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.