Drug Policy

Marijuana and Lung Cancer: A Burning Question

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The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws responds to a recent study linking heavy cannabis use to lung cancer. The study, reported in the European Respiratory Journal, generated headlines like these:

Cannabis Bigger Cancer Risk Than Cigarettes: Study

Smoking One Joint is Equivalent to 20 Cigarettes, Study Says

Single Joint=20 Cigarettes And Huge Lung Cancer Risk: Researchers

But as NORML's Paul Armentano points out, the researchers actually reported that "cannabis smoking (defined as lifetime use of ?20 joints) was not associated with a significantly increased risk of lung cancer." Only in the group with the highest exposure (more than 10.5 joint-years) was there a statistically significant increase in risk. The lung cancer risk in this group, which included just 16 subjects (14 out of 79 cases and two out of 324 controls), was about six times the risk among nonsmokers, compared to an overall risk ratio of about 7 to 1 for the cigarette smokers in the study. Armentano notes that the findng is at odds with the results of several other much larger epidemiological studies that failed to find clear evidence that smoking pot increases the risk of cancer. He takes a more detailed look at that research here.

As Armentano notes, there is some evidence that cannabinoids help counteract the effects of carcinogens, whereas nicotine may potentiate them. Still, it makes sense that inhaling enough combustion products from any burning organic matter for a long enough period of time could lead to lung cancer. It may just be that pot smokers, who typically smoke far less than cigarette smokers do, are not, by and large, getting a big enough dose. For relatively heavy consumers worried about a possible cancer risk, there are always vaporizers (which heat cannabis to release THC instead of burning it). And brownies.

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  1. One joint equal to a pack of cigs… okay… even assuming that, how many pot smokers you know doing multiple joints a day on a day in, day out basis for decades in the same way that we have cigarette smokers doing multiple packs a day?

    This isn’t comparing apples to oranges, it’s comparing apples to tennis rackets…

  2. TENNIS RACKETS CAN KILL. PUT THE RACKET DOWN. JUST SAY NO TO TENNIS.

  3. If the dank were legal, then people could make brownies to their heart’s content. As it is though, the shit’s too damn expensive to put in brownies at a useful level.

  4. Mmm, brownies.

  5. Make sure you have non-special food around for munchies if you make special brownies. Hilarity does not ensue if you don’t.

  6. Vaporizers are illegal and considered paraphernalia in several states. Same with straight glass waterpipes (biz-ONG!). Both these devices either filter out harmful combustion products, or do not produce them.

    Gee, I wonder why pot is bad for you? Could it be….PROHIBITION!

    I know, I know, smoking anything is bad for you. I’m not saying it isn’t, but it could be a lot better.

  7. “10.5 joint-years”

    I really, really want to use the term “joint-years” with somebody who just got stoned. I think it would make their day.

  8. Without reading the study, I am assuming that inhaling burning plant matter into your lungs, repeatedly is not going to be good for your lungs.

    So what? Adults can make their own decisions on the risks they are willing to take for pleasure. Mountain climbers, parachutists, NASCAR drivers and fans, even Vegans are included.

    It’s my party, and I’ll smoke if I want to.

  9. “CHOCOLATE BAAAARS!”

    Now that that’s out of the way, I find the whole debate over lung cancer and pot tiresome. cigarettes cause cancer and are legal (so far). It should, as the man said, be obvious that smoking anything is bad for you. The argument over criminalization is completely different. This is like putting Al Capone away for tax evasion.

    Interesting side note regarding liberals who support Pot legalization, yet seek to criminalize cig’s. I recall in the novel, Logan’s run that recreational drugs are legal in the future but cigarettes have been outlawed.

  10. Yep, sounds like Alice B. Toklas brownies are the safe way to go. BTW, it was only 2 years ago that toklas=tokless occurred to me, and I first used pot like 38 years ago! Full discloser: In the past 27 years, I’ve used pot maybe 3 times

  11. Rick,
    your missing out. The quality has gone WAY up.

  12. The health effects are just a smoke screen. If I smoked generic plant matter, they wouldn’t care, even if it were worse for my health.

  13. Headline 2009: Diabetes Soars Among Brownie Fiends

  14. Sam,

    That’d dead on. They wouldn’t give a crap if you smoked anything no matter how dangerous and unhealthy AS LONG AS IT DOESN’T MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD!

    Sad state of affairs.

  15. That’d dead on. They wouldn’t give a crap if you smoked anything no matter how dangerous and unhealthy AS LONG AS IT DOESN’T MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD!

    reminds me of the prostitution story when somebody said it is not about saving lives, it is about saving souls from bad moral judgments.

  16. moral = the gov’t version of morality

  17. I agree with both of you, Sam and ktc2. Perhaps we should start a huge growing project of, idunno, maple leaves. The worst they might call is, perhaps, Canadians.

  18. Pinette,

    Yeah, I’m hep. An Alice B. Toklas oatmeal cookie a couple years ago made clear for me the truth of your point!

  19. Just cuz, for some, the motivation to point out the bad health effects is so that they can attack pot doesn’t mean that those bad health effects from smoking it aren’t real. To be safer, just bake it in something or vaporize it instead.

