Highly toxic?

The Northern Echo: CLASS B DRUG: But cannabis smokers may be exposing themselves to a higher risk of lung cancer CLASS B DRUG: But cannabis smokers may be exposing themselves to a higher risk of lung cancer

A report claiming one cannabis joint is as harmful as up to 20 legal cigarettes has divided opinion in the medical world. So just how dangerous is the drug? Health and Education Editor Barry Nelson reports

WHILE cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in the UK, with more than two million people admitting to having used it in the past year, a leading charity claims there is still a dangerous lack of public awareness of how harmful it can be.

The British Lung Foundation (BLF) has just published a report which asserts that the risk of developing lung cancer is up to 20 times greater from a cannabis joint than a legal tobacco cigarette.

But the report has been condemned by both the respected expert on drugs Professor David Nutt, the Government’s former chief drugs advisor, who points out that it is “unfounded inference”, and cannabis law reform campaigning group Clear, which insists it is “scaremongering and exaggeration”.

The BLF report says there are “strong associations between smoking cannabis and many lung and respiratory illnesses, including tuberculosis, acute bronchitis and lung cancer”.

It says it is also strongly associated with suppression of the immune system and heart disease.

Yet, according to the charity, there is an “alarming disconnect” between the public perception of cannabis as a relatively safe drug and the impact it can have on the lungs.

The charity states that the risk of developing lung cancer is up to 20 times greater in a cannabis cigarette than in a tobacco cigarette – yet 88 per cent of the 1,045 British people it questioned believed tobacco cigarettes pose the greater risk.

Dame Helena Shovelton, the BLF’s chief executive, said: “It is alarming that, while new research continues to reveal the multiple health consequences of smoking cannabis, there is still a dangerous lack of public awareness of quite how harmful this drug can be.

“Young people in particular are smoking cannabis unaware that, for instance, each cannabis cigarette they smoke could increase their chances of developing lung cancer by as much as an entire packet of 20 tobacco cigarettes.”

The BLF says the average puff on a cannabis cigarette is two-thirds larger and is held for four times longer than the average puff on a tobacco cigarette.

As a result, it says, someone smoking a cannabis cigarette inhales much more tar and carbon monoxide.

Cannabis is one of the most widely-used recreational drugs in the UK, with nearly a third of the population having tried it.

Dame Helena says: “We need a serious public health campaign to finally dispel the myth that smoking cannabis is a safe pastime.”

However, Prof Nutt, chairman of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD), says its claims about the harm cannabis may do to the lungs are unfounded and based on only one study.

He adds that the report’s interpretation that a cannabis joint may be as carcinogenic as up to 20 cigarettes is “dubious”.

PROF Nutt also warns: “If the BLF’s misguided information is believed, people could actually be put at greater risk of lung cancer, for example by cutting down on the cannabis in their joints and padding them out with more tobacco.”

Psychiatrist and ISCD member Dr Tim Williams says that cannabis research is complicated by the fact that most cannabis is usually smoked with tobacco.

“We need to be honest and say we don’t actually know the risks associated with cannabis,” he says.

Teenage cannabis smokers have a higher risk of developing psychotic symptoms later in life, perhaps because their developing brains are more vulnerable.

However, while cannabis use has soared in the UK, he points out that levels of schizophrenia have not and there is no global effect of cannabis causing schizophrenia or psychotic illness in older brains that don’t already have mental problems.

Dr Williams says that the drug does have a higher concentration of certain cancer-causing compounds than nicotine.

However, the potential cancer risks are reduced as cannabis users generally smoke fewer cigarettes than tobacco smokers and most give up the drug in their 30s.

Evidence is emerging that cannabis is beneficial to people with multiple sclerosis (MS), says Dr Williams, and in 2010 the symptom relief drug Sativex, which includes cannabis extract, was licensed for the treatment of spasticity in people with MS.

One of the first UK patients to use Sativex, a former North-East nurse, told The Northern Echo in 2008: “This is the first MS drug I have taken which helps me and has no side-effects.

It works within about 15 minutes…it has taken me two years of misery to get this drug and I feel that is should be much easier for people with MS to get Sativex.”

