There are 166 million marijuana users in the world, representing 3.9 percent of Earth’s population between 15 and 64, according to a new study.
The herb is “most used among young people in rich countries,” led by the United States, Australia and New Zealand, followed by Europe, according to the paper, published in medical journal The Lancet on Friday, canada.com reports.
The study’s authors grudgingly admit that marijuana’s impact “is probably modest” compared with the burden from legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco. After all, these are scientists, and they do have to acknowledge those troublesome data.
But the scientists fall all over themselves rushing to warn that “cannabis has a long list of suspected adverse health effects,” dutifully toeing the line that “marijuana is dangerous,” while lacking any convincing evidence to prove that claim.
You’re probably asking, “What, exactly, are these ‘adverse health effects’? How have I managed not to notice any of them in my own life? If it isn’t doing all these horrible things to me, does that mean the pot I buy isn’t any good?!”
Excellent questions, Bong Boy.
Well, these guys, despite their own data, actually ask you to believe that marijuana is some pretty scary stuff, indeed.
Dangers supposedly “include the risk of dependence, car accidents, impaired breathing, damaged cardiovascular health, psychotic episodes and educational failure among teens who smoke the drug regularly.”
Even when the data offer absolutely no support for any anti-cannabis conclusion — for example, its effect on unborn children when mothers smoke pot — the study’s authors spin like crazy, trying to find something bad to say, some thread, no matter how tenuous, connecting marijuana to danger.
Here’s how they reluctantly admit pot doesn’t cause birth defects: “Use during pregnancy could reduce birthweight, but does not seem to cause birth defects. Whether cannabis contributes to behavioural disorders in the offspring of women is uncertain.”
Ummmkay. So in order to tell us it doesn’t cause birth defects, guys, do you really have to first mention some mythical birth-weight reduction (fat chance of that, what with Mom getting the munchies — one suspects they’ve falsely extrapolated tobacco data here), then mention the fact that maybe, just maybe, it might be possible pot has behavioral consequences on newborns, even though there are absolutely no data to prove that. To even mention it as a possibility equals talking out your ass.
But anyway, as disheartening as it is to see such tortured logic on the part of people who call themselves scientists, not to mention such a pathetic eagerness to please the Powers That Be by coming up with what sound anti-pot conclusions even in the almost complete absence of data to support that…
Let’s take their assertions of “danger” one by one, shall we?
• “Risk of dependence”: The study’s authors are forced by their own data to admit that marijuana, even if you insist upon defining it as an addictive substance, is far less so than other popular drugs.
According to the paper, only nine percent of people who ever use cannabis “become dependent on it,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. By comparison, the risk of addiction for nicotine is is whopping 32 percent, followed by 23 percent for heroin, 17 percent for cocaine and 15 percent for alcohol.
The study’s estimate of nine percent is probably inflated. Fewer than 1 percent of Americans smoke marijuana on a daily basis. An even smaller minority develop any kind of psychological “dependence” on marijuana. Marijuana doesn’t cause physical dependence, and many people who smoke pot heavily and frequently stop without difficulty. And if any withdrawal symptoms at all are experienced, they are remarkably mild.
But even going by the study’s own conclusions, if you smoke pot, there’s a 91 percent chance you won’t become “dependent.” Pretty favorable odds there, I’d say.
• “Car accidents”: It’s disappointing that scientists would mention this as if it were a proven danger, when almost no data exists to back it up. In fact, some of the data we do have indicates the opposite — that drivers under the influence of marijuana drive more carefully, to compensate for any impairment, and thus have fewer accidents than their non-stoned counterparts.
There is in fact “no compelling evidence that marijuana contributes substantially to traffic accidents and fatalities.” “The overall rate of highway accidents appears not be significantly affected by marijuana’s widespread use in society,” according to the Drug Policy Foundation.
According to the federal Department of Transportation (DOT), “THC is not a profoundly impairing drug… It apparently affects controlled information processing in a variety of laboratory tests, but not to the extent which is beyond the individual’s ability to control when he is motivated and permitted to do so in driving.” That’s from the report “Marijuana and Actual Performance,” DOT-HS-808-078.
• “Impaired breathing”: The study’s authors are forced by their own data to admit: “Evidence to support suspicions that cannabis causes cancer are inconclusive… because most frequent and long-term cannabis users also smoke tobacco.”
But, of course they are quick to remind us that “Cannabis smoke contains many of the same cancer-causing chemicals as tobacco smoke, and some of them in higher concentrations.” We are clearly being given to understand that pot’s probably more dangerous than tobacco, right?
Too bad that’s not supported by the data. Moderate smoking of marijuana appears to pose minimal danger to the lungs. Like tobacco smoke or any smoke for that matter, cannabis smoke contains a number of irritants and carcinogens. But pot users typically smoke much less often than tobacco smokers, and inhale much less smoke over time.
