Marijuana

Marijuana Kills! But Not Very Often. Especially When Compared to Alcohol and Tobacco.

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Heritage Foundation

In a new Heritage Foundation video, anti-pot activist Kevin Sabet bravely tackles "the myth that marijuana doesn't kill." Although cannabis consumers (unlike drinkers) do not die from acute overdoses, he says, "marijuana does kill people" through suicide, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, car crashes, and other accidents. 

I won't say Sabet is attacking a straw man, since overenthusiastic cannabis fans have been known to say that "marijuana doesn't kill anyone" (although the top Google result for that phrase is an article by Sabet explaining why that's not true). But I will say that Sabet manages to obscure the fact that marijuana does not kill people very often, especially compared to the death tolls from legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol, which is the relevant point in evaluating the scientific basis for pot prohibition. Let's take a closer look at the four ways that marijuana kills, according to Sabet: 

Suicide. Some research does find a correlation between suicide and marijuana use, but that does not mean the relationship is causal. A longitudinal study published by The British Journal of Psychiatry in 2009 reached this conclusion:

Although there was a strong association between cannabis use and suicide, this was explained by markers of psychological and behavioural problems. These results suggest that cannabis use is unlikely to have a strong effect on risk of completed suicide, either directly or as a consequence of mental health problems secondary to its use.

Furthermore, there is some evidence that letting patients use marijuana for symptom relief reduces the risk of suicide. Still, if reefer has ever driven anyone to kill himself, that would be enough to prove Sabet's point. You can't say it has never happened!

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. "You can't say that smoking a crude plant, a leaf, is good for your lungs," Sabet says, "and so we know that COPD and marijuana are inextricably linked." 

Here is how the American Thoracic Society summarizes the evidence regarding marijuana and COPD: 

Heavy marijuana smokers also are likely to develop lung damage because marijuana smoke contains many of the same harmful chemicals as tobacco smoke. We do not know if smoking a small amount of marijuana (for example, light users who smoke an amount equal to 1-2 joints a month) over a long period of time increases your risk for developing COPD. We do know that in some people (especially those with lung problems), smoking marijuana can make their breathing worse. 

A 2012 study of 5,000 young adults who were followed for two decades, reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association, found that "occasional and low cumulative marijuana use was not associated with adverse effects on pulmonary function." Donald Tashkin, a UCLA researcher who has studied the health effects of marijuana use for many years, told Web MD "the main thrust of the paper has confirmed previous results indicating that marijuana in the amounts in which it is customarily smoked does not impair lung function." 

Assuming that heavy pot smoking causes lung damage, people can avoid that risk by using vaporizers or consuming cannabis in the form of edibles. In that sense it is clearly not true that "COPD and marijuana are inextricably linked." 

COPD kills more than 120,000 Americans a year. According to the CDC, it is "almost always caused by [cigarette] smoking." Neither the CDC, the American Lung Association, nor the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute mentions marijuana consumption as a risk factor. Yet Sabet is sure at least a few of those COPD deaths can be blamed on pot, although he does not hazard an estimate. By contrast, he notes that the CDC attributes 480,000 deaths a year to cigarette smoking, which causes not just COPD but a laundry list of ailments, including lung cancer and heart disease. 

"Saying marijuana has never contributed to death or never killed anyone is like saying tobacco hasn't killed anyone," Sabet says at the beginning of the Heritage Foundation video. What he means, he says, is that tobacco smokers, like marijuana smokers, do not die from acute overdoses. But given the enormous gap between tobacco-related fatalities and marijuana-related fatalities, the comparison is reckless. 

Car crashes. "Marijuana is the second most implicated drug in drunk or drugged driving accidents," Sabet says. That is misleading, because "implicated" means a driver killed in a crash tested positive for traces of marijuana, which does not necessarily mean he was under the influence at the time of the crash, let alone that marijuana contributed to the accident. Marijuana can be detected in blood and urine long after its effects have worn off. 

Marijuana does impair driving ability, but not as dramatically as alcohol does, which is why legalization might actually reduce traffic fatalities, assuming that more pot smoking is accompanied by less drinking. "Researchers have now said that [marijuana] doubles the risk of a car crash," Sabet says. By comparison, research indicates that a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 percent quintuples the risk of a car crash. 

