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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 12, 2014

    Americans believe that consuming cannabis poses less harm to health than does the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, or sugar, according to the findings of a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released today.

    Respondents were asked which of the four substances they believed to be “most harmful to a person’s overall health.” Most respondents said tobacco (49 percent), followed by alcohol (24 percent) and sugar (15 percent).

    Only eight percent of those surveyed said that they believed that marijuana was most harmful to health.

    The poll possesses a margin of error of +/- 3.10 percent.

    Commenting on the poll results, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “These results once again reaffirm that an overwhelming majority of the American public understands that any potential risks associated with the use or abuse of cannabis are relatively minor to those associated with many other legal and regulated substances. Criminalizing cannabis and those who consume it responsibly is a disproportionate public policy response to what is, at worst, a public health issue but not a criminal justice concern.”

    Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a schedule I controlled substance, meaning that its alleged harms are equal to those of heroin.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 3, 2013

    The inhalation of the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) significantly mitigates tobacco smokers’ desire for cigarettes, according to clinical trial data published online in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

    Investigators at University College London conducted a double blind pilot study to assess the impact of the ad-hoc consumption of organic CBD versus placebo in 24 tobacco-smoking subjects seeking to quit their habit. Participants were randomized to receive an inhaler containing CBD (n=12) or placebo (n=12) for one week. Trial investigators instructed subjects to use the inhaler when they felt the urge to smoke.

    Researchers reported: “Over the treatment week, placebo treated smokers showed no differences in number of cigarettes smoked. In contrast, those treated with CBD significantly reduced the number of cigarettes smoked by [the equivalent of] 40 percent during treatment.” Moreover, participants who used CBD did not report experiencing increased cravings for nicotine during the study’s duration.

    Investigators concluded, “This is the first study, as far as we are aware, to demonstrate the impact of CBD on cigarette smoking. … These preliminary data, combined with the strong preclinical rationale for use of this compound, suggest CBD to be a potential treatment for nicotine addiction that warrants further exploration.”

    Previously published clinical trials on CBD have found cannabidiol to be “safe and well tolerated” in healthy volunteers.

    Separate investigations of CBD have documented the cannabinoid to possess a variety of therapeutic properties, including anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, anti-epileptic, anti-cancer, and bone-stimulating properties.

    Full text of the study, “Cannabidiol reduces cigarette consumption in tobacco smokers: Preliminary findings,” appears online in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 30, 2012

    Writing in the journal Science some four decades ago, New York State University sociologist Erich Goode documented the mainstream media’s complicity in maintaining cannabis prohibition.

    He observed: “[T]ests and experiments purporting to demonstrate the ravages of marijuana consumption receive enormous attention from the media, and their findings become accepted as fact by the public. But when careful refutations of such research are published, or when later findings contradict the original pathological findings, they tend to be ignored or dismissed.”

    A review of today’s mainstream media landscape indicates that little has changed. While studies touting the purported dangers of cannabis are frequently pushed by the federal government and, therefore, all but assured mainstream media coverage, scientific conclusions rebutting pot propaganda or demonstrating potential positive aspects of the herb often tend to go unreported.

    Writing today on the website Alternet.org, I explore five recent scientific findings regarding cannabis that have gone all but unnoticed by the corporate media.

    Click here for the full story.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 3, 2012

    Ex-Drug Czar and lifelong (selective) prohibitionist William Bennett recently took to the mainstream blogosphere to criticize Pat Robertson’s ‘born again’ public support for marijuana legalization.

    Bennett’s specific criticisms of legalization — that it would simultaneously allow for “open and unrestricted drug use” by all, and that the plant’s perceived social costs would outweigh any economic benefits reaped by regulation — are predictably well worn, but they are nonetheless worth addressing.

    An excerpt of reply to Bennett is included below. You can read the full commentary here.

    Health and Societal Costs of Marijuana vs. Alcohol and Tobacco: Prohibitionists’ Concerns Answered and Refuted
    via Alternet.org

    Bennett’s latter charge — that regulating cannabis would dramatically increase societal costs — deserves more critical analysis. Bennett bases this allegation largely upon the premise that present taxes on alcohol and cigarettes fail to adequately pay for the social costs associated with these drugs’ use and abuse. True enough and perhaps a persuasive argument if, in fact, one was debating whether to criminally prohibit the use of booze and cigarettes (a public policy option that Bennett, a one-time heavy consumer of both substances, would no doubt oppose, despite the drugs’ heavy social toll). Nevertheless, Bennett’s premise is all but irrelevant to the marijuana legalization debate. Here’s why:

    Cannabis is safer than alcohol.