There have been no reports of lung cancer related solely to marijuana. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
The largest study of its kind ever performed — done with the expectation of proving a pot-cancer connection — unexpectedly concluded that smoking marijuana, even regularly and heavily, does not lead to lung cancer.
“We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use,” said Donald Tashkin of the University of California at Los Angeles, a pulmonologist who has studied marijuana for 30 years. “What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect.”
• “Damaged cardiovascular health”: Once again, the study’s authors appear to be extrapolating data from tobacco smokers and assuming “it must apply to pot smokers, too.” While that’s fine for dinner table conversation and living room debate, it’s not science, and it shouldn’t be presented as such.
Marijuana often does produce a temporary, moderate increase in blood pressure immediately after ingestion. But there is no evidence that pot use causes persistent hypertension or heart disease. Some users even say it helps them control high blood pressure by reducing stress.
Pot does increase pulse rates for about an hour. But then, so does exercise. Increased pulse rates are not generally harmful, unless you have heart disease, and in fact are usually defined as being good for you.
According to Dr. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard, one of the foremost marijuana experts in the world, the heart risk of smoking marijuana is “unlikely to be significant.”
“Conceivably, there is some risk,” Dr. Grinspoon said, “although if there is, it is barely measurable.”
“In 1997, Kaiser Permanente did a large-scale study which included more than 65,000 admitted marijuana users, and they could not demonstrate any impact of marijuana use on mortality,” Dr. Grinspoon said. “If marijuana use really was a significant risk factor for heart attack, it is hard to believe that it didn’t turn up there.”
• “Psychotic episodes”: You knew we had to get to Reefer Madness sooner or later, didn’t you? The study’s authors gravely inform us: “A high THC content can increase anxiety, depression and psychotic symptoms in naive users.”
Now, there are those of us who’d say that those first couple of times smoking pot are something of an initiation, and it’s certainly a good idea to have a more experienced user around a naive or first-time smoker.
But granting that is hardly the same thing as saying “pot makes you crazy.”
The British tabloid press has had quite a frenzy lately, running lurid headlines and scare stories about the supposed dire threat “Skunk,” a potent pot strain. (Anybody else getting as tired as I am of under-informed, pot-ignorant Brit journalists pretending “Skunk” is a whole different drug than pot? Marijuana is marijuana. End of story.)
After one controversial 2007 study — also, interestingly, published in The Lancet — proclaimed that smoking pot could boost one’s risk of “a psychotic episode” by 40 percent or more — Parliament stiffened U.K. cannabis laws.
In one fell swoop, marijuana possession was reclassified from a verbal warning to a criminal offense punishable by up to five years in prison. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, ex-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, and others cited the supposed “pot-schizophrenia link” as a major reason for the giant step backward.
But a newer study, published this year in the scientific journal Schizophrenia Research, found that widespread cannabis use by the public has not been followed by a proportional rise in diagnoses of schizophrenia or psychosis.
“This study does not therefore support the … link between cannabis use and incidence of psychotic disorders,” the study concludes, adding “This concurs with other reports indicating that increases in population cannabis use have not been followed by increases in psychotic incidence.”
It stands to reason, after all: If marijuana really led to psychosis, considering its curr
ent popularity, wouldn’t the streets be choked with burned-out, gibbering potheads?
ent popularity, wouldn’t the streets be choked with burned-out, gibbering potheads?
Film director John Holowach, responsible for the documentary High: The True Tale of American Marijuana, wasn’t surprised. “I’ve said it for years now,” Holowach told Toke of the Town. “If pot and mental illness were linked, the two should rise and fall with one another, but they don’t.”
The results of another clinical trial published this year also indicate that the recreational use of marijuana does not affect brain chemistry in a way that is consistent with the development of schizophrenia.
• “Educational failure among teens who smoke the drug regularly”: For decades, researchers have endeavored to find a marijuana-induced amotivational syndrome — and they’ve failed to find it.
If pot, as one of its intrinsic properties, inevitably led to “educational failure,” one would expect that trend to continue across age groups. How inconvenient that the data show otherwise! College students who use marijuana have the same grades as non-users.
And among working adults, marijuana users tend to earn higher wages than non-users.
People who choose to remain constantly intoxicated, of course, often choose not to indulge in other pursuits; there is nothing specifically about marijuana that causes people to lose drive and ambition, or to make bad grades.
Among those high school students where heavy marijuana use is associated with school failure, studies have shown school failure usually comes first.
So much for every single one of the “major health concerns” cited by the study.
Here’s a tip for the study’s authors: Next time you find it politically expedient to tack supposed “adverse effects” on a marijuana study that shows no such things? You might want to pick ones that are, you know, supported by the data, and stuff. ‘K? Thx.
The study, authored by Australian professors Wayne Hall and Louisa Degenhardt, is an interesting overview of published research into cannabis use and extracts.
However, in addition to the supposed “health concerns” evidently tacked on to the study for politically expedient reasons, some observers of the marijuana scene decry the additional problem that it appears to seriously underestimate usage rates in developing countries such as Jamaica, India, and Thailand.