According to the National High Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drunk driving kills about 10,000 people a year. How many people does stoned driving kill? "That's difficult to say," said a NHTSA official who testified at a House hearing on the subject this year. "We don't have a precise estimate." The most he was willing to affirm was that the number is "probably not" zero. 

Other accidents. Sabet says "there are a number of, you have to imagine, injuries in other accidents that result from marijuana that just aren't tallied." Well, yes, since they aren't tallied, you do have to imagine them. But if stoned falls from ladders and so forth were a major cause of death in America, someone probably would be counting them. The CDC, for example, counts about 7,500 deaths from alcohol-related falls each year. It attributes another 8,000 or so deaths to alcohol-related suicide, about 1,600 to acute alcohol poisoning, and some 38,000 to chronic diseases caused by excessive alcohol consumption. All told, it puts alcohol-related deaths (including car crashes) at 88,000 annually. 

What is the comparable figure for marijuana? Tellingly, Sabet does not have one, but he wants you to know it is more than zero. To recap, these are the annual death tolls from three of our most popular drugs, the first two of which happen to be legal: 

Tobacco: 480,000

Alcohol: 88,000

Marijuana: > 0 

"You can't say marijuana doesn't kill anybody," Sabet declares. No, but you can say that marijuana's relative hazards have nothing to do with its legal status.

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  1. Although there was a strong association between cannabis use and suicide, this was explained by markers of psychological and behavioural problems.

    So correlation is causation. Sounds legit, or maybe it is the bolded part that is important.

    1. Since crazy fuckups smoke pot, then all pot smokers are crazy fuckups.

      1. Socrates is mortal.

      2. This.

        People who suicidal are probably going to do a lot of things to make themselves not feel so shitty.

        1. Still, though, nothing beats this as the ultimate suicide prevention measure.

          http://totalfratmove.com/guy-g…..ep-living/

          1. That’s awesome.

            1. Hey, if it saves even one life….

          2. Of course! You wait until John is not around, and only *then* do you post the link to the ultimate homage to Mexicans, drugs and ass-sex one will likely ever come up with!!!

          3. So bookmarked.

  2. If I had a dime for every time I smoked in my car on my way to some social engagement, I’d never run out.

    1. The only people I worry about at all driving stoned are people who never or rarely smoke and don’t know how it will affect them.

  3. Accidents, maybe. Though even there pot is at most a contributing factor among many. The other ways that “marijuana kills” are bullshit. Especially the suicide part. I’m sure there are weird outliers, but pot smoking is a whole lot more likely to keep someone from suicide than to contribute to it. A lot of really chronic stoners are chronic stoners because it really is a pretty effective mood stabilizer and anti-anxiety drug for a lot of people.

    1. A lot of really chronic stoners are chronic stoners because it really is a pretty effective mood stabilizer and anti-anxiety drug for a lot of people.

      That’s definitely true. Anecdotal: I’m not what you’d call a “people-person,” and it helps me a lot in social situations–even situations where I know everyone there.

      1. I’m not what you’d call a “people-person,”

        You really ARE one of us!

      2. Maybe I should try that.

  4. there are a number of, you have to imagine, injuries in other accidents that result from marijuana that just aren’t tallied

    He’s got you there, Jacob. Just the other night I banged my knee on the coffee table while really, really stoned. See? You can just pack up your objections and concede to him right now.

    1. That’s right…I walked into a sliding glass door one time while stoned, so there’s at least TWO injuries. TWO!

      Well, I wasn’t that injured, but some of the other people around did bust a gut laughing.

      1. We have the makings of a great parody of the Sesame Street Count here, guys.

        1. Well, I walked into closed screen door while really baked when I was a teen. I’m guessing the ensuing merriment didn’t impair any lifespans.

        2. No one expects stoner injuries! Our chief defense is relaxation! Relaxation and moving slow! Our two chief defenses are relaxation, moving slow, and not caring! Our three chief defenses are relaxation, moving slow, not caring, and having the munchies! Our four…I’ll come in again.

        3. Smoking pot makes me want to punch Kevin Sabet in the face. Repeatedly. With brass knuckles.

      2. I barf’d in the boys’ bathroom in a Georgetown dorm from being so incredibly high. Does that count as “injury”?

    2. I have this friend who may or may not have damaged some Wikipedia pages while stoned.

  5. But given the enormous gap between tobacco-related fatalities and marijuana-related fatalities, the comparison is reckless

    I would lean more toward disingenuous.

