How Bad Is Marijuana for Your Health?

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The Journal of Neuroscience recently published a study linking recreational marijuana use to subtle changes in brain structure. The researchers, led by Jodi Gilman of Massachusetts General Hospital, identified increased gray matter density in the left nucleus accumbens and some bordering areas. The study was fine, but the media coverage was abysmal. Reporters overstated the findings, mischaracterized the study, and failed to mention previous research done on pot smoking and health. Goldfish may not have a three-second memory, but some journalists seem to. When a new paper comes out, it’s often treated as the first ever and final word on the topic. There is a significant body of literature on the neurological and wider health effects of marijuana, and to ignore it when covering new studies seems to me a form of journalistic malpractice.

A press release from the Society for Neuroscience trumpeted the Gilman study’s importance because it looked at casual users rather than regular pot smokers, who form the basis of most marijuana studies. That claim is dubious in the extreme. The subjects averaged 3.83 days of smoking and 11.2 total joints per week. Characterizing these people as casual pot smokers was a great media hook, but it defied common sense. Occasional users wondered if they’d done permanent damage, and parents were concerned that their teenagers might face profound neurological changes from experimenting with pot. Any reporter who read the study, however, should have known not to take that bait.

Even by the standards of past medical studies, it’s a stretch to call these subjects casual pot smokers. Just two years ago, for example, Janna Cousijn and colleagues published a study on a group that she called “heavy” marijuana users. In the average week, they smoked 3 grams of cannabis—approximately 2 grams less than Gilman’s casual smokers. (A joint has about 0.5 grams of cannabis.) The justification for calling Gilman’s subjects casual smokers is that they didn’t meet the criteria for dependence, but when you count up the joints, the study doesn’t look so revolutionary.

Many stories also claimed that the Gilman study showed direct causation between pot smoking and brain abnormalities. That’s wrong. The study looked at differences between pot smokers and abstainers at a single moment. Only a longitudinal study, examining brain changes over time, could have suggested causation. As a letter writer to the Journal of Neuroscience noted, it’s possible that pre-existing brain differences cause some people to seek out marijuana. Gilman’s pot smokers also drank more and smoked more cigarettes than the control group, which supports this interpretation and also raises the possibility that other factors led to brain structure differences.

The biggest problem with the coverage of the marijuana study was that it failed to put the new research into context. Valentina Lorenzetti of the University of Melbourne recently published a widely cited review paper synthesizing dozens of studies on marijuana and the brain. Taking the literature as a whole, there is evidence suggesting that marijuana use causes structural changes in three parts of the brain: the frontal lobes, temporal lobes, and the cerebellum. The data also reinforces the idea that long-term, heavy smokers experience greater changes than casual users. The studies, however, have serious flaws. They are typically small and have been unable to show that the structural changes cause cognitive impairment. Gilman’s study of 20 smokers is a good contribution to the literature, but it doesn’t resolve those problems.

If you are considering smoking pot—or quitting—here is what you need to know.

Smoking marijuana once is very unlikely to harm you. It takes at least 15 grams of cannabis to kill a person, and probably much more than that. A healthy person would have to smoke dozens of joints in a single session to risk death from overdose. People who do die from the acute effects of marijuana die in accidents: A recent study suggested that more than 10 percent of drivers killed in car accidents test positive for cannabis.*

The more likely risk from trying marijuana is dependence. There is a debate over whether marijuana is addictive, but you needn’t bother with it—it’s mainly about semantics. The fact is, approximately 9 percent of people who start smoking pot become dependent by ordinary medical standards. That’s low compared with dependence rates for other drugs: More than 15 percent of people who drink become alcoholics, and 32 percent of people who try cigarettes get hooked. Still, you should think seriously about a 1-in-11 chance of addiction, especially if you have a personal or family history of substance abuse.

What sorts of health risks are these regular cannabis users taking? It’s extremely challenging to study the long-term health effects of marijuana in humans. You can’t legally ask 1,000 people to smoke three joints a week for 40 years just to see what happens, so researchers can only compare health data from people who admit to smoking pot with data from people who don’t admit to it. Retrospective correlational studies like these raise all kinds of problems, such as matching the groups for confounding variables. (Do they smoke cigarettes? Do they have a family history of cancer? What do they eat? Do they exercise?) Even if you assume that everyone is telling the truth, there are also bound to be wide variations in how much pot the subjects used. Most studies suggest that any potential health risks of cannabis are dose-dependent—people who smoke only a little face very few health risks, while people who smoke a lot are more likely to get sick—but this is still largely a matter of conjecture.

