Affidavit by Dr. Grinspoon (Canada, 1997)
Marijuana myths (by Paul Hager)
The truth is that these risks vary enormously from substance to substance, including legal ones such as alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. In practice there is no direct corelation between the legal status of a drug and its dangers (other than danger of being arrested). Some of the most dangerous drugs are legal while some of the least dangerous ones are strictly prohibited. These double standards lead to disrespect for the law and make drug prohibition unenforcable.
The Japanese term for "drugs" is mayaku which literally means "hemp drugs" and so many people naively believe that what is true for any of these drugs is true for all. This is not the case. There is little that these drugs have in common that they don't share with legal substances such as tobacco and alcohol.
Unlike opiates, alcohol and nicotine marijuana is not known to cause physical addiction, has no withdrawal symptoms, causes few problems with tolerance and is extremely safe with regards to overdoses. It is only relatively mildly intoxicating when compared to alcohol. But don't take our word for it, read for yourself!
Ratings by Dr. Jack Henningfeld, NIDA:According to these ratings, marijuana is about as addictive a drug as coffee while alcohol, nicotine, cocaine and heroin are more risky, some considerably so. Alcohol is rated the most dangerous on withdrawal, as sudden abstinence can have life-threatening effects for an alcoholic. Alcohol is rated the most intoxicating of all the drugs listed while nicotine dependence is rated even ahead of heroin.
Dr. Henningfeld works for the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the U.S. government institution that conducts or finances about 80% of all drug abuse research worldwide.
Ratings by Dr. Neal L. Benowitz, University of California, San Francisco:The exact ratings by Dr. Benowitz were a little different, but the ranking is basically the same: Marijuana is one of the least addictive recreational substances, more comparable to coffee than to heroin or alcohol.
An adult would have to consume the marijuana of several thousand joints in a single day to run a risk of a fatal overdose. It is simply impossible to kill oneself by smoking or even eating too much marijuana, though it is fairly easy to kill oneself by drinking a large bottle of whisky at once. Swallowing about fifty aspirin tablets will lead to unstoppable stomach bleeding that can be fatal.The nicotine contained in two or three cigarettes when eaten will kill a healthy adult and a single cigarette can be lethal to a baby.
In 5.000 years of recorded marijuana history not a single person is known to have died from a marijuana overdose. Judge Young concluded: "Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man."
The moderate risks associated with smoked marijuana can be avoided altogether by using it orally, as tea or cooked into food, which is how it has been used for centuries in India and other countries. In the late 19th century drug cannabis in the West was applied mostly as a tincture, in food or as a drink, while smoking was relatively uncommon. Unlike tobacco which can lead to cancer even when chewed or used as snuff, herbal cannabis itself is non-toxic and does not contain any known cancer-causing substances. There is even some data that suggests that THC, the main active ingredient of marijuana, can help prevent cancer. Using cannabis orally has become uncommon because of high prices when it was made illegal, as oral use requires higher doses and smoking uses the expensive drug more effeciently. If marijuana was available legally at lower prices then far fewer people would smoke it and more would eat or drink it, eliminating all respiratory risks at once.
If science were to prove serious risks from smoking cannabis similar to those demonstrated for tobacco then the most effective response from a public health point of view would not be to arrest users, which has proven ineffective, but to suggest safer alternatives and to educate users about whatever risks there are.
There has been limited research into vaporizers or inhalers (as used for asthma treatment), devices which allow for rapid onset of THC-response for patients without generating irritating smoke. Development of such alternatives was suggested by the American Institute of Medicine to the US government in a study ordered by "drug czar" McCaffrey. Currently, so-called "drug paraphernalia" laws that have been passed in many US-states make it illegal to sell or possess any device meant for consuming illegal drugs, even though some of these devices would avoid most of the risks associated with smoked cannabis.
This may sound like a bold statement, but it comes from the premier medical publication in the UK, and there are good reasons why the authors chose to make that statement. Though marijuana smoke consists largely of of the same substances as tobacco smoke does (such as carbon monoxide and tars) there are still some major differences:
Most tobacco users are daily smokers while most marijuana users are not. Only about a quarter of all Americans who have ever tried marijuana used it in the previous twelve months. Only half of those used it during the previous month. Many users only use it at parties, on weekends, or a single joint in the evening, to relax after a day's work. Unlike nicotine THC is not addictive and no serious withdrawal symptoms are produced when use of the drug is stopped even after extended periods of regular use. Another difference is that like with crack cocaine the effects of nicotine on the central nervous system wear off after only about 15 minutes while THC remains active for between one and four hours. If the effects of the particular drug are experienced pleasant then one would have to smoke a lot more cigarettes than joints to experience those effects for any length of time. This is why 65% of male cigarette smokers in Japan smoke between 20 and 40 cigarettes per day, while even heavy marijuana smokers smoke no more than maybe 5 times a day. Furthermore, a tobacco cigarette is twice the weight of a typical marijuana joint and the difference is even greater when compared to higher grade marijuana.
Long-term studies by Dr. Donald Tashkin of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) showed that lung function degrades with age by about as much for marijuana-only smokers as for non-smokers. Lung function degraded much more dramatically amongst tobacco-only smokers. Smokers who used both tobacco and marijuana actually did a little better than tobacco-only smokers, as the latter probably smoked more cigarettes in total.
The bottom line is that whatever risks there are from cannabis smoke, in practice they are likely to be significantly lower than for tobacco smoke. So far scientists have been unable to establish conclusive evidence of a relationship between marijuana smoking and lung cancer or other serious diseases that often affect tobacco smokers, despite millions of dollars of government money spent specifically trying to establish such links.
The largest study conducted so far involved 65,171 patients of the American medical insurance company Kaiser Permanente and was completed in June 1996. It found that marijuana-smoking women and men had a lower death rate than either cigarette smokers or people who drank three beers or more per day.
As long as cigarettes and beer remain legal while marijuana is not, the legal status of these drugs is inconsistent with their risks and people are given the false impression that alcohol and cigarettes are less harmful than cannabis when in truth they are much more harmful.
Affidavit by Dr. Grinspoon (Canada, 1997)