  6. So a relatively harmless weed gets a decades-long war waged on it while law enforcement, a relatively dangerous and violent enterprise, gets off on a decades-long government/capitalism-sanctioned orgasm.

    1. gets off on a decades-long government/capitalism-sanctioned orgasm.

      FTFY.

      1. Don’t fix me, Swissy. Capitalism has largely become the best friend to elite government. I’m all for liquid commerce and free markets but very little of modern business reflects this philosophy.

        1. It’s a categorical error to describe as capitalism what really amounts to watered down fascism. I myself tend not to use the word ‘capitalism’, in favor of saying ‘free(d) market’ because capitalism is too often conflated with every injustice involving property that you can think of.

          1. because capitalism is too often conflated with every injustice involving property that you can think of.

            Only by collectivist idiots who value fairness over justice, conflate money with wealth, and have zero understanding of any economic principles.

            1. Only by collectivist idiots who value fairness over justice, conflate money with wealth, and have zero understanding of any economic principles.

              And those who were compelled by law to attend their classrooms to have their heads filled with those lies and those’s student’s children and then people they influence…. in the end it’s a shit ton of people, even those who are not necessarily collectivist ideologues.

              1. And those who were compelled by law to attend their classrooms to have their heads filled with those lies

                Good parenting can avoid the lies sticking.

                1. Good parenting is the answer to more problems than I could possibly will myself to concisely list here.

  7. What about people who are facing decades in prison for weed? Some of them must commit suicide to avoid the sentence. Check and mate.

  8. It would be pretty easy to make a long, long list of non-drug things that definitely kill more people than weed. The prohibitionists are getting really desperate now that pretty much no one believes any of their bullshit (about weed, anyway. They’ll always have meth.).

    1. Cops kill something in the neighborhood of a thousand more people a year than marijuana does.

    2. They’ll always have meth

      Until there exists legal alternatives like cocaine and opium.

      1. I’m not quite convinced that people use amphetamines because they can’t get cocaine. They are both stimulants, but beyond that they are pretty different drugs.

        Anyway, my point was really that not much other than weed is likely to be legalized any time soon and lots of people who will fully support legalizing weed will still say “but you couldn’t legalize meth”, so the prohibitionists will still have plenty to go on about.

        1. I’m not quite convinced that people use amphetamines because they can’t get cocaine. They are both stimulants, but beyond that they are pretty different drugs.

          There is a certain opportunity cost. Legal marijuana tends to lower drunk driving rates, for example. You’ve got to think about how much of meth’s popularity is because it’s either more accessible or cheaper or something, over more ‘natural’ products like cocaine.

        2. I’ve known my share of speed freaks who would choose meth over coke. Personally I tried meth and didn’t like it. Cocaine on the other hand…

          1. Cocaine is definitely more betterer. I never used meth enough to get all meth faced, but the downsides outweigh it’s advantages over coke I’ve found. But then I’ve never been big on uppers in general.

            1. Yeah, I’m not too big on stimulants either. I like to sleep too much. A little coke now and then can be amusing, though.

          2. I knew before I clicked the link what I was getting into…

  9. I hate driving stoned. I can’t keep track of my speed and I forget where I am.

    1. Really? My worst problem is that I occasionally get lost on the way to new places, but that would happen even if I wasn’t inebriated.

      1. I will consistently drive five to ten mph under the limit unless I’m constantly glancing down at the dash. Then I end up turning around in awkward places after I miss a turn. Both things are great ways to draw unwanted police attention, so I just avoid driving for a few hours after any happy smoke.

        1. biking while high is pleasant. although i’ll concede that bicycles are not a legitimate form of transportation.

          1. I agree on both counts.

          2. You ride a fixie and deliver for Jimmy John’s, don’t you. Fair warning: if I see you on the road I’m running you down.

            1. Drive a diesel? Piping a biker who won’t share the road can be educational (for him) and entertaining (for you)!

              1. HE lives in Seattle – perfect location for splashing rude cyclists with dirty runoff puddles.

              2. As Kristen says, Seattle is…infuriatingly filled with insanely obnoxious cyclists who want to be vehicles when it suits them and not be vehicles when they want to blow lights and get up on the sidewalk.