SOME argue cannabis use leads to stronger drugs, such as heroin, but Dr Williams points out that early alcohol use and cigarette smoking also predicts future cannabis use.

He adds: “We can be certain that there are some elements of harm to cannabis, but when put against the harm associated with alcohol, tobacco and heroin, for example, it’s much lower.

“We have to accept there is a large amount of cannabis smoking out there, so what can we do to reduce the risk to these people?”

Apart from the health risks of cannabis, The Northern Echo reports on an almost daily basis how people are criminalised because of growing and dealing in the drug, while others are subjected to violence and intimidation because this brings them into contact with criminal gangs.

Only this week it was reported how a 34 year old man from Billingham was spared jail after a gang broke his nose with a hammer and threatened to shoot him unless he managed a cannabis farm.

Cannabis Facts

• Two million people in the UK smoke cannabis, and half of all 16 to 29-year-olds have tried it at least once.

• Cannabis was re-classified in January 2009 and is now a Class B drug. The maximum penalty for possession is five years in prison and/or an unlimited fine, or both, and 14 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine for dealing or supplying.

• About one-in-ten cannabis users have unpleasant experiences, including confusion, hallucinations, anxiety and paranoia.

• The amount of the main psychoactive ingredient, THC, in herbal cannabis varies from one per cent to 15 per cent, and newer strains, including skunk, can contain up to 20 per cent.

• Cannabis Law Reform (Clear) is encouraging those who use cannabis not to smoke it with tobacco.

• The Royal College of Psychiatrists has produced a leaflet on cannabis and mental health, available from rcpsych.ac.uk

Comments (10)

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12:28pm Sat 16 Jun 12

TheInsideStory says...

Thanks for posting a balanced and reasoned article on this topic. I've been dismayed reading the rest of the press simply reporting the BLF's story as gospel, without questioning it. Kudos on the excellent journalism.
Thanks for posting a balanced and reasoned article on this topic. I've been dismayed reading the rest of the press simply reporting the BLF's story as gospel, without questioning it. Kudos on the excellent journalism. TheInsideStory
  • Score: 3

12:28pm Sat 16 Jun 12

PoetPeter says...

The most dangerous thing about cannabis is smoking it with tobacco.

Full details of the CLEAR TOKEpure campaign here:

http://www.clear-uk.
org/tokepure/
The most dangerous thing about cannabis is smoking it with tobacco. Full details of the CLEAR TOKEpure campaign here: http://www.clear-uk. org/tokepure/ PoetPeter
  • Score: 7

12:33pm Sat 16 Jun 12

TheCannabisGeek.Com says...

Very balanced reporting, great article. There are plenty of safer means of consuming cannabis once you get rid of tobacco.

http://thecannabisge
ek.com/life-after-sm
oke-healthier-ways-t
o-consume-cannabis/
Very balanced reporting, great article. There are plenty of safer means of consuming cannabis once you get rid of tobacco. http://thecannabisge ek.com/life-after-sm oke-healthier-ways-t o-consume-cannabis/ TheCannabisGeek.Com
  • Score: 5

12:41pm Sat 16 Jun 12

TheBeardedDread says...

I have a history of respiratory illness (asthma, bronchitis, etc for as long as I can remember) and used to suffer from at least one chest infection every winter. Since I stopped smoking cigarettes, no more chest infections. I have been smoking cannabis regularly for well over a decade and my asthma has not put in an appearance since I started. My own experience tells me that this report is based on right-wing lies.
I have a history of respiratory illness (asthma, bronchitis, etc for as long as I can remember) and used to suffer from at least one chest infection every winter. Since I stopped smoking cigarettes, no more chest infections. I have been smoking cannabis regularly for well over a decade and my asthma has not put in an appearance since I started. My own experience tells me that this report is based on right-wing lies. TheBeardedDread
  • Score: 7

12:45pm Sat 16 Jun 12

focusonpeace says...