With that caveat out of the way, here are some findings. Studies consistently show that frequent marijuana smoking is associated with some forms of respiratory dysfunction. Smokers report problems with coughing, wheezing, and phlegm. Lung cancer is a murkier issue. Cannabis smoke contains higher concentrations of some carcinogens than cigarette smoke does. Some large studies show increased prevalence of respiratory tract cancers in cannabis users, while others find no correlation.

With the legalization of recreational marijuana in some states, many people have asked whether they can minimize cancer risk by ingesting rather than smoking cannabis. It’s a reasonable suggestion. At this point, however, the question is unanswerable. There simply aren’t enough people with a long history of eating marijuana, but not smoking it, to put together a study. Ingestion may be risky, because it seems easier to overindulge in food products than in smoking. Colorado is currently reviewing its regulations after accidental deaths involving ingested cannabis. Keeping cannabis brownies is especially risky if you ever have children in your home. A study released last year suggested that an increasing number of children in Colorado are accidentally eating marijuana-laced food products.

The cognitive effects of chronic marijuana use are uncertain. If you’re an adult who smokes occasionally, there appears to be little or no reason to believe your mental performance will suffer. Several studies also show that those who experience impairments may recover if they stop smoking. Heavy, long-term smokers may experience memory and attention loss. There is also some indication that heavy marijuana users are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, but it’s not clear which is the cause and which the effect, if indeed there is such a relationship; it may be the case that people with schizophrenia are self-medicating with marijuana.

As with alcohol and tobacco, it’s fairly clear that minors should not use marijuana. Many studies show that kids who smoke pot do poorly in school, and some studies suggest that they commit suicide at higher rates. Although the causal relationship isn’t clear, the risks are too great.

You probably have plenty of other questions. For example, is marijuana less bad for you than alcohol or tobacco? The comparison is basically impossible to make. Mountains of data link cigarette smoking to a staggering collection of adverse events. It’s difficult to know whether the same goes for marijuana, because fewer people smoke it, and those who do typically smoke less pot than cigarette smokers do tobacco. Comparing alcohol with marijuana—aside from differences in acute toxicity and driving competence—is also impractical.

Seriously, though, if you’re trying to decide among smoking pot, taking up cigarettes, and drinking alcohol based on health risks, I suggest finding a different hobby.

*Correction, May 1, 2014: Due to an editing error, this piece misstated that almost 25 percent of drivers killed in car accidents test positive for cannabis. Almost 25 percent test positive for non-alcohol drugs; of those, about 12 percent test positive for cannabis.

Brian Palmer is Slate’s chief explainer. He also writes How and Why and Ecologic for the Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter.

Source: Slate Magazine (US Web)
Author: Brian Palmer
Published: May 1, 2014
Copyright: 2014 The Slate Group, LLC.
Contact: [email protected]

DEA Chief Says Marijuana-Trafficking Spiking

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The Drug Enforcement Administration is concerned about a surge in the illegal shipment of marijuana from Colorado since the state legalized the drug, and is trying to crack down on minors’ use of the substance, the head of the agency said Wednesday.

Administrator Michele Leonhart said the DEA is troubled by the increase in marijuana trafficking in states surrounding Colorado and worries that the same phenomenon could be repeated around Washington state, where recreational marijuana is expected to be sold legally soon. In Kansas, she said, there has been a 61 percent increase in seizures of marijuana from Colorado.

Speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Leonhart said the softening of attitudes nationwide about the risk of marijuana has confirmed some of the agency’s fears.

“The trends are what us in law enforcement had expected would happen,” she said. “In 2012, 438,000 Americans were addicted to heroin. And 10 times that number were dependent on marijuana.”

The Obama administration released a memo in August saying it would not challenge legalization laws in Colorado and Washington as long as the two states maintained strict rules regarding the sale and distribution of the drug. In the memo, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole stressed that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The Justice Department directed federal prosecutors not to target individual users but instead to focus on eight areas of enforcement. Those aims include preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors, stopping the drug from being grown on public land, keeping marijuana from falling into the hands of cartels and gangs, and preventing the diversion of the drug to states where it remains illegal.

DEA officials have expressed frustration privately about the legalization of marijuana by Colorado and Washington state, where local officials consider the change an opportunity to generate tax revenue and boost tourism.

But in January, James. L. Capra, the DEA’s chief of operations, called marijuana legalization at the state level “reckless and irresponsible,” and warned that the decriminalization movement would have dire consequences.

“It scares us,” he said during a Senate hearing. “Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again.”

Two years ago, nine former DEA administrators wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to express their concern about the states’ movements to legalize marijuana and urge him to oppose the ballot initiatives.

