With organizations like truth.org enlightening the public about the deadly researched effects of cigarette use through anti-tobacco ads, we have seen the number of cigarette smokers, particularly teens, decline dramatically. As marijuana becomes more mainstream, scientists are beginning to research the effects of cannabis smoke in addition to that of tobacco. It has long been believed (with improper evidence) that inhaling marijuana smoke kills brain cells, causes cancer, and destroys your lungs' functioning capabilities, among other things. However, like our previous ignorance with regard to tobacco and cigarettes being so deadly and addictive, our ignorance is continued thanks in large to the vilification of marijuana and the naivety with which we accept the wide range of tabloid reports about the negative effects of the cannabis plant while ignoring the positive ones.
The whole idea of a substance being classified federally as a schedule one narcotic while simultaneously being legal for both recreational use (in four states) and medical use (in twenty-three additional states) is utterly ridiculous. While there has never been a reported incident where marijuana has killed someone, the number of deaths that occur annually from painkillers and prescription drugs is in the tens of thousands, with the rate steadily increasing each year from 2001 until now. The number of people killed annually from other schedule one narcotics, like heroin and cocaine, also number in the thousands (drugabuse.gov). Despite these statistics and surmounting evidence to the contrary, social perceptions still regard marijuana as a dangerous drug; at the very least people note that it “has to be bad for your lungs and it still causes cancer.” Well… I have some news for you. According to multiple studies - one from our federal government, another from researchers at Emory University, and one from UCLA’s notorious marijuana researcher Donald P. Tashkin - not only is marijuana not linked with lung damage at all, but it also is not cancerous.
In 2006, Dr. Donald Tashkin, a pulmonologist at the University of California at Los Angeles that has studied cannabis for over 30 years, ran a study to test his hypothesis that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and cancer. After the experiment, however, he “found instead [that there] was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect [against cancer].” The study tested heavy marijuana smokers (those that have smoked more than 22,000 times) and moderately heavy marijuana users (those who've smoked between 11,000 and 22,000 times). What Tashkin found astonished him: Marijuana smokers, from moderate to even the heaviest of smokers, showed no “increased incidence of the three cancers studied.” These findings, especially juxtaposed with one of his earlier studies that found marijuana tar to have “fifty percent higher concentrations of chemicals linked to cancer than tobacco cigarette tar” seem abnormal to say the least. However, from this newest experiment, Dr. Tashkin tells us that the main chemical in marijuana known as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) may kill aging cells and therefore keep them from becoming cancerous in the first place (Washington Post).
A more recent study performed by government researchers in 2012 took five thousand people over two decades and measured their performance on a lung function test. The question was whether or not long-term marijuana use can cause lung damage similar to that of tobacco. Again, in a shocking turn, researchers found that smoking on a regular basis does not impair lung function. Even stranger, they also found that “compared to nonsmokers, marijuana users performed slightly better on the lung function test, though the improvement was minuscule.” Although the author of the study, Dr. Stefan Kertesz, doubts that there is any real increase in lung health, he does believe that the “findings may reflect marijuana smokers’ years of ‘training’ in taking deep inhalations and holding the smoke” (New York Times).
Perhaps this is how Michael Phelps was able to pull out that slight fingertip gold medal victory in the 2008 Olympics over Serbian swimmer Milorad Cavic to tie Mark Spitz’s gold medal record? But, in all seriousness, the plethora of positive studies like this should at least have us questioning our prior views towards marijuana. However, we as a society seem to be more concerned with questioning scientists and legitimate peer-journaled studies before questioning our own societal constructs. The crazy (and further convincing) part is that, when setting off to perform these studies, their administrators are usually vying to prove that marijuana is harmful, but their research and experiments end up proving the opposite.
While the lung function studies left little room for argument, researchers at Emory University still felt it necessary to perform another study that mimicked the 2012 study. The results were the same as before. Even after twenty years, smoking one doobie (marijuana cigarette or joint) a day will not harm your lungs. These researchers discovered that “adults aged 18 to 59 who smoked one marijuana cigarette a day were still able to forcibly exhale the same volume of air in one second as someone who didn’t smoke marijuana.” The research also found that marijuana users who smoked joints are also more likely to:
Report minor bronchitis-like symptoms such as a cough and sore throat… [however] [t]hese effects appeared less often in smokers who used vaporizers, which heat the marijuana up just enough to release the active chemicals without combusting them. That meant it probably wasn’t the marijuana that caused the symptoms, but the papers the participants used to roll their joints (Medical Daily).
Social perceptions are hard to change, especially ones that have been deeply engrained in our society for so many decades. The increased amount of research, however, as well as the progressive legislation on marijuana reform, is encouraging. While we know so much now about tobacco, nicotine, and cigarettes, we still know so little about a naturally growing substance that has provided miraculous medical benefits. One thing for sure is that we need to commit ourselves to conducting more research and spreading awareness about the findings.