessive phlegm production. According to their study, cannabis damaged the function of the large airways of the lungs, obstructing air flow and forcing the lungs to work harder, thus contributing to the development of bronchitis.

But, let me remind you; people who smoked only pot did not suffer from emphysema (nor from cancer), which is a serious and crippling lung disease. I can’t believe these researchers are even comparing the life-shortening effects of emphysema to “wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and excessive phlegm production” — as if these are equally serious health problems!

But not surprisingly, the researchers found that lung damage was correlated to the number of joints smoked.

“The extent of this damage was directly related to the number of joints smoked, with higher consumption linked to greater incapacity,” noted the authors in their report.

But once again, they are overlooking the obvious: It is not the drug itself that poses health problems for the lungs, but rather, it’s the delivery method that is the problem — for example, if marijuana was eaten instead of smoked, there would be no lung problem!

And here’s where the politics enters into the picture: Currently, the British government is considering whether cannabis should be reclassified as a more serious drug because of the dangers associated with stronger strains. But hopefully, they will think this decision through logically first. And let me point out that something shouldn’t necessarily be made illegal just because it’s “bad for you.” If that were the case, we could use that same logic to outlaw tobacco, alcohol, and eating too much food because they are bad for you, but I don’t see anyone trying to outlaw or regulate those substances.

Additionally, the researchers failed to mention the use of pesticides on tobacco (but apparently not on cannabis) — pesticides that also cause serious health problems. Further, the researchers neglected to note that the difference between Joe Stoner and Jim Fundamentalist is that Joe Stoner isn’t trying to make everyone smoke pot while Jim Fundamentalist is busily polluting everyone’s lungs with his second-hand smoke.

Because the British government might reclassify cannabis as a more dangerous drug, it is not surprising to learn that British researchers also found that smoking marijuana increased the risk of developing a psychotic illness such as schizophrenia. Well, heck, there supposedly is a link between left-handedness and schizophrenia too. Maybe we should make left-handedness illegal also?

This study was published in the medical journal Thorax.

Sources

BBCNews (quotes)

Reuters (quotes)

Comments

  1. #1 Jonathan Vause
    July 31, 2007

    ‘Sooo, should smoking five cigarettes per day be illegal’

    [Shuddering] pleeeeease don’t give this bunch of moralising puritans MORE ideas. It’s not funny if it’s true

  2. #2 bob koepp
    July 31, 2007

    yeah… and type-A personalities should all be sedated (it would be a bit extreme to criminalize their condition and send them all to the slammer).

  3. #3 nosugrefneb
    July 31, 2007

    I had a slightly different take on the report, but I guess we came to the same conclusion. :)

  4. #4 Library Diva
    July 31, 2007

    Well said. I’ve always thought it ridiculous that pot was illegal whereas alcohol is perfectly legal and even encouraged. As I’ve said on the CL JobFo, where I met grrlscientist, many of the companies that are so uptight about drug testing will have alcohol galore at their Christmas parties. A mutual friend works at an investment bank where they drug-test, but he told me about his Christmas party with the top shelf open bar, and how shitfaced everyone got. But god forbid anyone should spark up a joint.

    I think it’s time to legalize this drug. Keeping it illegal is costing the taxpayers tons of money. If we legalized it, we could tax it and make money (they’d get mine!) It would also be safer if we legalized it. I got some once that I’m sure was laced with something. Everyone’s going to do it anyway, so they should stop wasting law enforcement’s time with this relatively victimless crime. Pot isn’t a health concoction, for sure, but to keep it illegal while alcohol is legal just defies common sense.

  5. #5 writerdd
    August 1, 2007

    what happend to that study I read about earlier this year that said that smoking pot does not lead to cancer?

  6. #6 nosugrefneb
    August 1, 2007

    I believe the paper you’re talking about is here, although there have been a few others too that suggest an antitumor role for THC. There have also been some that show an increased risk for cancers like oral cancer, for example.

  7. #7 Jim
    August 1, 2007

    I actually wrote to the science editor of the site I read this story from, because they didn’t connect what is, to me, the most important dot.

