A study recently published in Scientific Reports compared the risk of death associated with a number of drugs, including marijuana. The results added even more evidence proving that marijuana is far safer than legal alcohol.
The Washington Post reports:
Researchers sought to quantify the risk of death associated with the use of a variety of commonly-used substances. They found that at the level of individual use, alcohol was the deadliest substance, followed by heroin and cocaine.
And all the way at the bottom of the list? Weed -- roughly 114 times less deadly than booze, according to the authors, who ran calculations that compared lethal doses of a given substance with the amount that a typical person uses. Marijuana is also the only drug studied that posed low mortality risk to its users.
These findings reinforce drug safety rankings developed 10 years ago under a slightly different methodology. So in that respect, the study is more of a reaffirmation of previous findings than anything else. But given the current national and international debates over the legal status of marijuana and the risks associated with its use, the study arrives at a good time.
Given the relative risks associated with marijuana and alcohol, the authors recommend "risk management prioritization towards alcohol and tobacco rather than illicit drugs." And they say that when it comes to marijuana, the low amounts of risk associated with the drug "suggest a strict legal regulatory approach rather than the current prohibition approach."
In other words, individuals and organizations up in arms over marijuana legalization could have a greater impact on the health and well-being of this country by shifting their attention to alcohol and cigarettes. It takes extraordinary chutzpah to rail against the dangers of marijuana use by day and then go home to unwind with a glass of far more lethal stuff in the evening.
Uruguay and its President, Jose Mujica, have been making headlines recently for legislation to regulate the marijuana market. President Mujica has been determined to pass the law, supporting the movement throughout the legislative process and defending the policy to opponents both in his own country and abroad. Now that the law has passed, Uruguay is facing pressure from the U.N., which accuses the legislature of violating an international convention.
The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 essentially bans countries from allowing the consumption or production of specific drugs, except for medical or research purposes. The United Nations Information Service has released a document explaining how Uruguay is violating the convention.
According to the President, “the decision of the Uruguayan legislature fails to consider its negative impacts on health since scientific studies confirm that cannabis is an addictive substance with serious consequences for people’s health. In particular, the use and abuse of cannabis by young people can seriously affect their development.”
Cannabis is not only addictive but may also affect some fundamental brain functions, IQ potential, and academic and job performance and impair driving skills. Smoking cannabis is more carcinogenic than smoking tobacco.
The health claims of the U.N.I.S. are without merit. Studies into marijuana’s effect on the body show that it is safer than alcohol and has fewer long-term effects than tobacco. Furthermore, contrary to what Mr. Yans states, marijuana is not linked with cancer, unlike tobacco, which causes more than five million deaths per year.
The current U.N. drug policy and the 1961 Convention are not compatible with an evidence-based approach to drug policy. Luckily, Uruguay is not the only country looking to reform the world’s approach to marijuana. Recently, there has been evidence that the U.N. is losing support for the war on drugs. Hopefully, international policy can be adapted to reflect current knowledge surrounding marijuana and the consequences of prohibition. Until then, Uruguay and other countries looking to regulate marijuana may find an enemy in the U.N.
Regular marijuana use does not increase one’s chances of developing lung cancer, reported UCLA’s Dr. Li Rita Zhang during the annual meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research.
Dr. Zhang dually analyzed data from six case-control studies conducted from 1999 to 2012 in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand, which, when combined, tallied a subject pool of 2,159 lung cancer cases and 2,985 controls.
Dr. Zhang’s examination found that when compared with marijuana smokers who also used tobacco, habitual users (i.e., individuals who smoked one joint a day per year) had no notable increase in cancer risk. There were also no significant differences among marijuana-only smokers.
Pulmonologist and chief medical officer of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla. Dr. Michael Alberts stated that although other published studies have shown a correlation between smoking marijuana and lung cancer “the conventional wisdom is that cannabis smoking is not as dangerous as cigarette smoking."
He then argued that while smoking anything is not ideal for the respiratory system, when it came to medical marijuana, the benefits could outweigh the risk, a sentiment supported by multiple studies such as those conducted by the Temple University School of Pharmacy, researchers at Harvard, and the California Pacific Medical Center.
The Center for Disease Control just released their latest data on youth attitudes and behaviors, and it showed that more teens are using marijuana than cigarettes. While minors should not be using either substance, it is certainly indisputable that tobacco is far more dangerous than marijuana, with tobacco causing 443,000 deaths every year and marijuana causing … well, zero.
What is more important is that this study shows the need to regulate marijuana in order to keep it away from minors. Since instituting strict age controls for tobacco and ramping up education about the dangers of smoking, teen use has dropped dramatically. Imagine if we applied that same strategy to marijuana. Let adults use the product legally, and use the revenue saved on arrests to pay for education. Sounds simple, right?
A press release from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol sums it up:
DENVER – The High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey released yesterday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control highlights the need to regulate marijuana in order to reduce availability and use among teens.