    Alcohol is toxic to healthy cells and organs, a side effect that results directly in about 35,000 deaths in the United States annually from illnesses such as cirrhosis of the liver, ulcers, cancer and heart disease. Heavy alcohol consumption can depress the central nervous system — inducing unconsciousness, coma and death — and is strongly associated with increased risks of injury. According to US Centers for Disease Control, alcohol plays a role in about 41,000 fatal accidents a year and in the commission of about one million violent crimes annually. Worldwide, the statistics are even grimmer. Stated a February 2011 World Health Organization report, alcohol consumption causes a staggering four percent of all deaths worldwide, more than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence.

    By contrast, the active compounds in marijuana, known as cannabinoids, are relatively nontoxic to humans. Unlike alcohol, marijuana is incapable of causing a fatal overdose, and its use is inversely associated with aggression and injury. According to a just-published review in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, “A direct comparison of alcohol and cannabis showed that alcohol was considered to be more than twice as harmful as cannabis to users, and five times more harmful as cannabis to others (society). … As there are few areas of harm that each drug can produce where cannabis scores are more [dangerous to health] than alcohol, we suggest that even if there were no legal impediment to cannabis use, it would be unlikely to be more harmful than alcohol.”

    Cannabis is far safer than tobacco.

    According to a 2009 white paper by the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse, health-related costs per user are eight times higher for drinkers than they are for those who use cannabis, and are more than 40 times higher for tobacco smokers. It states: “In terms of (health-related) costs per user: tobacco-related health costs are over $800 per user, alcohol-related health costs are much lower at $165 per user, and cannabis-related health costs are the lowest at $20 per user.”
    A previous analysis commissioned by the World Health Organization agreed, stating, “On existing patterns of use, cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in Western societies.” So then why is the federal government so worried about adults consuming it in the privacy of their own homes?

    Some tax revenue is better than no tax revenue.

    According to a 2007 George Mason University study, U.S. citizens each year spend about $113 billion on marijuana. Under prohibition, all of this spending is directed toward an underground economy and goes untaxed. That means state and local governments are presently collecting zero dollars to offset any existing societal and health costs related to recreational marijuana use. Therefore, the imposition of any retail tax or excise fee would be an improvement over the current situation.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director January 10, 2012

    Exposure to cannabis smoke, even over the long-term, is not associated with adverse effects on pulmonary function. That’s the conclusion of a major clinical trial published today in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

    Investigators at the University of California, San Francisco analyzed the association between marijuana exposure and pulmonary function over a 20 year period in a cohort of 5,115 men and women in four US cities.

    Predictably, researchers “confirmed the expected reductions in FEV1 (forced expiratory volume in the first second of expiration) and FVC (forced vital capacity)” in tobacco smokers. By contrast, “Marijuana use was associated with higher FEV1 and FVC at the low levels of exposure typical for most marijuana users. With up to 7 joint-years of lifetime exposure (eg, 1 joint/d for 7 years or 1 joint/wk for 49 years), we found no evidence that increasing exposure to marijuana adversely affects pulmonary function.”

    The study concludes, “Our findings suggest that occasional use of marijuana … may not be associated with adverse consequences on pulmonary function.”

    To those familiar with the science of cannabis, JAMA’s findings should come as no great surprise. They are consistent with previous findings reporting no significant decrease in pulmonary function associated with moderate cannabis smoke exposure. For instance, according to a 2007 literature review conducted by researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (and summarized by NORML here), cannabis smoke exposure is not associated airflow obstruction (emphysema), as measured by airway hyperreactivity, forced expiratory volume, or other measures.

    Further, in 2006, the results of the largest case-controlled study ever to investigate the respiratory effects of marijuana smoking reported that cannabis use was not associated with lung-related cancers, even among subjects who reported smoking more than 22,000 joints over their lifetime. (Read NORML’s summary of this study here.)

    “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,” the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Donald Tashkin of the University of California at Los Angeles stated. “What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect” among marijuana smokers who had lower incidences of cancer compared to non-users.

    A previous 1997 retrospective cohort study consisting of 64,855 examinees in the Kaiser Permanente multiphasic health checkup in San Francisco and Oakland also reported, “[E]ver- and current use of marijuana were not associated with increased risk of cancer … of the following sites: colorectal, lung, melanoma, prostate, breast, cervix.”

    Separate studies of cannabis smoke and pulmonary function have indicated that chronic exposure may be associated with an increased risk of certain respiratory complications, including cough, bronchitis, phlegm. However, the ingestion of cannabis via alternative methods such as edibles, liquid tinctures, or via vaporization — a process whereby the plant’s cannabinoids are heated to the point of vaporization but below the point of combustion –- virtually eliminates consumers’ exposure to such unwanted risk factors and has been determined to be a ‘safe and effective’ method of ingestion in clinical trial settings.

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