Professor Nutt is right, keep calm and carry on. If the BLF actually cared about the lungs of cannabis smokers, instead of scaremongering they should advise users to stop mixing tobacco in the joint, or swap the joint for a glass pipe/water bong, or if they have the money buy a vaporizer! Or simply bake cookies with it. There is NO association between pure cannabis smoke and lung cancer or COPD. The danger is tobacco!

http://www.scientifi
camerican.com/articl
e.cfm?id=large-study
-finds-no-link
Professor Nutt is right, keep calm and carry on. If the BLF actually cared about the lungs of cannabis smokers, instead of scaremongering they should advise users to stop mixing tobacco in the joint, or swap the joint for a glass pipe/water bong, or if they have the money buy a vaporizer! Or simply bake cookies with it. There is NO association between pure cannabis smoke and lung cancer or COPD. The danger is tobacco! http://www.scientifi camerican.com/articl e.cfm?id=large-study -finds-no-link focusonpeace
  • Score: 4

1:05pm Sat 16 Jun 12

handytrim says...

Great balanced piece and I commend Mr Nelson for not resorting to the usual headline grabbing rubbish that most of our leading newspapers resort to. I only wish that every story was as balanced and based on facts as this one.

My only criticism is in the reference to "skunk". Skunk is a street term used to describe good quality herbal cannabis. The majority of herbal cannabis that used to be available in the UK was low quality 'bush-weed' which was usually full of seeds twigs and was a more resinous (and low THC) variety.

With advancements in how cannabis is grown, such as hydroponics, the availability of better quality herbal cannabis has increased.

As mentioned in the piece when cannabis was reclassified our then PM Gordon Brown used the infamous "skunk is lethal" speech to push forward the reclassification (of which he has now openly admitted to the Leveson enquiry was not based on any scientific evidence or advice) and since then the word skunk has been used mainly as propaganda against cannabis.

However it is true that many of these newer and better grown strains contain a greater percentage of THC than the other compounds within its make up. One of which is CBD, which in studies has proven an effective anti-psychotic, which therefore counteracts some of the less desirable effects of THC such as paranoia.

It is thanks to an unregulated market that this has happened and that the majority of people are unaware why higher THC cannabis could have unpleasant effects when used. It is pretty much the same as buying an unlabelled bottle of alcohol from an off-licence, apart from that unlabelled alcohol could potentially kill you of course.

The term skunk should symbolise all that is wrong and ridiculous when it comes to the ineffectiveness of prohibition.
Great balanced piece and I commend Mr Nelson for not resorting to the usual headline grabbing rubbish that most of our leading newspapers resort to. I only wish that every story was as balanced and based on facts as this one. My only criticism is in the reference to "skunk". Skunk is a street term used to describe good quality herbal cannabis. The majority of herbal cannabis that used to be available in the UK was low quality 'bush-weed' which was usually full of seeds twigs and was a more resinous (and low THC) variety. With advancements in how cannabis is grown, such as hydroponics, the availability of better quality herbal cannabis has increased. As mentioned in the piece when cannabis was reclassified our then PM Gordon Brown used the infamous "skunk is lethal" speech to push forward the reclassification (of which he has now openly admitted to the Leveson enquiry was not based on any scientific evidence or advice) and since then the word skunk has been used mainly as propaganda against cannabis. However it is true that many of these newer and better grown strains contain a greater percentage of THC than the other compounds within its make up. One of which is CBD, which in studies has proven an effective anti-psychotic, which therefore counteracts some of the less desirable effects of THC such as paranoia. It is thanks to an unregulated market that this has happened and that the majority of people are unaware why higher THC cannabis could have unpleasant effects when used. It is pretty much the same as buying an unlabelled bottle of alcohol from an off-licence, apart from that unlabelled alcohol could potentially kill you of course. The term skunk should symbolise all that is wrong and ridiculous when it comes to the ineffectiveness of prohibition. handytrim
  • Score: 4

1:16pm Sat 16 Jun 12

focusonpeace says...

handytrim wrote:
Great balanced piece and I commend Mr Nelson for not resorting to the usual headline grabbing rubbish that most of our leading newspapers resort to. I only wish that every story was as balanced and based on facts as this one.