    Smoking one joint may have the effect of smoking up to five cigarettes, but did you notice the standards for participation in the study? One+ joint per day vs. 20+ cigarettes per day. Is the math not adding up for these reporters reporting the story? One would have to smoke at least four joints per day just to equal the total aggregate effect of someone smoking a pack of cigarettes per day.

    I think to give this story the proper impact you have to combine it with usage estimates, and I think at the end of the day you’d find that the average joint smoker is going to come out ahead, relatively speaking, compared to the cigarette smoker.

    “The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool, and he might possibly be a damned soul; but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog.” GK Chesterton

  8. #8 nosugrefneb
    August 1, 2007

    Jim, read my post. Those are my thoughts exactly.

  9. #9 Tom @Thoughtsic.com
    August 1, 2007

    You’re making a common pro-[enter bad habit here] argument by citing other legal-but-perhaps-more-harmful bad habits. I argue the opposite: make both habits illegal. Yes, that’s right. Drinking, smoking.. illegal. Humanity has proven that it doesn’t know how to handle either appropriately and respectfully in terms of anyone’s health. Doesn’t take a misanthrope to come to that conclusion.

  10. #10 Jim
    August 2, 2007

    “The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool, and he might possibly be a damned soul; but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog.” GK Chesterton

    The Drug War has proven to be a miserable failure, on top of the waste of billions of taxpayer dollars, and you would like to compound that folly by criminalizing more substances and activities? Just, wow.

  11. #11 idlemind
    August 2, 2007

    Currently, the British government is considering whether cannabis should be reclassified as a more serious drug because of the dangers associated with stronger strains.

    Wait a minute — isn’t one of the advantages of these “stronger strains” that you have to smoke less for a given high?
    The British government merely wants to insure that cannabis smokers pay for the privilege of incurring less lung damage by imposing greater legal sanctions.

  12. #12 Janon
    August 2, 2007

    “Maybe we should make left-handedness illegal also?”

    Obviously tongue in cheek but also surely a flawed analogy ? You can’t be comparing smoking cannabis (a choice) to being born left-handed ? That said, it wasn’t that long ago that left-handedness was associated with evil and was, if not illegal, strongly discouraged – an elderly relative of mine actually had his left hand tied behind his back at school so that he was forced to use his (wrong) right one, friends that were educated in other countries would be hit if they wrote with or even raised their left hand.

    I do agree though with your presumably deliberate point about causation with the “Because the British government …” comment (even if, in this case, it’s mistaken since there have been studies published connecting cannabis use with higher risk of psychotic breaks for a while, certainly before Gordon Brown became PM and after cannabis was reduced to a class C drug in the UK). But clearly it’s still true that regarding psychosis it’s very possible that people with a higher disposition are drawn to cannabis for other reasons rather than cannabis being the cause.

    “Further, the researchers neglected to note that the difference between Joe Stoner and Jim Fundamentalist is that Joe Stoner isn’t trying to make everyone smoke pot while Jim Fundamentalist is busily polluting everyone’s lungs with his second-hand smoke.”

    Err, because it’s illegal to smoke cannabis in the UK. If it was legal to smoke it in public then you’d have the same second hand smoke issues as with cigarettes (or as we used to with cigarettes anyway – it’s now illegal to smoke them in e.g. pubs etc. which obviously puts the lie to your assertion that there’s no attempt to regulate tobacco or alcohol consumption). Go into a ‘coffee’ shop in Amsterdam and then try to maintain that “Joe Stoner isn’t trying to make everyone smoke pot”.

    Haven’t read the study but I wonder if they used people that only smoked unfiltered cigarettes (or pot smokers that only used filters) ? Strikes me that – in the UK at least – the usual joint often has a ‘filter’ made from rolled up cardboard, called a ‘roach’, and is therefore gonna let more and hotter smoke through to the lungs than a cigarette filter would, which would obviously make a big difference to lung irritation.

