Thursday, January 31, 2008

Smoking stuff bad for lungs shock

When the endlessly tedious cannabis classification debate makes one of its biannual return visits to the political landscape the media can't seem to help themselves but scout around for 'cannabis bad for you' stories. This is not to say cannabis isn't bad for you, obviously it can be, as can all drugs, but it does tend to create the impression of a flood of new research proving just how awful cannabis is (when actually it's just a flood of media coverage), just at the moment when the Government are supposed to be reviewing just how awful cannabis is and making policy decisions accordingly. Given the Government's predilection for knee jerk responses to media panics, this isn't an especially useful phenomenon for fans of rational evidence-based policy.

With the UK in the throws of the latest cyclical bout of reefer madness, lazy journalists have been busily typing 'cannabis' into their pubmed search engines and seeing what turns up that can possibly be turned into a 'cannabis really bad for you' headline. These usually take the form of either cannabis drives you mad, or cannabis is 5 time more carcinogenic than tobacco, with more recent variations about the 'new' super-potent 'skunk cannabis' that is *insert number between 10 and 50* times more potent than the old stuff from the 60s. There's various discussions about this elsewhere on the blog (search for 'cannabis' in the little box at the top of the page)

The BBC have jumped on the bandwagon with a report on their health website today titled 'warning over cannabis lung harm' highlighting two new studies that, unsuprsingly perhaps, link smoking cannabis with lung harm. As it goes the report is better than many, not least because they were good enough to include a quote from me attempting to put some of the more shock-horror conclusions into context. The piece is also distinguished by featuring the worlds worst ever cannabis picture, surely staged with some Wood Lane grass cuttings and an old bird's nest?

a birds nest, yesterday

More seriously, I was pleased to successfully slip in the issue of smoking harm reduction. Its something that almost never gets mentioned in the cannabis lung damage discussions; of course smoking cannabis is bad for your lungs, so don't smoke it. If you are going to consume cannabis you can dramatically reduce lung damage using a vaporiser or eliminate the risk entirely by eating it in a some form of cooked preparation.

I can count the number of times this obvious bit of harm reduction advice has featured in a 'cannabis smoking bad for lungs shock' story on one hand. Actually one finger, but its a start.


further reading:

This blog offers some useful critique of the New Zealand study covered in the BBC report

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

pretty dumb comment

up in scotland most people do 'buckets' ... no tobacco at all

craigx

Steve R said...

sure, and bongs, pipes etc, but UK wide its mostly tobacco and cannabis mixed joints.

Owen said...

Yeah, having never smoked tobacco until I discovered joints, I was left with a tobacco habit after I later gave up joints for other indulgences. There should be a health warning on all packets of joints and dope if/when legalisation comes: "Caution: Mixing with Tobacco May Lead to Subsequent Cigarette Addiction". Bummer!

Peter @ Eden Lodge said...

Hi Steve,

Given your considerable talent as a writer,I have no doubt you could make the satanic verses sound like the 24th psalm and vice versa, nevertheless there are one or two pointsin this piece which are less than accurate.

"it does tend to create the impression of a flood of new research proving just how awful cannabis is (when actually it's just a flood of media coverage"),

In fact Steve, it is neither. The evidence being referred to existed some years before cannabis was downgraded; unfortunatly it was either suppressed or ignored, for no other reason that it was politically expedient to do so. However, now that it is coming to light, the Government can no longer supress or ignore it, so once again because of political expediency, they will probably reclassify it.



"With the UK in the throws of the latest cyclical bout of reefer madness, lazy journalists have been busily typing 'cannabis' into their pubmed search engines and seeing what turns up that can possibly be turned into a 'cannabis really bad for you' headline. These usually take the form of either cannabis drives you mad, or cannabis is 5 time more carcinogenic than tobacco, with more recent variations about the 'new' super-potent 'skunk cannabis' that is *insert number between 10 and 50* times more potent than the old stuff from the 60s. There's various discussions about this elsewhere on the blog (search for 'cannabis' in the little box at the top of the page")


I have no way of knowing how journalists go about their 'research', but I am aware of new research from the prestigeous John Hopkins Medical Institute,a few extracts of which now follow:

"Research by a group of scientists studying the effects of heavy marijuana use suggests that withdrawal from the
use of marijuana is similar to what is experienced by people when they quit smoking cigarettes. Abstinence from
each of these drugs appears to cause several common symptoms, such as irritability, anger and trouble sleeping".

"Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States. Admissions in substance abuse treatment
facilities in which marijuana was the primary problem substance have more than doubled since the early 1990s
and now rank similar to cocaine and heroin with respect to total number of yearly treatment episodes in the United States."

"This is the first “controlled” comparison of the two withdrawal syndromes in that data was
obtained using rigorous scientific methods - abstinence from drugs was confirmed objectively, procedures were
identical during each abstinence period, and abstinence periods occurred in a random order".

"Tobacco and
marijuana withdrawal symptoms were reported by the same participants, thus eliminating the likelihoodthat results thus eliminating the likelihood that
thus eliminating the likelihood that results reflect
physiological differences between subjects, is also a strength of the study".

Finally may I refer you to my own modest contribution to the evidence which can be seen on 'Medical News Today' http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/youropinions.php?opinionid=26158() rejoicing under the title of 'Marijuana is not a soft drug' together with the appropriate references,

Hope that helps.

Regards,
Peter.

Steve R said...

Thanks Peter

I consider the evidence on cannabis harms in Transform's written submission to the ACMD review, and don't disagree with you that the risks associated with cannabis have been well documented and understood for many years.

I don't dispute the withdrawal effects for heavy users described (although most users are not heavy) - the heavier the use of any drug the greater the risks. The comparison, as i,ve noted, with tobacco is problematic since they are often mixed together. That said I think there are qualitative and quantitative differences between cananbis and nicotine dependence, even if there are similarities in some withdrawal symptoms.

Its sort of missing the point though. Whilst Transform is keen for scientific reviews to be balanced, regardless of what is concluded we would still maintain that a public health based response is preferable to a punitive enforcement led one. It is hard to see how increasing prison sentences for posession, what reclassification would achieve, would have any positive impacts, especially given the absence of data of a deterrent effect related to increasing penalties. I'm keen that the debate over health harms is not confused with the debate over the most effective policy response to them.

criminalising the minority of vulnerable, socially excluded or mentally ill youngsters seems a bizarre response to the problems they face. Blanket criminalisation of the majority of occasional moderate users who do not experience problems is expensive, unethical and ineffective. To send out messages on sensible health choices we should use various education mediums, not criminal law.

I don't use the term 'soft' drug and don't think its useful. To be fair nor do the ACMD or Government.

Owen said...

Quite.

Pointing out that "heavy" cannabis users find it difficult to cut down / give up is somewhat stating the obvious. It is generally accepted that cannabis is psychologically addictive rather than physiologically addictive, although getting drawn into descriptive models based solely on psychopharmacology is somewhat playing into to hands of the determinist models of consultant psychistrists. All drug use is determined by set and setting, irrespective of the pharmacological properties of specific molecules. Merely stating that cannabis is hard to give up (as is alcohol and tobacco, which are VERY hard to give up) does not defacto mean that this once legal (since the dawn of time) substance should be criminalised along with it's 170 million worldwide users.

MttJocy said...

The fact is any drug, or in fact any behavior can be psychologically addictive, the symptoms listed in the earlier comment by peter "irritability, anger and trouble sleeping" can all be caused entirely by psychological effects without any physiological basis, they are effects which occur not only with drug use but with other purely psychological addictions for which there is no physical chemical or otherwise affecting the person other than the natural chemistry of human mental states and emotions, such as for instance gambling.

Gambling addicts also report irritability, anger (or even general emotional instability and mood swings including among other things anger) and trouble sleeping, so it is hardly surprising that a behavior which has the ability to change your emotional state can produce withdrawal symptoms that can be cataloged.

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