Significantly more teens in the United States are using marijuana than cigarettes, according to the survey. Just more than 23 percent of high school students nationwide reported using marijuana within 30 days of taking the latest survey, up from 20.8 percent in 2009. Meanwhile, 18.1 percent reported past-30-day cigarette use, down from 19.5 percent in 2009.
"Marijuana prohibition has utterly failed to reduce teen access to marijuana, and it is time for a new approach," said Betty Aldworth, advocacy director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "Strictly regulating tobacco and restricting sales to minors has lent to significant decreases in use and availability, and we would almost surely see the same results with marijuana."
Previous studies have shown that cigarette use and availability among teens, which had been sharply increasing in the early 1990s, began steadily declining shortly after the 1995 implementation of the "We Card" program, a renewed commitment to strictly restrict the sale of tobacco to young people.
"By putting marijuana behind the counter, requiring proof of age, and strictly controlling its sale, we can make it harder for teens to get their hands on it," Aldworth said.
Interestingly, the CDC report also found that Colorado has bucked the national trend of increasing teen marijuana use. Nationwide, past-30-day marijuana use among high school students climbed from 20.8 percent in 2009, to 23.1 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, in Colorado, it dropped from 24.8 percent to 22 percent. It is worth noting that from 2009 to 2011, Colorado enacted strict state and local regulations on the production and sale of marijuana for medical purposes, whereas no such regulations were implemented throughout the rest of the country.
"This report suggests that even the partial regulation of marijuana could decrease its availability to teens," Aldworth said. "Those who shrug off this mounting evidence are shrugging off the health and safety of our young people."
Interestingly enough, the Denver Post points out that the poll also showed Colorado high-schoolers have less sex, get in fewer fist-fights, and get more exercise than the national average. Connection? Maybe teens respond well to rationality and honesty from adults.
We are all used to the federal government offering only limited deference to states when it comes to medical marijuana. And we are certainly used to it refusing to admit that patients have a legal right to use marijuana for medical purposes, or even that marijuana has medical value at all.
Apparently, it also thinks that those who are abiding by state law and using medical marijuana do not have certain constitutional rights, either.
In a memo issued last week by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the federal government asserted that it is a violation of federal law to possess a gun or ammunition if you are a marijuana user. This broad definition also includes individuals who are state-legal medical marijuana patients.
It is important to note that this is only the opinion of the BATFE and is not legally binding. A case dealing with this issue for an individual patient has not been taken up on a federal level, yet many who are charged with federal marijuana violations often find themselves facing additional firearms charges extending from searches of their property. The Department of Justice has so far kept fairly close to its word when it comes to leaving medical marijuana patients alone, but one could easily imagine a situation in which a firearm violation could be used to prosecute a particularly meddlesome patient who may not be doing anything involving marijuana that would warrant investigation.
It is also important to remember that the federal government cannot force state and local law enforcement to enforce federal law. For example, the DEA can’t make the Colorado state police ignore their medical marijuana laws and start arresting patients for violating the Controlled Substances Act. So don’t start worrying that just because you have a medical marijuana card, you are about to be raided because you own a firearm. In fact, a court decision in Oregon ruled that states have every right to allow patients to possess firearms and may even grant them concealed-carry licenses if they wish.
However, federal law enforcement does reserve the right to charge you with firearms violations if you are a patient and own a gun. This should be no more worrisome in practical terms than the Department of Justice asserting that it has the legal right to charge you with marijuana violations if you are a patient and own some medicine.
This is much more troubling in terms of individual rights and human dignity. The Second Amendment clearly states our rights as citizens to possess firearms. The federal government, however, seems to think that people who use marijuana to treat their illnesses can not only face arrest for doing so, but are also not entitled to the same constitutional rights as everyone else. Regardless of the promises to not target medical marijuana users, it is pretty clear that the government views them as second-class citizens. This discrimination cannot be tolerated in a free society.
The full memo can be viewed here.
Special thanks to Ed Docter from the Montana Cannabis Industry Association for the tip.
The federal government just released the latest ‘Monitoring the Future’ survey of teen drug use, and the results do not bode well for current policies. More high school seniors report smoking marijuana in the past 30 days than smoked cigarettes: 20.6 percent vs. 20.1 percent. And marijuana use is up (albeit in the same general range it’s been in for several years) while teen cigarette smoking continues to decline, and has dropped markedly since the early ‘90s.
Regulation of tobacco, combined with solid educational campaigns, has clearly cut youth access to cigarettes. It’s time for officials to take off their blinders and apply those same proven policies to marijuana.
Oh, and just in case someone tries to blame medical marijuana laws for the rise in teen marijuana use, use by teens has actually gone down in the medical marijuana states.
British scientists warn increasing hostility toward scientific evidence that contradicts political agendas could hinder the collaborative relationship policy and science enjoys in Britain, the Guardian reported yesterday.
Last November, the British government ignored the advice of its Scientific Advisory Board and moved marijuana into a more dangerous class of drugs, a move described by top scientists at the time as "a sad departure from the welcome trend … of public policy following expert scientific advice."