“To continue to remain silent conveys to the American public and the global community a tacit acceptance of these dangerous initiatives,” wrote the former administrators, who oversaw the DEA under Democratic and Republican presidents from 1973 to 2007.

On Wednesday, Leonhart spoke about why she thinks marijuana is dangerous. She said that marijuana-related emergency-room visits increased by 28 percent between 2007 and 2011 and that one in 15 high school seniors is a near-daily marijuana user. Since 2009, she said, more high school seniors have been smoking pot than smoking cigarettes.

Marijuana advocates say that concerns about the drug’s danger are exaggerated. In an interview with the New Yorker magazine, President Obama compared the use of marijuana to drinking alcohol.

“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life,” he said. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

Leonhart also spoke out in support of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes, an issue Holder has highlighted recently as part of his initiative to reduce prison crowding and foster equity in criminal sentencing.

Holder has instructed his 93 U.S. attorneys to use their discretion in charging low-level, nonviolent criminals with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences.

Leonhart, in response to a question from Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), said: “Having been in law enforcement as an agent for 33 years [and] a Baltimore City police officer before that, I can tell you that for me and for the agents that work at the DEA, mandatory minimums have been very important to our investigations. We depend on those as a way to ensure that the right sentences equate the level of violator we are going after.”

Source: Washington Post (DC)
Author: Sari Horwitz
Published: April 30, 2014
Copyright: 2014 Washington Post Company
Contact: [email protected]


Pot More Dangerous Than You Know

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With the recent article published on May 12, 2013, “Mont.  goes its own way on pot,” it seems like the perfect opportunity to provide some clarifying facts about marijuana.

There is no scientific basis for using smoked marijuana as a medicine, no sound scientific studies supporting the medical use of marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data supporting the safety or effectiveness of marijuana for general medical use.  The Food and Drug Administration ruled that smoked marijuana does not meet the modern standards of medicine in the United States.  Marijuana is NOT approved nor endorsed by the FDA, the American Medical Association, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the American Glaucoma Society, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Cancer Society or the American Pediatric Society.  The National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine has concluded that smoked marijuana should “not be recommended for medical use.”

Marijuana has over 500 components ( THC, CBD, etc.  ) that have been proven to increase the risk of cancer, lung damage, and poor pregnancy outcomes.  In comparison, most prescription medication contains a single compound in a standardized dosage.

The use of marijuana under the guise of “medicine” has given rise to numerous problems:

Affected youth drug use patterns.

States with “medical” marijuana laws had marijuana abuse/dependence rates almost double the states without such laws.

There is a direct correlation between “medical” marijuana and decreases in perception of harm and social disapproval.

Individuals who begin using the drug in their teens have approximately a one-in-six chance of developing marijuana dependence.  In fact, children and teens are six times likelier to be in treatment for marijuana than for all other illegal drugs combined.

Addiction rates among 12- to 17-year-olds are among the highest levels nationally in states that have “medical marijuana” programs.

Marijuana use negatively impacts adolescent brain development.  A recent study found that those who used cannabis heavily in their teens and continued through adulthood showed a permanent drop in IQ of eight points.  A loss of eight IQ points could drop a person of average intelligence into the lowest third of the intelligence range.

“Medical” marijuana could negatively impact employability.  More than 6,000 companies nationwide and scores of industries and professions require a pre-employment drug test.

Twenty percent of crashes in the U.S.  are caused by drugged driving.  Marijuana is the most prevalent illegal drug detected in impaired drivers, fatally injured drivers, and motor vehicle crash victims.

States that have fully implemented “medical” marijuana programs, to include dispensaries, are experiencing public safety issues.  They have seen first-hand that dispensaries lead to increased crime and adversely affect the quality of life in their communities.

The total overall costs of substance abuse in the U.S., including loss of productivity, health and crime-related costs exceed $600 billion annually.  This includes approximately $235 billion for alcohol, $193 billion for tobacco, and $181 billion for illicit drugs.

Marijuana is much more powerful today than it was 30 years ago, and so are its mind-altering effects.  Average THC levels rose from less than 1 percent in the mid-1970s to more than 6 percent in 2002.  Sinsemilla potency increased in the past two decades from 6 percent to more than 13 percent, with some samples containing THC levels of up to 33 percent.

Legalizing marijuana would significantly decrease the price of the drug and could result in an up to 50 percent increase in use.  This can have widespread ramifications in areas such as adolescent brain development, the academic achievement of our nation’s youth, employability, highway and public safety, as well as the economy.

