Research

Study Shows Long-Term Marijuana Use Does Not Cause Serious Lung Damage

A new study reports that long-term marijuana users have little to worry about in terms of lung damage.

Paul Armentano writes in Alternet:

The inhalation of one marijuana cigarette per day over a 20-year period is not associated with adverse changes in lung health, according to data published online ahead of print in the journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

Investigators at Emory University in Atlanta assessed lungsmarijuana smoke exposure and lung health in a large representative sample of US adults age 18 to 59. Researchers reported that cannabis exposure was not associated with FEV1 (forced expiratory volume) decline or deleterious change in spirometric values of small airways disease.

Authors further reported that marijuana smoke exposure may even be associated with some protective lung effects among long-term smokers of tobacco. Investigators acknowledged, “[T]he pattern of marijuana’s effects seems to be distinctly different when compared to that of tobacco use.”

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Research

Marijuana Legalization Could Improve Drug Education

In a recent article in Alternet, Dr. Marsha Rosenbaum of the Drug Policy Alliance suggested that not only will making marijuana legal for adults likely not lead to increased teen use, but could improve the methods and resources we use to educate them about drugs.

Many worry that legalization might “send the wrong message,” leading to an escalation in teenage use.

[caption id="attachment_8379" align="alignright" width="190"]KAP_DPA_Marsha_Rosenbaum-035-Edit_240 Dr. Marsha Rosenbaum[/caption]

As a federally funded researcher, I regularly check survey data and am reassured by the annual Monitoring the Future survey of high school students’ drug use, which found recently that a majority of teens say that even if marijuana was legal, they would not try it. Preliminary data from the post-legalization 2013 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey revealed that high school marijuana use in Colorado had actually decreased.

This has also been the case in states where medical marijuana is legal. Research published in prestigious journals such as the American Journal of Public Health and the Journal of Adolescent Health generally show no association between medical marijuana laws and rates of teenage marijuana use. In California, where such laws have been in place for 18 years and are perhaps most lenient, marijuana use among teens is less prevalent now than before medical marijuana was legalized, according to the recent California Student Survey.

Even if legalization for adults does not affect teenage use, it does present an opportunity to re-think our approach to drug abuse prevention and education – both in school and at home.

...

It’s time to get realistic – to devise innovative, pragmatic strategies for dealing with teens, marijuana, alcohol, and other drug use in this new era.

You can find out more about Rosenbaum's innovative approach to drug education here. 

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Prohibition

Marijuana Use Rarely Leads to Emergency Room, Study Shows

Researchers at the University of Michigan have sifted through nationwide data to determine the prevalence of different drug-related emergency room visits and (surprise, surprise!) their recently released results show that “marijuana dependence was associated with the lowest rates” of emergency room visits.

NORML’s Paul Armentano has broken down the study here on Alternet:

Among those surveyed, subjects that reported using cannabis were the least likely to report an ED visit (1.71 percent). Respondents who reported lifetime use of heroin, tranquilizers, and inhalants were most likely (18.5 percent, 6.3 percent, and 6.2 percent respectively) to report experiencing one or more ED visits related to their drug use.

Investigators concluded, “[M]arijuana was by far the most commonly used (illicit) drug, but individuals who used marijuana had a low prevalence of drug-related ED visits.”

Paul also points to a recently released RAND study that found California hospitals received only 181 admissions related to marijuana in 2008, compared to an estimated 73,000 such admissions related to alcohol.

This is extremely valuable information in the debate over marijuana prohibition, since opponents of legalization—including the nation’s drug czar—consistently argue that marijuana’s “social costs” are a leading reason why we shouldn’t lift prohibition.

When they make this argument, Gil Kerlikowske and others will always mention the social costs of alcohol without including any supporting evidence to show that marijuana leads to similar results. The reason they don’t cite such evidence, of course, is because they don’t have any. Findings about the extremely low level of emergency room visits for marijuana compared to alcohol and other drugs simply drive another nail into such blissfully ignorant prohibitionist logic.

Oh, and if anyone tries to argue that this situation will somehow change drastically in a regulated marijuana market, consider this: More than 3 million Californians currently use marijuana (at least once) annually, yet fewer than 200 of them end up in the hospital for related reasons.

Kerlikowske and others shy away from stats like these, however, because they are further evidence of marijuana’s high margin of safety—and the insanity behind its prohibition.

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Medical Marijuana

DEA Raids California Collectives, Violating New Federal Policy

After word spread of DEA raids on medical marijuana collectives in San Diego and Mendocino County last week, many are left wondering if federal agents deliberately violated the Obama administration’s instructions to not interfere with state medical marijuana laws.

Under the Department of Justice policy announced in an October memo, federal agents are no longer supposed to target or prosecute medical marijuana patients or providers who operate in “clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law.”

Yet, according to local accounts, the sites raided last week were legal under state law. From the Press Democrat:

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman confirmed Friday that the [raided] property owner had the proper paperwork and the marijuana was legal in the eyes of the county.

“This was a federal operation and had nothing to do with local law enforcement,” he said. “The federal government made a decision to go ahead and eradicate it.”

Steve Elliott has more in Alternet:

A multi-agency federal task force descended on the property of Joy Greenfield, the first Mendo patient to pay the $1,050 application fee under the ordinance, which allows collectives to grow up to 99 plants provided they comply with certain regulations.

Greenfield had applied in the name of her collective, “Light The Way,” which opened in San Diego earlier this year. Her property had passed a preliminary inspection by the Mendo sheriff’s deputies shortly before the raid, and she had bought the sheriff’s “zip-ties” intended to designate her cannabis plants as legal.

In the days before the raid, Greenfield had seen a helicopter hovering over her property; she inquired with the sheriff, who told her the copter belonged to the DEA and wasn’t under his control.

The agents invaded her property with guns drawn, tore out the collective’s 99 plants and took Greenfield’s computer and cash.

Joy was not at home during the raid, but spoke on the phone to the DEA agent in charge. When she told [him] she was a legal grower under the sheriff’s program, the agent replied, “I don’t care what the sheriff says.”

The DEA has not yet released any statement explaining their actions, which all reports indicate violated their DOJ-issued guidelines.

With the number of state medical marijuana laws at 14 and growing, there is an urgent need for the federal government to ensure that its policy on state medical marijuana laws is made “clear and unambiguous” to its enforcers as well. The DOJ guidelines issued in October should have done just that, but apparently the DEA in California didn’t get the memo.

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