                No diesel, but I do have an AWD Explorer so I’ve got the traction to really get up and over a cyclist.

                No one–no one–is more obnoxious than NYC bike messengers, though. They’re like if wolverines learned how to ride bicycles, but with more attitude and aggression.

                1. You know who else was an obnoxious messenger?

                  1. Archangel Gabriel?

                2. People on bikes pretending to be pedestrians when it suits them is a big pet peeve of mine. And riding on the wrong side of the road.

        2. See, I also drive about five mph under the speed limit, but I do that all the time. I drive like an old lady with a crate of eggs balanced on top of of a bosu ball in the back seat, even sober.

      2. Yeah, I also have no problem driving stoned. I lose my high really fast if I actually have to concentrate and do…stuff. So even if I start out quite high, within a few minutes I’m pretty solid.

        Of course, with Washington’s “5 nanograms” bullshit or whatever it is, driving high is pretty potentially dangerous because who knows what’ll happen if you get pulled over.

      3. It probably has something to do with the fact that I smoke maybe an ounce a year. So when I do smoke it hits me like a lemon wedge wrapped around a gold brick.

        1. lemon wedge wrapped around a gold brick.

          Is this a real saying or something you came up with?

          1. I believe that’s a Douglas Adamdsism, IIRC.

            1. I’ve never heard it. I’ll have to look up the origin.

            2. Adamsism*

              1. That is the descriptor of a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster.

          2. I see you’ve never read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

            Shame on you.

            1. Correct. I’ve lots to be ashamed of.

              1. Best anti-cop soliloquy in literature, delivered by a cop.

                1. I don’t remember that. Guess it’s time to read it again.

                  1. It’s when they’re escaping Magrathea.

                    1. (not really a soliloquy, more of a conversation)

                    2. Ah, yes. Now I remember.

              2. It may be the best philosophical novel ever written.

                1. It may be the best philosophical novel ever written.

                  aye

  10. He left out rape.

  11. Still, if reefer has ever driven anyone to kill himself, that would be enough to prove Sabet’s point. You can’t say it has never happened!

    By the same standard of epistemology you can’t say there isn’t an undetectable teapot in orbit around Jupiter. But alas that standard is retarded and the rational course is to pursue rational positive evidence in order to make a claim about the positive existence of something.

    1. Sooner or later, you know, some joker will put a china teapot in orbit, and then where will we be?

  12. This thread is a better place for this. London. Peak hipster?

    1. the daily beatings set the world aright:

      Today, I saw Tristan the Captain Lou Albano bearded, birthday candle-legged South East Greenpoint Heights Farmer’s Market assistant organic corn husk recycler heading to JFK to catch a flight back to the Midwest for Thanksgiving like all the other hipster interlopers do. So I got there before him disguised as a skycap to take his luggage but instead I stuffed him inside it and put on a magic show by thrusting 25 swords through the suitcase making sure each blade went through a vital organ. Ta Daaaaaa! End of story.

    2. It’s the Lena Dunham effect. We just have to ride it out.

      1. Never, ever use the words “Lena Dunham” and “ride it” in the same post.

        Thanks.

  13. Devil’s Advocate:

    Actually, if medical marijuana extended the lifespan for cancer patients, and resulted in fewer suicide deaths, it is entirely possible that the net effect of people smoking weed, compared to what would happen if no one ever smoked it, might be a net increase in years lived.

    In which case marijuana could be said to save lives overall, not kill.

  14. I would posture to Mr. Sabet that more people are killed each year from the POSSESSION of marijuana (thank you War On Drugs) than from the ingestion of marijuana. Therefore, Mr. Sabet endorses the death penalty for possession of marijuana without any sort of trial. You are a MURDERER by association, Mr. Sabet.

  15. Marijuana Kills! But Not Very Often. Especially When Compared to Alcohol and Tobacco.

    Stop it. Did you learn nothing from the 90s?

    1. Well, true is true. But there are lots of example that they could use that don’t encourage onerous regulation. Like riding a bicycle or walking down the stairs. Or just sitting there doing nothing. More people just up and die for no apparent reason at all than can be said to be killed by marijuana.