My only criticism is in the reference to "skunk". Skunk is a street term used to describe good quality herbal cannabis. The majority of herbal cannabis that used to be available in the UK was low quality 'bush-weed' which was usually full of seeds twigs and was a more resinous (and low THC) variety.

With advancements in how cannabis is grown, such as hydroponics, the availability of better quality herbal cannabis has increased.

As mentioned in the piece when cannabis was reclassified our then PM Gordon Brown used the infamous "skunk is lethal" speech to push forward the reclassification (of which he has now openly admitted to the Leveson enquiry was not based on any scientific evidence or advice) and since then the word skunk has been used mainly as propaganda against cannabis.

However it is true that many of these newer and better grown strains contain a greater percentage of THC than the other compounds within its make up. One of which is CBD, which in studies has proven an effective anti-psychotic, which therefore counteracts some of the less desirable effects of THC such as paranoia.

It is thanks to an unregulated market that this has happened and that the majority of people are unaware why higher THC cannabis could have unpleasant effects when used. It is pretty much the same as buying an unlabelled bottle of alcohol from an off-licence, apart from that unlabelled alcohol could potentially kill you of course.

The term skunk should symbolise all that is wrong and ridiculous when it comes to the ineffectiveness of prohibition.
Completely agree, 'Skunk' is just a name of a specific cannabis strain like 'White Widow' or 'Blue Dream', yet its being used to describe high THC low CBD strains. Take a look at this copy and paste......

-The term "skunk" has been misappropriated and used very effectively by certain sections of society to caricature, demonise and distance cannabis from the mildly psychoactive plant that it actually is.

The deliberate and specious differentiation between skunk and cannabis seeks to create the myth that it is a separate and more dangerous substance than the one that most people know of and to give it some sort of bogeyman status. The truth: skunk is cannabis.

It is a strain of cannabis bred by the Dutch in the 1980s, originally called "skunk#1". Since then, hundreds of different strains have been created, all of which have different growing characteristics, strengths, flavours and names. These are not skunk. To name all unpollinated female flowers of the cannabis plant under a catch-all agenda-laden media-friendly label is at best doing the growers a disservice, at worst blatantly lying to serve an ulterior motive. After all, the practice of separating the male plants from the females to produce "sinsemilla" (meaning without seeds) in order to potentate the active ingredients has been around long before the 1980s. It is nothing new. Similarly, strawberry growers discourage "runners" from forming as they cause the plant to put less energy into fruiting.

This kind of growing is no different to the use of F1 hybrid seeds by the average gardener to increase crop yield, aid resistance to disease or improve flavour of everyday crops like carrots or tomatoes. But I guess if you have an agenda to push, then, from the prohibitionist point of view, "mind-bending super-potent drug scourge" works better than "selectively bred cross-pollinated plant".-


