|Cancer cure, or cause?|
When the bureaucrats over at the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) classified Marijuana smoke as a carcinogen last Friday, it predictably made headlines worldwide. But how much does the classification really mean, and should medical users and regular old potheads be concerned?
The state of California is required by law to publish a list of chemicals "known to cause cancer" (the Proposition 65 list, which contains hundreds of chemicals). With the addition of Marijuana smoke to the list, medical Marijuana dispensaries employing 10 or more people will be required, starting June 19, 2010, to post warnings regarding smoking pot. Those who don't comply could be fined as much as $2,500 per day per violation.
"Marijuana smoke is a mixture of different chemicals, and a number of them were already on the Prop 65 list," said Allan Hirsch, chief deputy director of the state OEHHA. The panel of scientists made the designation after a review of research findings linking Marijuana smoke and cancer.
But one thing to keep in mind about bureaucrats is their
instinctive, reflexive cowardliness. The bureaucrat's biggest fear is
to be "caught out," to be held responsible after the fact for
unfortunate things that might be described as happening on their watch.
Such a mindset, naturally, tends toward excessive caution. A career
bureaucrat would much rather sound the alarm prematurely rather than
after the shit-storm hits.
unlikely that the timing of this classification of Marijuana smoke as a
carcinogen is unrelated to recent efforts to legalize cannabis in the
state. Marijuana advocates, both of the medical and recreational
variety, rightly worry that the addition of pot to the list might
provide ammunition to those who are against the legalization of the
Despite the intricate politics involved,
and despite Friday's ruling by the OEHHA, the fact remains that, when
it comes to Marijuana and cancer, so far, the scientific results are a
wash. There are just as many studies showing that Marijuana and/or its
active ingredients have no effect on cancer rates -- and even some
studies indicating it actually retards or even reverses the growth of cancerous tumors -- as there are studies that indicate the presence of carcinogens in Marijuana smoke.
should also be kept in mind that government grants are generally viewed
within the scientific community as much easier to get for studies that
have as their stated goal "finding the harm done by Marijuana" as
opposed to studies geared to "find if Marijuana does harm." See the
The panel admitted it did
not consider studies demonstrating medical benefits of Marijuana, like
reducing nausea, restoring appetite, slowing glaucoma, or, as mentioned
above, actually shrinking cancerous or pre-cancerous tumors.
Sam Delson said the OEHHA found Marijuana smoke contains 33 of the same
harmful chemicals as tobacco smoke. He said the findings came from a
review of more than 30 scientific papers.
Viewing tobacco smoke and Marijuana smoke as roughly equivalent, however, could be a big mistake. The largest study ever conducted on Marijuana and lung cancer
overseen by Dr. Donald Tashkin at the University of California, Los
Angeles, found no association at all between Marijuana smoke and lung
cancer -- and even a suggestion of some protective effect.
nicotine in tobacco inhibits the destruction of cancer-causing cells,
according to the latest research, while the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
in Marijuana has the opposite effect: It appears to kill aging or
genetically damaged cells and keeps them from becoming cancerous.
What Does It All Mean?
does the new finding mean that Marijuana itself is basically equivalent
to nasty substances like arsenic, asbestos and DDT, with which it
shares the Prop 65 list?
In a word, no.
The Prop 65 listing is for Marijuana smoke, not Marijuana itself. The new labeling restrictions do not apply to pot brownies, candy, lollipops, topical ointments, or other non-smokables.
advocates aren't particularly surprised by the new ruling, given
California's tendency to document the harmful effects of all kinds of
smoke inhalation. But Assemblyman Tom Ammiano who authored a
bill to legalize Marijuana in California
, told the San Jose Mercury
he believes "singling out Marijuana is gratuitous." "Many, many
symptoms of disease can be alleviated through smoking Marijuana,"
Since the warning applies only
to conventionally smoked Marijuana, it appears likely that users who
use vaporizers or edibles to consume the herb will be unaffected.