  13. #13 Janon
    August 2, 2007

    Oops, read to the end of the linked BBC article and noticed they’d already considered the filter issue (in fact had pretty much cited that as the cause).

    It’s just everyone else that went on to assume it was the drug that was the issue rather than the way joints are typically constructed.

  14. #14 Ryan H
    August 2, 2007

    Did anyone read the article on the schizophrenia link? It had something along the lines of “There was no actual link between marijuana use and the developement of schizophrenia”… then goes on to say it may in fact be that people who are already prone to schizophrenia may be more likely to smoke mj…. title of the article wouldn’t let you know that, it was tucked away in the middle of the article somewhere, and almost passed off as a moot point…. ridiculous…

    Also:
    “Humanity has proven that it doesn’t know how to handle either appropriately and respectfully in terms of anyone’s health. ”

    Are you serious? We have also proven we can’t handle marriage (there are states with a +1/3 divorce rate), eating healthy, intelligence gathering and a plethora of other activities…. should we make marriage illegal as well? Just cause humanity can’t handle it does not give anyone the right to take it away from us brother.

  15. #15 synthesist
    August 2, 2007

    Regarding the strength issue – whisky is stroner than beer isn’t it ?, so would you poor yourself out a PINT of whisky ? NO of course not! it follows that you use less grass per joint of the stronger stuff so it goes further and is more cost effective !

  16. #16 HCN
    August 8, 2007

    I only understood/enjoyed the movie “2001, A Space Odyssey” while under the influence of marijuana.

    That was the only week I ever used the stuff. It turns out I hate the way it makes me feel… itchy and with no incentive. I have too much to do to spend it in a cloud of itchy numb stupidity!

    But I think it should be legalized, but under the same rules that cigarette, cigars and alcohol are under. Tax it heavily, limit driving with it, and keep the smoke away from me. Seriously, the smell of the stuff is nauseating.

  17. #17 David Harmon
    August 8, 2007

    Tom: riiight, because Prohibition worked so well! Brought the Mafia into America bigtime, corrupted the police forces, produced widespread “civil defiance” among the populace… it’s long past time we learned from our mistakes.

  18. #18 Jack
    January 21, 2010

    Prohibition does not work. The big experiment, with millions of “subjects,” was conducted during the USA’s period of alcohol prohibition. So what happened? (a) The illegal distilling industry thrived (e.g., moonshine, white-lightning), creating often near-lethal drinks polluted with solvents, etc. (b) Illegal but people dig it, I mean–really dig it? Big money if you can control the industry! So Al Capone et al. Stepped in and developed a network of “imported alcoholic goods” from Canada, the stills in Appalachia, etc. Hundreds of peace-officers and Lord knows how many civilians were killed in the crossfire between the mob’s Tommy Gun’s and the PD’s Streetsweepers and whatnot. (c) The well-monied continued to imbibe quite comfortably, in “speak-easies.” Clever folks developed revolving walls: One side was totally innocuous…it would have, say, couches, space to socialize, and so on. When all was clear, the signal was given to the politely waiting folk seated on the couches and they literally slid into the concealed bar. It was suicide for cops to raid such a bar, so they never did, no matter how certain the tip was. (d) In extreme moderation (about one glass of wine p/day), ETOH (alcohol) is salubrious for many men, busting nasty blood clots before they go on and cause strokes, etc. Want to know if it might be good for you? Ask your MD/DO. (e) Some people have addictive tendencies w/Re to substances. The legend that they get hooked after “the first drink” is just that. But such people will feel an extreme urge to drink often and in great quantities. Before this becomes a habit hardwired into their brains, they are quite capable of stopping. I know: I am a doc and I work with substance abusers.

    However, for us Southerners, there was one thing we appreciate about Prohibition: It created NASCAR! That’s right: To outrun the Federal agents, Southern Appalachian folks learned to run the booze up north in souped up cars. With photographic knowledge of the winding roads of them thar mountains and kinfolk who, er, took care of some of the Feds, a new sport was born. Don’t believe me? Look it up: It’s established as solid historical fact.