Fantastical Fridays: Are You Cool, Man?

This post from the archives describes a recent research finding that may be welcome news for some....

(24 May 2006) If you know what I'm talking about, and if you are in fact "cool", then you might also be interested in the findings presented Tuesday by Dr. Donald Tashkin and his coauthors at an American Thoracic Society meeting in San Diego. In short, smoking marijuana does not cause lung cancer:

The smoke from burning marijuana leaves contains several known carcinogens and the tar it creates contains 50 percent more of some of the chemicals linked to lung cancer than tobacco smoke. A marijuana cigarette also deposits four times as much of that tar as an equivalent tobacco one. Scientists were therefore surprised to learn that a study of more than 2,000 people found no increase in the risk of developing lung cancer for marijuana smokers....

The researchers interviewed 611 lung cancer patients and 1,040 healthy controls as well as 601 patients with cancer in the head or neck region under the age of 60 to create the statistical analysis. They found that 80 percent of those with lung cancer and 70 percent of those with other cancers had smoked tobacco while only roughly half of both groups had smoked marijuana. The more tobacco a person smoked, the greater the risk of developing cancer, as other studies have shown.

But after controlling for tobacco, alcohol and other drug use as well as matching patients and controls by age, gender and neighborhood, marijuana did not seem to have an effect, despite its unhealthy aspects.

On a side note, if I ever call a joint a "marijuana cigarette", I promise I will officially put to rest any illusions I ever had about being cool.

In explaining his results, though, Tashkin demonstrates a surprising familiarity with the... um... experimental technique:

"Marijuana is packed more loosely than tobacco, so there's less filtration through the rod of the cigarette, so more particles will be inhaled," Tashkin says. "And marijuana smokers typically smoke differently than tobacco smokers; they hold their breath about four times longer allowing more time for extra fine particles to deposit in the lungs."

I'll admit that I was usually fairly skeptical on all of the many occasions when a markedly stoned person "explained" to me that marijuana's really not bad for you at all. "Trust me... man... I read all about it somewhere." It never really seemed particularly scientific.

It looks the potheads might have been right after all. Taking the next obvious step, then, this gives us another opportunity to ask on what science exactly are the US's crazy drug laws based? As we spend billions of dollars a year on a misguided war on drugs, it's a question that deserves quite a bit of consideration. To get an idea of just how extensive the problem really is, check out this recent post from The Agitator (via Dispatches from the Culture Wars). And, while medical marijuana is a separate area that still needs much more research, the legal response from the federal government there has so far been irrational, at best. Clearly, drug policy is another area where we would all benefit from lawmakers basing their decisions to a greater extent on sound science.

But, that's not why we're here. This post is about good news, and it deserves some celebration. So, let's all just sit back, relax, and enjoy a nice cancer-free smoke....

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According to an article in Slate, this new study will "soon appear in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarker and Prevention".