November 1, 2013 | As public support for amending America’s antiquated and failed cannabis criminalization policies continues to grow to record levels, stalwart prohibitionists – predictably – are doubling down on tried-and-true propaganda tactics to attempt to turn the tide. One of their most common strategies is to emphasize alleged health risks associated with marijuana consumption, in particular the claim that cannabis smoking causes cancer and other tobacco-related respiratory risks.
A recent example of this argument appeared in an October 29, 2013 Seattle Post-Intelligencer commentary, entitled “Marijuana smoking and the risk of lung cancer” by Eric Vallieres of the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Washington. Predictably, his alarmist commentary is heavy on rhetoric but woefully short on facts.
Of course, no one argues that the ingestion of combustive smoke, whether it is tobacco smoke or cannabis smoke, is healthy. However, it is inaccurate to allege that the risks to the consumer posed by these two substances are equal. In fact, the most recently available peer-reviewed science clearly rebukes the allegation that cannabis is as equal to or more dangerous than tobacco. For example, writing in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2012, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco reported that occasional to moderate cannabis consumption was not associated with the adversely pulmonary risks associated with tobacco smoking. Investigators “confirmed the expected reductions in FEV1 (forced expiratory volume in the first second of expiration) and FVC (forced vital capacity)” in tobacco smokers. By contrast, “Marijuana use was associated with higher FEV1 and FVC at the low levels of exposure typical for most marijuana users. With up to 7 joint-years of lifetime exposure (e.g., 1 joint/d for 7 years or 1 joint/wk for 49 years), we found no evidence that increasing exposure to marijuana adversely affects pulmonary function.” The full study may be read online here.
By Paul Armentano
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