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Monday, 11 November, 2002, 22:23 GMT
Cannabis smoke 'worse' than tobacco
Smoking pure cannabis is more harmful to lungs than tobacco, a health charity is warning.
A study by the British Lung Foundation found that just three cannabis joints a day cause the same damage as 20 cigarettes.
Evidence shows that tar from cannabis cigarettes contains 50% more cancer causing carcinogens than tobacco.
Dr Mark Britton, chairman of the British Lung Foundation, said: "These statistics will come as a surprise to many people, especially those who choose to smoke cannabis rather than tobacco in the belief it is safer for them.
"It is vital that people are fully aware of the dangers so they can make an educated decision and know the damage they may be causing."
Dr Britton emphasised that the British Lung Foundation report - called A Smoking Gun? - was "not about the moral rights and wrongs of cannabis".
But, he said, they simply wanted to make sure people were completely clear about the respiratory health risks involved.
Surveys carried out earlier this year showed that 79% of children believed that cannabis was 'safe'.
Only 2% understood correctly that there are health risks associated with smoking the drug.
The British Lung Foundation report also shows that the health dangers of cannabis have substantially increased since the 1960s.
That means that clinical studies carried out in the sixties and seventies may well underestimate the ill effects of smoking the drug.
This is due to increased amounts of THC - or delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, the major active chemical compound - in the cannabis consumed today.
In the brain, THC connects to specific sites called cannabinoid receptors on nerve cells and thereby influences the activity of those cells.
Many cannabinoid receptors are found in the parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thought, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement.
Dame Helena Shovelton, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: "Puff and inhalation volume with cannabis is up to four times higher than with tobacco - in other words you inhale deeper and hold your breath with the smoke for longer before exhaling.
"This result in more poisonous carbon monoxide and tar entering into the lungs."
The British Lung Foundation is calling for the government to implement a public health education on the health risks of cannabis.
The charity will also be pushing for further research into cannabis and the lungs and its potential link with the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Read a selection of your comments on this subject.
As a secondary school teacher, I constantly have to correct the almost universal misconception amongst teenagers that smoking cannabis is harmless, or at least much safer than tobacco-smoking. This report will perhaps change the behaviour of a few, to whom health risks are a significant factor in their recreational drug use.
Almost everything is bad for your health if taken in excess. How big a killer would stress be if we didn't have alcohol, tobacco and hash?
Andrew Nason, USA
Was this research published in a peer-reviewed medical journal somewhere? I didn't see a reference. That's not a guarantee that the research is good, but it's a reasonable way for non-experts like me to gauge the study's quality.
This report has elements which are as expected as they are unexpected. After a cigarette is re-rolled with cannabis, it is smoked filterless. So is it surprising that the effect of smoking three joints with no filter is as harmful as smoking 20 filtered cigarettes?? Not to me, I'm afraid...
bob collens, Canada
I'm surprised how rarely mentioned are the alternatives to smoking hash or grass. Treated like any other cooking ingredient (dried) it can be added to everything from pizza to brown bread and biscuits. Smoking isn't very comfortable but eating can be yummy. In moderation, just a pinch, see package for details.
Just because we have other things which are bad for you legalised, doesn't mean that we should make cannabis legal - it has often been said that if cigarettes and alcohol had been discovered in a more recent age, they would have been criminalised. It's too late for them, but not too late to stop people harming themselves and others whilst under the influence of weed. People are trying to help us, what's wrong with their advice? Chill out, people...
I think most cannabis smokers are well aware of the risks. I, for one, would welcome decriminalization and taxing. I don't have a problem paying for the associated health problems from smoking. Perhaps the politicians should look at the statistics for abuse suffered from alcohol. I've never seen someone high on pot abuse someone. Too much work!
It is a report that makes for worrying reading. I'm not sure that people will believe the basic message though, or heed it even if they do.
I always thought that smoking cannabis was safer than tobacco, so it's a bit of a shock. I'm grateful for this research.
We could put these health warnings on the packet cannabis is sold in, as we already do with tobacco. But only if we legalise the market.
Simon Donovan, Britain
None of this is news. The increased health risks caused by inhaling more and for longer have been talked about for years.
I think the government should be pressing tobacco companies to control what kinds of chemicals are added to tobacco, rather than try to continuously rule our lives.
I'm sure it is bad for you, you never see an athletic hash smoker breaking any records! But then again so is bacon, sex, beer and all things good!
David M, UK
At least cannabis is typically additive-free. Compare that to the amount of rubbish the tobacco companies put in cigarettes - saltpetre, flavour enhancers, preservatives, and so on.
Most users will simply not smoke three joints of pure grass in a day! And cannabis users tend to share. And most importantly, THC is far less addictive than nicotine.
People who smoke will suffer more illness in older age and like tobacco smokers, place a disproportionate strain on health services - so they should pay more to cover this cost. Cannabis should be taxed heavily like tobacco. Such a shame the government prefers to subcontract distribution to the criminal fraternity, and do so tax free!!
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