Marijuana doesn’t harm lung function, study found
By LINDSEY TANNER
CHICAGO (AP) — Smoking a joint once a week or a bit more apparently doesn’t harm the lungs, suggests a 20-year study that bolsters evidence that marijuana doesn’t do the kind of damage tobacco does.The results, from one of the largest and longest studies on the health effects of marijuana, are hazier for heavy users – those who smoke two or more joints daily for several years. The data suggest that using marijuana that often might cause a decline in lung function, but there weren’t enough heavy users among the 5,000 young adults in the study to draw firm conclusions.
Still, the authors recommended “caution and moderation when marijuana use is considered.”
Marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law although some states allow its use for medical purposes.
The study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham was released Tuesday by the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The findings echo results in some smaller studies that showed while marijuana contains some of the same toxic chemicals as tobacco, it does not carry the same risks for lung disease.
It’s not clear why that is so, but it’s possible that the main active ingredient in marijuana, a chemical known as THC, makes the difference. THC causes the “high” that users feel. It also helps fight inflammation and may counteract the effects of more irritating chemicals in the drug, said Dr. Donald Tashkin, a marijuana researcher and an emeritus professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. Tashkin was not involved in the new study.
Study co-author Dr. Stefan Kertesz said there are other aspects of marijuana that may help explain the results.
Unlike cigarette smokers, marijuana users tend to breathe in deeply when they inhale a joint, which some researchers think might strengthen lung tissue. But the common lung function tests used in the study require the same kind of deep breathing that marijuana smokers are used to, so their good test results might partly reflect lots of practice, said Kertesz, a drug abuse researcher and preventive medicine specialist at the Alabama university.
The study authors analyzed data from participants in a 20-year federally funded health study in young adults that began in 1985. Their analysis was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The study randomly enrolled 5,115 men and women aged 18 through 30 in four cities: Birmingham, Chicago, Oakland, Calif., and Minneapolis. Roughly equal numbers of blacks and whites took part, but no other minorities. Participants were periodically asked about recent marijuana or cigarette use and had several lung function tests during the study.
Overall, about 37 percent reported at least occasional marijuana use, and most users also reported having smoked cigarettes; 17 percent of participants said they’d smoked cigarettes but not marijuana. Those results are similar to national estimates.
On average, cigarette users smoked about 9 cigarettes daily, while average marijuana use was only a joint or two a few times a month – typical for U.S. marijuana users, Kertesz said.
The authors calculated the effects of tobacco and marijuana separately, both in people who used only one or the other, and in people who used both. They also considered other factors that could influence lung function, including air pollution in cities studied.
The analyses showed pot didn’t appear to harm lung function, but cigarettes did. Cigarette smokers’ test scores worsened steadily during the study. Smoking marijuana as often as one joint daily for seven years, or one joint weekly for 20 years was not linked with worse scores. Very few study participants smoked more often than that.
Like cigarette smokers, marijuana users can develop throat irritation and coughs, but the study didn’t focus on those. It also didn’t examine lung cancer, but other studies haven’t found any definitive link between marijuana use and cancer.
Colorado Seeks Federal Reclassification Of Marijuana To Facilitate Doctor Prescriptions As Medical Treatment
First Posted: 12/28/11 07:27 PM ET Updated: 12/28/11 07:40 PM ET
By KRISTEN WYATT, Associated Press
DENVER — Colorado has become the third state to ask the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana in way that allows doctors to prescribe it as a medical treatment.
The head of Colorado’s Department of Revenue, which oversees the state’s booming medical marijuana business, made the request in a letter sent Dec. 22. It wasn’t released to the public until Wednesday because of the Christmas holiday.
The letter says the discrepancy between state law and federal drug law, which does not permit medicinal uses of marijuana, is problematic.
Last month, the governors of Washington and Rhode Island also asked that the government list marijuana as a Schedule 2 drug, like morphine and oxycodone.
Linn State Technical College Begins Widespread Drug Tests
ALAN SCHER ZAGIER 09/ 7/11 09:52 PM ET
LINN, Mo. — Textbooks? Check. School sweatshirt? Check. Urine specimen cup? Only if you want to stay in school.
A drug-free demand greeted new students Wednesday at Linn State Technical College, a two-year school in central Missouri that has enacted what may be the most far-reaching drug testing policy at a public college or university in the country.
Federal and state courts have consistently upheld more limited drug testing of public high schools students, such as those who play sports, as well as NCAA athletes and students at private colleges. But the move by Linn State to enact widespread drug tests of the general student body appears unprecedented – and no small point of pride for administrators at the state’s only technical college.
“It does appear that our program is unique in its scope and breadth,” said Kent Brown, a Jefferson City attorney who represents the 1,200-student school, which is located about 100 miles southwest of St. Louis. “But there aren’t very many colleges as unique as ours.”
School leaders say the tests, which they prefer to call drug screenings, are necessary to ensure student safety at a campus where the coursework includes aircraft maintenance, heavy engine repair, nuclear technology and other dangerous tasks. They surveyed hundreds of local employers, who overwhelmingly supported a requirement those same students will soon encounter in the job market, said Richard Pemberton, associate dean of student affairs.
“They’re going to be faced with this as they go into the drug-free workplace,” he said. “We want them to be prepared.”