      1. Right, so why don’t we say, “Watching goldfish kills more people than marijuana does”. Because if you say the above, you get articles like this, followed by the Master Settlement Agreement.

        Is there anything lower than a drug dealer?

        In some ways, they are worse than murderers. The average murderer kills but a single victim.

        The drug dealer kills many. And even when he doesn’t kill, he harms.

        He hooks children. He destroys families. He robs society of its productivity. He drives up the cost of health care for everyone.

        And is there any doubt today who the worst drug dealers in America are?

        According to published reports, the Food and Drug Administration has decided that nicotine is a drug.

        So it follows that the worst drug dealers in America are cigarette companies.

        1. I agree entirely. But sadly, even most people who are likely to support legalizing weed love regulating the shit out of stuff. So “regulate it like alcohol” probably is a more effective way to sell legalization than “none of your damn business”, as much as I hate it.

  16. And there are these kinds of deaths as well: http://snltranscripts.jt.org/77/77cxpolice.phtml

  17. According to the CDC, alcohol kills 80,000 Americans/year. Since marijuana and alcohol are substitute products –where an increase in the use of one results in a decrease in the use of the other– and since marijuana’s ability to kill people is FAR less than that of alcohol, then giving people the right to switch from alcohol to marijuana will result in substantially FEWER deaths.

    Why does Kevin Sabet bend over backwards to prevent the reduction in harm and addiction that legalization would give us?

    1. Why does Kevin Sabet bend over backwards to prevent the reduction in harm and addiction that legalization would give us?

      Because he makes money doing so, that’s why.

    2. It’s a moral issue. Drugs are bad, and there’s no convincing otherwise. To say that drug use is a victimless crime is a lie. Drugs cause crime. They cause theft, burglary, rape, murder, and who knows what else. That’s why drug crimes have a higher priority than crimes with victims. Going after drug criminals prevents crime. Every druggie or dealer in prison is someone not committing more serious crimes. Would you rather have law enforcement go after a single rapist, or prevent a dozen rapes by going after a pot smoker? It’s a no-brainer. Druggies belong in prison.
      /drug warrior

      1. I just wish more people saw legalization as a moral issue. Even most people who favor legalization seem to see it as a practical, balancing act sort of thing. “Well, pot’s not too bad, so lets legalize that. But we still have to brutalize, rob and kidnap people who do those other drugs that I don’t like.”

      2. Our drug policy is a morally vacant. The laws are selectively enforced and racially motivated. Eventually we will find the will to get government out of the business of telling us what we can put in out bodies.

  18. One thing that aggravates me about Mr. Sabet is how he can sit there and bash cannabis and tell everyone lies about how dangerous it is while the organization he represents, Project SAM is funded by major pharmaceutical companies. The companies that are killing tens of thousands of people each year in this country alone and producing the most dangerous and addictive substances known to man. He is a hypocrite in every since of the word.

  19. All those suicides buy those who didn’t smoke MJ? If only they had, they’d still be with is today. Just look around at all the MJ tokers who haven’t killed themselves! What more proof do you need?

  20. Student A: Let’s get some guns and shoot everybody at school.
    Student B: Here’s the bong. Let’s just sit around and play video games.
    Student A: Okay. Got any Doritos?

  21. In twenty years as a police dispatcher I never once had to send the police to break up a brawl involving a group of stoners.

    Drunks? Every weekend.

  22. Hmmm….”suicide, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, car crashes, and other accidents.” happen to non-pot smokers, too. Guess Mr. Sabet isn’t too aquainted with correlation versus causation.

  23. “[…] because “implicated” means a driver killed in a crash tested positive for traces of marijuana, which does not necessarily mean he was under the influence at the time of the crash [..] ”

    Actually, in at least some jurisdictions “implicated” means that ANYONE involved in the accident tested positive. That could be either driver, a passenger, or even a pedestrian or bicyclist. So if somebody is driving their cancer-stricken relative to treatment in a MMJ state and then some drunk runs into them and someone dies, that accident will be classified as one in which cannabis was “implicated”. They will count it as a drunk driving accident too — the categories are not mutually exclusive — but you cannot make any kind of assumption about the impact of cannabis use on road safety based on these data.

  24. Concerned about COPD? Eat it instead.

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