Link to website -

http://www.uk420.com
/boards/index.php?sh
owtopic=133483
[quote][p][bold]handytrim[/bold] wrote: Great balanced piece and I commend Mr Nelson for not resorting to the usual headline grabbing rubbish that most of our leading newspapers resort to. I only wish that every story was as balanced and based on facts as this one. My only criticism is in the reference to "skunk". Skunk is a street term used to describe good quality herbal cannabis. The majority of herbal cannabis that used to be available in the UK was low quality 'bush-weed' which was usually full of seeds twigs and was a more resinous (and low THC) variety. With advancements in how cannabis is grown, such as hydroponics, the availability of better quality herbal cannabis has increased. As mentioned in the piece when cannabis was reclassified our then PM Gordon Brown used the infamous "skunk is lethal" speech to push forward the reclassification (of which he has now openly admitted to the Leveson enquiry was not based on any scientific evidence or advice) and since then the word skunk has been used mainly as propaganda against cannabis. However it is true that many of these newer and better grown strains contain a greater percentage of THC than the other compounds within its make up. One of which is CBD, which in studies has proven an effective anti-psychotic, which therefore counteracts some of the less desirable effects of THC such as paranoia. It is thanks to an unregulated market that this has happened and that the majority of people are unaware why higher THC cannabis could have unpleasant effects when used. It is pretty much the same as buying an unlabelled bottle of alcohol from an off-licence, apart from that unlabelled alcohol could potentially kill you of course. The term skunk should symbolise all that is wrong and ridiculous when it comes to the ineffectiveness of prohibition.[/p][/quote]Completely agree, 'Skunk' is just a name of a specific cannabis strain like 'White Widow' or 'Blue Dream', yet its being used to describe high THC low CBD strains. Take a look at this copy and paste...... -The term "skunk" has been misappropriated and used very effectively by certain sections of society to caricature, demonise and distance cannabis from the mildly psychoactive plant that it actually is. The deliberate and specious differentiation between skunk and cannabis seeks to create the myth that it is a separate and more dangerous substance than the one that most people know of and to give it some sort of bogeyman status. The truth: skunk is cannabis. It is a strain of cannabis bred by the Dutch in the 1980s, originally called "skunk#1". Since then, hundreds of different strains have been created, all of which have different growing characteristics, strengths, flavours and names. These are not skunk. To name all unpollinated female flowers of the cannabis plant under a catch-all agenda-laden media-friendly label is at best doing the growers a disservice, at worst blatantly lying to serve an ulterior motive. After all, the practice of separating the male plants from the females to produce "sinsemilla" (meaning without seeds) in order to potentate the active ingredients has been around long before the 1980s. It is nothing new. Similarly, strawberry growers discourage "runners" from forming as they cause the plant to put less energy into fruiting. This kind of growing is no different to the use of F1 hybrid seeds by the average gardener to increase crop yield, aid resistance to disease or improve flavour of everyday crops like carrots or tomatoes. But I guess if you have an agenda to push, then, from the prohibitionist point of view, "mind-bending super-potent drug scourge" works better than "selectively bred cross-pollinated plant".- Link to website - http://www.uk420.com /boards/index.php?sh owtopic=133483 focusonpeace
  • Score: 5

7:29pm Sat 16 Jun 12

mstonwefy says...

Teenage cannabis smokers have a higher risk of developing psychotic symptoms later in life, perhaps because their developing brains are more vulnerable.


are you kidding? reallly? i hate that people dont learn the truth for themselves and are so gullible... psychotic symptoms? where is the evidence? there is none, there are only lies. on the other hand, their is the truth that... in its natural form cannabis is more safe their tobacco and alcohol, don't get me wrong... their are natural cannabis tincture extracts but tobacco is outright deadly and the fact that you can buy it so easily nowadays is evidence of how health is not the reason cannabis is illegal.... it comes down too money. the people want and demand the use of this medicine.just regulate and tax it so you get it off the streets... when will they get the picture!! we will keep fighting while the rich corrupt controllers keep lying too us.
Teenage cannabis smokers have a higher risk of developing psychotic symptoms later in life, perhaps because their developing brains are more vulnerable. are you kidding? reallly? i hate that people dont learn the truth for themselves and are so gullible... psychotic symptoms? where is the evidence? there is none, there are only lies. on the other hand, their is the truth that... in its natural form cannabis is more safe their tobacco and alcohol, don't get me wrong... their are natural cannabis tincture extracts but tobacco is outright deadly and the fact that you can buy it so easily nowadays is evidence of how health is not the reason cannabis is illegal.... it comes down too money. the people want and demand the use of this medicine.just regulate and tax it so you get it off the streets... when will they get the picture!! we will keep fighting while the rich corrupt controllers keep lying too us. mstonwefy
  • Score: 1

5:11pm Sun 17 Jun 12

stevea62 says...

Excellent. I do not agree with some of the points your article makes but it does seem as though you have attempted to be balanced about the subject, a first in journalistic circles in the UK. Well done.
Excellent. I do not agree with some of the points your article makes but it does seem as though you have attempted to be balanced about the subject, a first in journalistic circles in the UK. Well done. stevea62
  • Score: 1

6:29pm Sun 17 Jun 12

DaveMan50 says...

I don't understand how one study could possibly mix cannabis with Tobacco and say it is the Cannabis that is causing Anything?
That 20 times crap is backwards.
I don't understand how one study could possibly mix cannabis with Tobacco and say it is the Cannabis that is causing Anything? That 20 times crap is backwards. DaveMan50
  • Score: 1

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