Thursday, July 2, 2015
Recent Study Reveals: Smoking is Smoking ...But Marijuana May Be Safer - by Rachel Bunting
Everywhere you look these days there are anti-smoking campaigns. Gone are the days of cigarette ads like Lucky Strike promising to keep you slim or Camel claiming “more doctors smoke Camels”, it would be astounding to even see a cigarette commercial promoting the use of tobacco. Today we have pictures of black lungs, amputees, and people who have had to have their larynx removed and must use a prosthetic to speak. We know from many studies, such as one done in the UK, that tobacco products and marijuana cigarettes contain benzyprene, which is in the tar produced by smoke.
Benzyprene causes cancer by altering a gene known as p53. The p53 gene suppresses tumors that would naturally grow in the human body. 75% of lung cancers have been linked to people with a faulty p53 gene. Now, since there are so many anti-smoking campaigns about how tobacco adversely effects your health why do all the anti-marijuana campaigns focus on the mental and psychoactive aspects of the drug and not the health aspect? Could marijuana be safer to smoke than tobacco? There have been reports that marijuana cures cancer, so shouldn’t it be safe to smoke?
The answer as to why many of these questions are hard to address is simple, there has been very little research done in the way of marijuana and its health effects. The few studies that have been completed were mostly sanctioned by the government with its own drug war agenda in mind.
The government was profiting off of tobacco however, and the technology of the time was lacking so “scientific studies” of tobacco cost many lives before in-depth research was able to start taking place. Research on tobacco products has revealed the astounding number of chemicals rolled into the product, many diseases, other than cancer, can be caused by smoking, and more than 16 million Americans are living with a smoking related illness.
While there has been a decline in smoking from about 20.9% of adults in 2009 to 17.8% in 2013 and though 17.8% of America may not seem like much, it is equivalent to nearly one in five. One in five is also equal to the more than 480,000 preventable deaths that are attributed to the chemicals found in cigarettes each year in the United States. Breaking it into even smaller terms statistically, though not realistically or necessarily, if five tobacco smokers are standing in a room, one of those people will likely die from a smoking related illness (again, statistically speaking). These numbers are fact. They have been scientifically proven many times, with many conditions, by different researchers.
Marijuana cigarettes, or joints, are often compared to tobacco cigarettes. Some extreme anti-marijuana groups would go so far as to claim cannabis is worse than tobacco, with one ridiculous group claiming pot kills as many people a day as tobacco. In the past, marijuana activists had only their beliefs and research that fell on deaf ears. It is common knowledge and common sense that any type of smoke entering the lungs is most likely not good. Our lungs were meant to breathe air, anything else is unnatural and can affect the body. How harshly cannabis smoke effects the lungs and the long term damage it can cause has not been able to be determined due to the strict regulations on marijuana.
Thankfully with the changes happening throughout the country, marijuana research is expanding into the public and private sectors. Previous studies on the plant have had contradicting outcomes. One study in 2009 found certain types of cancer were lower in people who smoke cannabis, but another in 2006 found an increase in risk of certain types of cancer for those that smoked the plant. Recent studies with lab mice have shown high concentrations of certain pure substances extracted from marijuana can kill prostate and breast cancer, as well as tumor cells.
The most recent study published by the American Thoracic Society (ATS), an international scientific society which focuses on respiratory and critical care medicine, concluded from a large cross sectional study that lifetime marijuana use, sporadically, is not associated with adverse changes in spirometric (a common office test used to assess the air intake of lungs) measures of lung health. Another study done by Donald Tashkin, who has spent more than 30 years studying the effects of marijuana on lung health, says that marijuana smoke reaches the lungs quicker than cigarette smoke, and also contains as much, if not more, carcinogens. In his studies he expected to find the same heightened risk of cancers that are seen with tobacco. However, according to Tashkin, this wasn’t the case. “We failed to find any positive association. The association appears to be negative between lung cancer and marijuana smoke” Tashkin says. Tashkin has also discussed that he has been unable to find a correlation between marijuana smoke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. This is possibly because “marijuana is a potent anti-inflammatory and suppressive”. While Tashkin does not condone smoking anything, marijuana is the better of two evils.
These new research studies strengthen previous work done in 2005 by Robert Melamede of the University of Colorado. Published in Harm Reduction Journal, Melammede and his team found that while tobacco and cannabis smoke contain the same type of carcinogens, or cancer-causing chemicals, the nicotine in tobacco and he THC in marijuana have different reactions to the cancer promoting ingredients. His research showed that both compounds act on pathways in the body but bind to different receptors. For example “the cells in the lungs are lined with nicotine receptors but do not appear to contain receptors for THC.”
This new research strengthens previous work done in 2005 by Robert Melamede of the University of Colorado.
Published in Harm Reduction Journal, Melammede and his team found that while tobacco and cannabis smoke contain the same type of carcinogens, or cancer-causing chemicals, the nicotine in tobacco and the THC in marijuana have different reactions to the cancer promoting ingredients. His research showed that both compounds act on pathways in the body but bind to different receptors. For example “the cells in the lungs are lined with nicotine receptors but do not appear to contain receptors for THC.”
A similar study from the ATS in 2013 concludes regular inhalation of marijuana alone causes “visible and microscopic injury to the large airways” which can be associated with “an increased likelihood of symptoms of chronic bronchitis” and will discontinue after quitting. It determined the evidence shows an extremely lower risk for lung complications in marijuana users, even heavy users, compared with the proven pulmonary consequences of smoking tobacco.
This research in no way means smoking marijuana will not cause lung cancer, it only means tests so far have determined it seems to not be as harmful as tobacco smoke. All researchers warn that marijuana smoke does still contain carcinogens when smoked, but they appear to not cause an increased risk for lung cancer when used moderately. The research defined here describes only smoking marijuana and does not cover edibles, oils, or vaping. As with every controversial topic, more research is needed before any definite answers to the miracles of marijuana can be made.
**References to tobacco include only those manufactured and sold to the public as tobacco cigarettes.