Most people do not think that cannabis is harmful, but research into the harms is inconclusive.
A report by the British Lung Foundation claims that 32% of British people wrongly believe that cannabis does not harm your health.
The report quotes research related to the drug’s harms conducted as far back as 1966, but makes particular reference to papers released since 2001. However, some crucial points about cannabis smoking are largely ignored in the research that has been referenced. These relate more to the practice of smoking cannabis, as opposed to the substance per se. For example, when smoking cannabis, people typically take in an amount two thirds larger than if they were smoking tobacco. The inhaled amount, the amount of smoke that reaches the lungs, is also greater. Couple this with the fact that cannabis smoke is held in on average four times longer than tobacco smoke, and it seems obvious that smoking cannabis will be more harmful than tobacco.
Cannabis and tobacco may contain different chemicals, THC and nicotine respectively, but they both contain tar, a major cause of lung disease. Due to the different filtering techniques used in cigarettes; a filter for tobacco and typically nothing for cannabis, dissimilar amounts of tar will get through to the user. This, once again, is not intrinsic to the drug, but is more to do with the habits of cannabis smokers.
The underlying error in all of the quoted research is that it is concerned with cigarettes that contain cannabis and tobacco, rather than just cannabis on its own. Minimal work has been conducted into this, but embryonic research indicates that smoking exclusively cannabis does not carry the health risks of a combination of cannabis and tobacco. However, much more research is needed to confirm this.
The report makes a number of recommendations: deploy educational programmes to dispel the myth that cannabis is safe; conduct more research into the links between cannabis smoking and lung function, COPD and lung cancer; and provide services for people who wish to stop smoking cannabis.
The first two recommendations are good. The last, however, assumes that people want to stop smoking cannabis. What about providing services for those that don’t? Indeed, education should be provided on the health risks of cannabis, but also how users can smoke their chosen drug in a safer way:
- Do not put tobacco in your joints
- Take smaller puffs
- Use a vaporiser instead of a cigarette
- Do not hold the smoke in
- Do not use printed card in order to make a roach (you will inadvertently smoke the chemicals used to colour the card)
It is true that people need to be more aware of the harms of drugs, and this research by the British Lung Foundation emphasises this. However, it is difficult to do that if the research into the dangers of drugs is inconclusive in the first place, as it is with the links between cannabis and lung diseases.