Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

This letter is a response to an article The Argosy published on the week of the 19 of March comparing the health risks of smoking tobacco to the health risks of smoking cannabis. In particular this letter addresses the inferential shortcomings of this article with regards to a report by the British Lung Foundation (BLF). I, write this letter on behalf and behest of the Mount Allison Hempology 101 club to address some confusion that this article may have elicited. 

As the only Mt. A registered club that deals with informing people about cannabis, Hempology 101 and its executive staff were appalled that no effort to consult us on the information put forward by this article. While our meetings and lectures are not arranged by medical experts, all members of our staff consider it their prerogative to offer the most up to date and accurate information about cannabis to students of Mt. A and anyone else who may take an interest in social, industrial, medical and historical effects of cannabis.

 It is not our goal to oversee all articles published in The Argosy under the subject of cannabis, rather we encourage any informed exploration of its topic. Why we felt it necessary to speak out about this article is that the inferences made from the BLF’s report can be contradicted by published evidence, and that some of this contrary evidence is even cited as reference in the report.

A problem we had with The Argosy’s article is that it posits cannabis smoking as more dangerous than tobacco smoking. This is a contentious issue, for many the verity of this statement depends on the context of harm. It is the position of many cannabis’ legal policy makers that cannabis is harmful due to its social effects, citing it as a substance that inevitably leads to further and more extreme drug use- agateway drug. However medical survey has determined no support for this claim, finding that users of cannabis are not more likely to become addicted to drugs like heroin, cocaine or meth due to cannabis use.

To say that smoking marijuana is more dangerous should thus be unpacked in terms of health. Here are some findings of a peer reviewed study to start. Of lifetime marijuana smokers it was found that 9.1 per cent transitioned into dependence (medical term for addiction) compared to lifetime alcohol users of which 15.4 per cent transitioned into dependence and of lifetime tobacco users 31.9 per cent transitioned into dependence. So cannabis seems less addictive than alcohol and tobacco.

To clarify the equivalent ratio of four joints to twenty cigarettes that was cited in the article in question, its context in study should be known.

The BLF report cites Dr Tashkin’s work in comparing tobacco smoke to marijuana smoke- In his report an equivalent amount of tar deposited on the lung can be seen between smoking three to four joints and smoking about twenty cigarettes. The point that Tashkin makes is that these are joints and cigarettes of the same weight which, Tashkin Points out, isn’t normal weight for joints. Joints usually weigh less than cigarettes.

According to Tashkin, frequent cannabis smokers tend to have higher rates of chronic bronchitis but tobacco smokers are equally troubled. With regard to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, one of the more common lung health issues, tobacco smokers are more likely to experience problems than cannabis smokers. Most importantly, and contrary to the inferences made in the article, tobacco smokers saw a twenty one-fold increase in lung cancer while cannabis smokers- saw a lower rate than even non smokers! According to Tashkin, this is evidence of a potential protective effect of cannabis smoking in terms of contracting cancer.

Other studies serve to contrast cannabis’ anti-cancer properties. According to a 2003 study on the degree at which cannabinoids (chemicals found naturally in cannabis) serve to control the spread of cancer by Dr Manual Guzman: Cannabinoids inhibit tumour growth in laboratory animals. They do so by modulating key cell-signalling pathways, thereby inducing direct growth arrest and death of tumour cells, as well as by inhibiting tumour angiogenesis and metastasis. Cannabinoids are selective anti-tumour compounds, as they can kill tumour cells without affecting their non-transformed counterparts.

Furthermore, in a 2008 study at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health it was noted that cannabinoids halt the spread of brain, prostate, breast, lung, skin and pancreatic cancers as well as lymphoma. What’s more is that cannabis targets cancer cells without damaging surrounding cells as do radiation treatments.

Another concern we had about The Argosy’s article is that it claimed cannabis smokers are at a higher risk for certain cancers, this is based on the findings the BLF report cited.

To contextualize this finding I ask you to check the reference section of the report published by the British lung foundation cited by the article. Work by Tashkin is cited eight times! And yet the report indicates cannabis as more cancerous to smoke than tobacco.

No doctor whether in support or against a political legalization agenda for cannabis would advocate recreational smoking as leaving lungs unscathed. However, cannabis happens to be a very healthy thing to put into ones body nutrition-wise. Cannabis oil contains eighty per cent of the unsaturated essential fatty acids, linoleic acid and linolenic acid all of which must be provided to the body externally. Cannabis is also comparable to soy as a source of easily digested protein. Thus it can’t be necessarily true that cannabis is bad for your body.

The Hempology 101 staff  have made it our burden this year to provide informative talks on the cannabis plant, commonly known by the moniker Marijuana. We have entertained group discussion about the many topics that have been extensively studied on the subject of cannabis, topics like cannabis’ effects on health. As members of the Mount Allison Hempology 101 branch, we observe the goals of our original branches to educate the public about Hemp, Marijuana and prohibition.

In the future, we advise that you make use of Hempology 101 as a resource for further exploration of cannabis as a topic.

-Joshua Carlstrom

Another concern that arose as I read The Argosy‘s article is the claim that not much information is available on the effects of cannabis as a substance. To say there are few facts on the effects of cannabis is not apt, in fact the eighty-two studies that are referenced in the British Lung Foundation’s report cited by The Argosy‘s article serve to illustrate this.

Marijuana, or cannabis as it is scientifically known, has been used as medicine for thousands of years. Many of its effects have been recorded in ancient medical texts from multiple cultures. There have been many studies that examine the effects of cannabis. In the journal Medicinal Research Reviews: “Research on the chemistry and pharmacology of cannabinoids and endocannabinoids has reached enormous proportions,” “[A]pproximately 15,000 articles on Cannabis sativa L. and cannabinoids and over 2,000 articles on endocannabinoids” are available in the scientific literature. As there are so many studies dealing with both cannabis as a medical substance and the endocannabinoids it is known to contain, It seems evident that there is sufficient information on Cannabis’ effects.

Another point of contention is in the psychological effects of cannabis. Evidence to support that cannabis can have deleterious effects on the brain has been found in the past, but similarly evidence to disregard the severity of its effects has also been published. For example Dr. Igor Grant of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine published a study on the long term cognitive effects of cannabis smoking in 2003 that according to Grant saw very little evidence of deleterious effects. The only exception was a very small effect in learning new information. Grant adds that the minimal side effects raised the question of practical significance. If we barely find this tiny effect in long-term heavy users of cannabis, then we are unlikely to see deleterious side effects in individuals who receive cannabis for a short time in a medical setting.

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