All first-year students – including those pursuing general education degrees while studying accounting, communications, math, and social sciences – must comply with the requirement, which began Wednesday, two weeks into the fall semester. So must returning students who took a semester or two off and are seeking a degree or academic certificate at the school’s campuses in Linn, Jefferson City and Mexico, Mo. Physical therapy students enrolled in cooperative programs between Linn State and two community colleges in northern and southeastern Missouri also must participate.
The mandatory drug tests are raising the hackles of civil libertarians, who call it a constitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful searches and seizures, an invasion of privacy and a likely lawsuit target.
“I’ve never heard of any other adult public educational institution that presumes to drug-test all of its students,” said Columbia attorney Dan Viets, a member of the Missouri Civil Liberties Association. “They’re trying to break some new ground here. I don’t think the courts will uphold it.”
While Linn State officials say they are working to address the objections by Viets’ group, the attorney suggested that a legal challenge was imminent unless the program is halted.
“I don’t know why they think they can get away with it,” Viets said. “I hope we don’t have to go court. But if we have to we will.”
Brown, the school’s attorney, said Linn State is on firm legal footing. He noted that more narrowly focused drug tests for students who work with heavy machinery, or are in some health professions, are not uncommon.
The tests screen for 11 drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and oxycodone. Students who test positive can stay in school while on probation but must test clean 45 days later to remain enrolled while also completing an online drug-prevention course or assigned to other, unspecified “appropriate activities,” according to the school’s written policy.
Students who initially test positive but then test negative a subsequent time will remain on probation for the rest of that semester and also face an unannounced follow-up test. The tests cost $50, a fee paid by students.
“We wanted this to be more of an educational approach,” Pemberton said. “What we’re doing here is not as strenuous as in the workplace.”
“We’ve been very careful about treading on their rights to privacy,” he added. “When you do something that has the potential to violate someone’s rights, you have to be cautious.”
New and prospective students were advised about the testing program in the spring, as well as during fall orientation.
Viets said his group learned of the new program from Linn State students who were concerned about the drug tests. First-year student Brian Crider, though, said his classmates aren’t worried about the requirement.
“I don’t think a lot of us are bent out of shape,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea. It helps us prepare for the real world.”
16 August 2011 Last updated at 21:31 ET, BBC News
US cigarette makers sue over graphic warning labels
Five tobacco companies have sued the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over a new law that would force them to place graphic health warnings on their cigarette packets.
The firms argue the plan violates their constitutional right to free speech, as it requires firms to promote the government’s anti-smoking message.
The FDA has not commented on the lawsuit.
The new warnings will be required on cigarette packs from September 2012.
RJ Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard Tobacco, Commonwealth Brands, Liggett Group and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco said they filed their suit against the FDA late on Tuesday in an effort to delay enforcement of the new law.
RJ Reynolds brands include Camel and Winston, while Lorillard brands include Newport and True.
In their 41-page complaint, the five companies say the new labels would illegally force them to make consumers “depressed, discouraged and afraid” to buy their products.
“The government can require warnings which are straightforward and essentially uncontroversial, but they can’t require a cigarette pack to serve as a mini-billboard for the government’s anti-smoking campaign,” Floyd Abrams, a lawyer representing the cigarette makers, said in a statement.
He added that the new labels would violate the companies’ free-speech rights under the first amendment to the constitution.
The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act requires such labels to cover the top half of the front and back sides of cigarette packages and 20% of the printed advertising.
In June, Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the new labels could deter young people from starting to smoke and give adult smokers a new incentive to quit.
Cigarette makers lost a similar suit last year in a US district court in Kentucky when a judge said the FDA could move ahead with forcing the companies to use the new labels, which include images of dead bodies, diseased lungs and rotten teeth.
That ruling is currently pending before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
One of the biggest US tobacco firms, Altria – parent company of Philip Morris and maker of Marlboro cigarettes – has not joined in any of the legal action against the FDA.
More than 220,000 people in the US are expected to be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2011, according to the American Cancer Society.
Tobacco use is estimated to be responsible for 443,000 deaths in the US each year.
Federal Government Rules Marijuana Has No Accepted Medical Purpose
First Posted: 7/9/11 03:03 PM ET Updated: 7/9/11 06:06 PM ET HUFFINGTON POST
The decision comes nearly nine years after marijuana supporters asked the government to reclassify the drug to take into account the growing body of research conducted across the globe that proves it’s effective in treating certain diseases, reports The Los Angeles Times.
The paper spoke to advocates who criticized the ruling but are pleased that the government has finally responded, which allows them to appeal to the federal courts.
Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access told the Times, he was not surprised by the decision, which came shortly after the Obama administration announced it would not tolerate large-scale commercial marijuana growing operations.
It is clearly motivated by a political decision that is anti-marijuana,” he said. He noted that studies demonstrate pot has beneficial effects, including appetite stimulation for people undergoing chemotherapy. “One of the things people say about marijuana is that it gives you the munchies and the truth is that it does, and for some people that’s a very positive thing.
The Times also noted, this is the third time that petitions to reclassify marijuana have been denied. The first was filed in 1972 and denied 17 years later. The second was filed in 1995 and denied in 2001. Both decisions were appealed, but the courts sided with the federal government.
California and many other states have legalized marijuana for medicinal reasons and a push to legalize it in general is expected to appear on the 2012 ballot in California as Proposition 19, writes LAist.