The average “medical” marijuana user is a 32-year-old white male with a history of alcohol, cocaine and meth use, but NO history of a life-threatening illness.

Marijuana is not a harmless natural compound.  The “medical marijuana” movement is a well-developed strategic plan to dupe the common man into believing that an illicit, illegal drug, with no proven medical benefit, should be used as medicine.  Take a stand.  Become better informed.  Help the efforts to make our community a safe, healthy, drug free community.

Source: Montana Standard (Butte, MT)
Copyright: 2013 Montana Standard
Contact: [email protected]
Author: Pat Prendergast

Research Doesn’t Support Use Of Medical Marijuana

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Based on science and concern about young minds and the safety of our citizens, we believe that the crude drugs from the plant Cannabis should be illegal.  There are differing views on this issue.  In our democracy, divergent views are expected.  The more personal the issue, the more passionate and less logical the discussion.

Media articles support marijuana as a medicine.  This complex weed is supposed to cure insomnia, arthritis, glaucoma, nausea, loss of appetite, epilepsy, etc.; and that, if legalized and taxed by government, as with alcohol and tobacco, it could solve our financial woes.

Let’s examine some misinformation used by marijuana proponents, which is mostly based on anecdotal evidence or driven by political agenda.  Before the emotional and political issues drive a mass experimentation, using Americans as guinea pigs, we must scrutinize marijuana.

Marijuana is a crude drug from the Cannabis plant, known to contain more than 700 chemicals.  When smoked, these components produce more cancer-causing compounds than found in tobacco smoke.  Cannabinoids are chemicals found only in the Cannabis plant.  Many are psychotropic: have mind-altering effects and are fat soluble.  They are stored in and alter the brain, reproductive organs and other fat cells.  A nursing mother will pass THC and other cannabinoids to her baby through her milk.

THCis the one chemical that most people associate with marijuana.  It is an intoxicant with some medical properties.  Marijuana is not just THC.  Pure THC is a prescribed medication that has passed rigid Food and Drug Administration requirements to protect public health; whereas, marijuana will never pass any approval process.

In Florida, a 2010 survey of high school students, reported 21.8 percent of seniors used marijuana in the past month.  This is up from19.7 percent in 2008; thus, today one in five of our high school seniors are being exposed to a drug that can cause much harm.  Additionally, marijuana is listed as the primary substance of abuse for 31.1percent of treatment admissions in Florida.  Over halfwere12-17 years of age.

In December, 2012, the Government Drug Abuse Warning Network Report stated that over 45,000 American youth between the ages of15 to17 entered emergency rooms because of marijuana.  If 100 young people needed emergency room treatment because of a FDA approved drug, pro-marijuana groups and elected officials would demand the drug’s removal from the market.

As reported by the U.S.  Surgeon General, marijuana reduces the immune system’s ability to fight infections, interferes with the reproductive system, affects memory and learning, creates paranoia, and is addictive.  Marijuana reduces the IQ of young users by 8 to10 IQ points, changes depth perception and alters the ability to judge distance.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported in December of 2012 that “research from different areas is converging on the fact that regular marijuana use by young people can have long-lasting negative impact on the structure and function of their brains.” Want your child on pot?

Marijuana users are dangerous drivers.  There is no roadside test to detect or to determine impairment.  Highway deaths will increase if marijuana is used more frequently in Florida.

Research shows that cannabinoids in marijuana are mind altering.  They will alter the consciousness and make any disease seem less severe.  The disease is not being treated.

And, the disease can be made worse.  Will the passionate supporters of “medical marijuana” obliterate years of scientific research that has revealed the dangers of marijuana? Will Florida use its citizens as experimental objects? Hopefully, Florida voters will not have to decide.

Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Copyright: 2013 Sun-Sentinel Company
Authors: Carlton Turner and Herbert Goldstein

When Bad Weed Moves In Next Door

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Tin foil on the windows, children’s toys that never seem to move from their spot in the front yard and neighbours who don’t seem to live in the home they own.

These are just some of the signs of a marijuana grow operation residents should look out for in their neighbourhood, police repeatedly warn.

According to a 2007 Royal Canadian Mounted Police report on drug offences, 60% of offences related to marijuana production occurred in a residence.

And an Ipsos Reid study in 2012 – prompted by the Ontario Real Estate Association – said almost a quarter of Ontario residents have “seen or know of homes in their neighbourhood that have been used as a marijuana grow operation.”

No one wants to live in a mouldy ex-drug lab.  A past history of drug production can lower a property’s value for years by 15-20%, and make home insurance a pain to maintain.