Of course, here in the United States, government has been ignoring its scientific advisors on marijuana policy for decades, at least since Nixon first lined his bird cage with the two-year study he commissioned recommending marijuana's decriminalization.
And that unwelcome trend continues to this very day here, as evidenced by drug czar Gil Kerlikowske's recent lie that marijuana "has no medicinal benefit." Not sure who Kerlikowske's scientific advisors are, but the one we taxpayers use, the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, says: "Nausea, appetite loss, pain, and anxiety … all can be mitigated by marijuana."
Then again, it doesn't take a scientist to know that it's wrong to deny sick people medicine that eases their pain, or to arrest responsible adults because they prefer a drug that's safer than alcohol or tobacco.
While I was in the green room waiting to debate Calvina Fay on Fox Business News today (we're working on getting the video posted), former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sat down next to me to wait for his interview on the sister Fox News Channel.
After exchanging some small talk, he asked me what I was going to be talking about on TV. After telling him that MPP was the organization that ran those ads in California last week that touted how taxing marijuana could help some of the California government's budget crisis, he said, "Well, I can't say I'm supportive of that. I have a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old to worry about." I responded, "Well, I'm not surprised that you're not supportive."
But, continuing, I noted to him that teenage tobacco use has been decreasing for years because of public education about tobacco's harmful effects, as well as the "We Card" campaign that has gotten serious about carding people for age before they're permitted to buy cigarettes. He added that another factor is that the price of cigarettes has also been rising, to which I agreed, noting that the price increase is because of a tax increase.
In any case, I continued, teenage marijuana use actually increased over the same period of years, and tobacco usage rates have been falling, so that now an equal number of teenagers are using marijuana and tobacco. Maybe we could do better with marijuana by taxing and regulating it.
I also said, "You know, with your two kids, you might want to ask them whether it's easier for them to find marijuana or alcohol in or near their schools." He laughed, I think because the idea of asking his kids about scoring drugs is probably outside his comfort zone.
Just then, a Fox staffer came in to get me for the interview. "Good luck," Mr. Gonzales said. "You can say on TV that I'm intrigued by your proposal."
The question of why some kids start using alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, and other drugs at a young age remains a source of controversy. How much of a role do genes play? The environment -- peers, parents, educational efforts? What about the "gateway theory," the idea that one drug -- marijuana is the most likely to be blamed -- leads to use of others?
A new study of twins recently published online by the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence suggests that genes may play a large role, but to some degree every drug is a gateway drug.
By studying both fraternal and identical twins (in this case, they focused on African-American teen girls, a population underrepresented in prior studies), researchers can set up mathematical models designed to probe the influence of environment and genetics. Focusing on alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana, they found that early use either of alcohol or cigarettes was associated with an increased likelihood of being an early marijuana user, and early drinking was also associated with early cigarette use. In general, those who had never used a given substance were the least likely to report having used the others -- so in a sense, almost any drug teens try seems to be a gateway drug.
Even more interesting, though, is the more detailed number crunching designed to tease out genetic vs. environmental influences. Inherited influences explained 44% of the variance in initiation of alcohol, 62% for cigarettes, and 77% of the variation in marijuana initiation. Because the confidence intervals (statistical-speak for margin of error) were fairly wide, those numbers should not be taken as gospel, but clearly genes play a major role in susceptibility to early substance use.
There is little doubt that some kids are innately more susceptible to early drug use than others. And a teen who tries one drug -- whatever it is, legal or illegal -- is more likely than his or her peers to try others. These are real issues that parents and educators need to face, and simplistically blaming marijuana as "the gateway drug" won't help them.
In its December issue, the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry published an essay by psychiatrist Stephen Kisely, who divides his time between Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, and Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, titled, "The Case for Policy Reform in Cannabis Control." Kisely's essay is so full of logic and common sense that the best thing to do is just quote it at length:
"The lack of evidence for prohibition is highlighted by the fact that penalties bear little relation to the actual harm associated with cannabis. The Runciman Report, commissioned by the Police Federation in the United Kingdom, no less, concluded that both alcohol and tobacco were more harmful than cannabis; nonetheless, there is no suggestion that prohibition should play a part in controlling their use. ...
"Despite the emphasis on supply reduction, a comparison of the United States, Australia, Canada, and 3 European countries showed that cannabis consumption is unaffected by expenditure on law enforcement. Changing the legislation on cannabis could produce substantial savings or redeployment of police resources to more effective areas. If anything, consumption of cannabis continues to grow irrespective of the degree of law enforcement, and the increase has not been greater in countries where laws have been liberalized. In the 11 American states that effectively decriminalized cannabis use in the 1970s, use has not risen beyond that experienced by comparable states where it is prohibited. ...
"The failure of prohibition to reduce cannabis use is in contrast to the success of strategies to reduce tobacco use. Smoking is falling in high-income countries and is now less than cannabis use in some surveys of young Canadians. ...
"Approaches to dealing with cannabis should be similar to those for tobacco and alcohol."