  20. To be safer, just bake it in something or vaporize it instead.

    I used to smoke reefer 3-4 times a day. I’m 52 now and smoke reefer 3-4 times a year. The former probably had cancer risks associated with it. The latter, not so much.

    I figured that out without doing a study. Pure genius, huh?

  21. J sub D,

    Yeah, pure genius for sure. Doesn’r surprise me cuz you’re a libertarian. The odds are on your side…

  22. The heavy smokers probably used a lot of “spliffs” in their smoking careers. These are joints mixed with rolling tobacco and if you’ve smoked enough weed in Europe you must have smoked quite a bit of those.

  23. I didn’t RTFS. Anybody know if they control for tobacco when they do this kind of study? Do they make sure the mj smokers smoked no cigarettes or used tobacco rolling papers for ten years?

  24. Keep Dope Alive

  25. These are joints mixed with rolling tobacco and if you’ve smoked enough weed in Europe you must have smoked quite a bit of those.

    From what I’ve heard, pretty much all of the joints in Amsterdam coffeehouses are tobacco / pot. Of course, you can buy buds and roll your own.

  26. I can confirm Penguin, it’s a sad state of affairs.

    My bro-in-law calls joints with out tobacco “American style” and insists that tobacco helps out getting you stoned, makes me want to slap him silly.

    I’m quitting smoking now, it’s been 3 days without a cigarette, wish me luck.

    I never even considered going with out my brownies though đŸ˜‰

  27. Windtell – you’ve made it through the hard part, do not give up now.

    The first three days are a nightmare. The next couple weeks are rough. After that, it gets much easier.

  28. Back in the day (I’m thinking late ’70s – 80s), a guy could smoke a joint all by himself, maybe even a few a day.

    With the stuff I’ve had more recently, you’d be unconscious.

    You smoke less of this newfangled stuff the kids grow these days, so doesn’t that reduce your intake of smoke? Doesn’t Stronger pot = safer pot?

  29. RC,

    Seems reasonable to me-unless the cancer-causing component is also equally or more concentrated than it is in old school pot.

  30. Keep Dope Alive

    Water the plants? Just kidding. Yes, legalize it! It’s fair (pro-liberty) and more practical.

  31. Back in the day (I’m thinking late ’70s – 80s), a guy could smoke a joint all by himself, maybe even a few a day.
    With the stuff I’ve had more recently, you’d be unconscious.

    You must have been getting real crappy weed back in the days.

    Good reefer today is not more potent than the stuff I was smoking back then. Thai, Northern California Sensemilla, Hawaiian, even some Afghani weed, were as potent as anything available today. Perhaps the average cannabinoid levels have increased, but quality smoke today is no better than the quality smoke of yesteryear.

    Or so I’m told. đŸ˜‰

  32. Fact : Lung cancer kills.

    Fact : Zero deaths attributed to cannibis.

    Conclusion – Cannibas does not caus cancer.

  33. Oh, I forgot….Go Ron Paul!

  34. Without reading the study, I am assuming that inhaling burning plant matter into your lungs, repeatedly is not going to be good for your lungs.

    So what? Adults can make their own decisions on the risks they are willing to take for pleasure. Mountain climbers, parachutists, NASCAR drivers and fans, even Vegans are included.

    Jsub. We love you. Really, we do. But it appears to me that someone’s been asleep for the last decade.

    We’ve had this stuff called tobacco and cigarettes, which have now implicitly rolled into the WoD. As a result, it has been “discovered” that the dangers of exposure to even a molecule of tobacco smoke is nearly instantly fatal.

    Do we believe for a second that the same techniques brought to bear on tobacco smoke aren’t going to pushed, full throttle against marijuana? A substance which was successfully banned years ago.

  35. brian,

    I’m not quite down with your logic but I think the evidence in the links that Jacob provided is inconclusive. So why not be safe and just bake it in something or vaporize it?

    Yeah! Go Ron Paul!

  36. Do we believe for a second that the same techniques brought to bear on tobacco smoke aren’t going to pushed, full throttle against marijuana? A substance which was successfully banned years ago.

    Lessee, In my life I’ve heard that –
    Marijuana causes chromosome damage.
    Marijuana causes irreperable brain damage.
    Marijuana inevitably leads to “hard” drug use.
    Marijuana causes men to develop breasts.

    and from Harry J. Anslinger (before my time)

    “Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.”
    “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
    “Marihuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing”
    “You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother.”
    “Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”

    So if someone says it is bad for your lungs which, unlike the above, is true, I’m not gonna get too upset about it. My response is still “So what?” It’s not anybody’s business but the smokers.

  37. “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

    It made me think I was almost as good as other white men…

    just sayin’.

  38. “Gee, I wonder why pot is bad for you? Could it be….PROHIBITION!”

    Yes, that is it. Prohibition is what makes marijuana bad for you. And as soon as they ban cigarettes I suspect we will starting seeing people get lung cancer from smoking, as opposed to what we have now.

  39. Yep! I was agreed, I’ll keep in touch to your blog. This blog is so usefully, Thanks for the posted đŸ˜‰

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