That’s why Markham realtor Cathy Innamorato did not buy a grow-op home, despite the fact that it had been remediated, leaving little concern for mould.

A conversation with her insurance company left her walking away from the home, she said, because she ran the risk of increasing premiums in the future.

“And you have no recourse,” Innamorato said.  “So because of that I decided against purchasing this property.”

Despite remediation – the process of eradicating mould and other damage done to a building following it’s use for illicit drugs – a grow house never truly shakes its drug-related stigma, she added.  Remediation reports often don’t guarantee the home’s condition 100% and insurance companies are reluctant to accept them.

“How is the buyer protected?” Innamorato said.

A central grow-op registry would have all grow-op houses listed, making it easier for realtors to be open and for buyers to be confident of their purchase.

The Ontario Real Estate Association repeated its call for the registry in early March, supporting Nepean-Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod’s recently tabled Clandestine Drug Operation Prevention Act.

“I think that there’s an appetite to protect our community and also crack down on this illicit activity,” MacLeod said.

The theft of hydro is a major related concern, as house grow-ops steal energy by rewiring, often risking electrical safety.

MacLeod said law-abiding customers wind up footing the bill for dollars lost to hydro theft.

“It’s quite significant, its a cost to our communities,” she said.

One man has made stigmatized properties his personal mission.

Barry Lebow, a GTA realtor and an expert in real estate stigma, said grow-ops can become long-lasting problems for homeowners and landlords when they try and sell their property in the future.

“Do you realize how many houses are stigmatized in this province?” Lebow said.  “Because the law is that there’s no such thing as a statute of limitations on stigma in Ontario.  It has to be reported forever.”

While he makes it clear he dislikes stigmatizing properties for housing as few as three or four marijuana plants – therefore causing no damage done to the home – he agrees a central registry disclosing grow-op homes ruined by organized criminal behaviour can help realtors and buyers.

“Where there’s been a professional criminal organization, that’s where I draw the line,” Lebow said.  “We have to quantify what they did to the house.”

There should be a difference between a home where a person has grown pot for recreational uses without touching the structure, and a home that has to be gutted after a massive grow operation, Lebow said.  Because the two aren’t the same.

“Therefore you have a problem on your hands because you’re stigmatizing people for something that really shouldn’t be stigmatized,” he said.

Lebow said he knows the impact of grow-ops on property owners.  He’s heard many stories of landlords who have returned to find tenants have ruined their investment homes by running grow-ops.  They take a huge loss of up to 20% in property value.

“Most of the houses that I’ve come across …  have been hardcore blue-collar people who have bought a house, put all their money in, and find out that they’ve got a 20% loss in value across the board,” Lebow said.  “Nobody can afford it but these people ( can afford the loss ) even less.”

Source: Sudbury Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2013 Osprey Media
Author: Maryam Shah

Experts Warn On Impact Of Legal Pot

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Legalizing marijuana in even a single state could drive down prices dramatically across the country, encouraging more people to smoke the drug, a panel of experts said at a briefing Tuesday.

Last week, Oregon became the third state that will vote this November on a ballot measure to legalize marijuana, joining Colorado and Washington.

“Legalization is unprecedented – not even the Netherlands has done it – – it is entirely possible it will happen this year,” said Jonathan Caulkins, co-author of “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know.”

“The effects will be enormous,” said Caulkins, a professor at Carnegie Mellon, during an event at the American Enterprise Institute.

The Obama administration opposes legalizing marijuana and has taken action to shut down some medical-marijuana dispensaries in California and Colorado.

Caulkins said one of the main reasons for outlawing the drug is to make it riskier to produce and sell, driving up prices and curbing use.  A price collapse after legalization in some states could undermine marijuana laws nationally.

Caulkins said Colorado’s proposition would allow residents to obtain a grower’s license fairly easily, making the state a good home for exporters of marijuana.

“They would be able to provide marijuana to New York state markets at one quarter of the current price,” he said, predicting similar price declines in other states.

Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, said his advice to federal officials would be “to sit down with the governor of the state and say, ‘Look, we can make your life completely miserable – and we will – unless you figure out a way to avoid the exports.”

One option would be to impose strict limits on how much of the drug retailers could sell to each customer.

Washington’s proposal would present authorities with a different problem.  The state is proposing to create a strong system of regulations with the aim of propping up prices.  Caulkins said the federal government could strike down the regulations but would leave a free for-all behind.

“The federal government will face some really difficult choices where actions are like double-edged swords,” Caulkins said.

ource: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2012 The Seattle Times Company
Contact: [email protected]
Author: Ian Duncan, Tribune Washington bureau