Cannabis and the risks: facts you need to know

By cannabis-sam · Mar 18, 2009 · ·
  1. cannabis-sam
    Cannabis and the risks: facts you need to know

    I used to have fairly liberal views on cannabis and have compared it favourably in the past with alcohol and tobacco, both of which exact a bigger toll on our society than all illegal drugs combined. But, along with most doctors, I have become increasingly concerned in recent years that the drug is much more dangerous than we thought, and certainly nowhere near as safe as most teenagers still think.

    The days are gone when sensible people argue that cannabis is harmless. The evidence that has been collected over the past decade shows that it is clearly not, although for most of the 3-4 million people in the UK who dabble the risks are still small. The vast majority are occasional users who, with time, will eventually turn their backs on the drug and emerge unscathed. This is in stark contrast to the outlook for the tens of millions who use cigarettes and alcohol - two legal drugs that kill, maim and injure more people in a weekend than cannabis does in a year. But there are two groups who seem particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of cannabis: heavy users and those who used the drug at an early age.

    Like all parents I like to think that my teenage daughters are sensible enough to avoid drugs, but I am realistic enough to know that if they haven't tried cannabis already then there is a good chance that they will. Statistics show that young children are almost as likely to experiment with cannabis as with tobacco. According to a recent survey by the Schools Health Education Unit, one 12-year-old in 16 and one 15-year-old in four now admits to having tried cannabis at least once, up from one in 100 and one in 50 respectively in 1987.

    The Government has responded to growing concerns among doctors by performing a U-turn on previous policy and last month upgraded cannabis from Class C to Class B under the Misuse of Drugs Act, a message that it hopes will not go unheeded by young people.

    I have never been convinced that the legal status of cannabis makes any real difference to whether a teenager tries it. It has more to do with peer attitudes, and the overriding belief among teenagers today is that cannabis is a bit of harmless fun - the most dangerous thing about a joint being the tobacco that the grass or resin is mixed with. They are mistaken.

    Here are a few key facts that all teenagers (and their parents) should be made aware of:

    Cannabis damages the lungs: Most people consider cannabis to be much safer than tobacco but, drag for drag, it is actually more harmful. Cannabis smoke is far more acrid than tobacco and causes more damage to the lining of the airways. The British Lung Foundation estimates that smoking an admittedly hefty three to four joints a day causes the same level of damage as smoking 20 cigarettes a day. And, like tobacco, it is packed with carcinogens.

    Chest physicians are reporting that a growing number of cannabis users appear to be developing the sort of lung damage normally seen only in middle-aged and elderly smokers - and up to 20 years earlier. And it doesn't seem to make much difference how you smoke it. Research into the relative “safety” of the various smoking devices - joints, bongs, vaporisers and water pipes - found no significant difference in the harmful chemicals inhaled. Because water pipes filter out some of the ingredient (THC) that makes users high, they tend to inhale more of the harmful components to get a decent hit.

    Cannabis can cause irreversible changes in the brain: The most alarming discovery in recent years has been that cannabis can trigger serious mental illness such as schizophrenia. As a rough rule of thumb the average person's lifetime risk of developing schizophrenia is about one in 100. This risk increases to about one in 30 in occasional cannabis users and closer to one in 15 in regular users (at least once a day).

    The brains of teenagers appear to be particularly susceptible to the drug. A recent study in New Zealand found that children who started to use cannabis before the age of 15 were nearly five times more likely to develop serious mental illness by their late twenties, compared with those who started at 18. Neuroscientists suspect that the greater susceptibility of young teenagers is because the brain continues to develop during the teen years. Drug use is thought to influence this final phase of brain formation, increasing the risk of the type of functional and chemical imbalances associated with conditions such as schizophrenia.

    The problem is compounded because most of the cannabis sold in Britain today is much more potent than that of a decade ago. These stronger variants (skunk) contain far more of THC, the active ingredient, which is| thought to induce psychosis, and far less of another ingredient (cannabidiol) found in standard varieties, which is anti-psychotic and protects the brain. But neurochemcal changes don't alter behaviour alone. Tests on mice suggest that they can also permanently disrupt a developing brain's ability to remember things, even after the drug is withdrawn. It is difficult to draw comparisons with human development, but scientists in the field believe that exposure before the age of 15 could cause lasting memory deficit.

    Cannabis can be addictive: Contrary to street lore that you cannot become addicted to cannabis, one user in ten develops some form of dependence, with abstinence leading to craving and withdrawal effects. Cannabis abuse now accounts for 10 per cent of attendances at UK drug treatment centres.

    Is it a gateway to more dangerous drugs? This is a controversial area. There is little doubt that cannabis users are more likely to try harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin, but this gateway effect is much smaller than we used to think. While most hard drug users start off trying cannabis, most cannabis users don't end up on hard drugs. Only one cannabis user in 25 admits to having tried heroin. That said, the social factors of mixing with peers who are using drugs and having access to supply can only make progression more likely. Age is again a factor - younger cannabis smokers are more likely to move on to hard drugs.

    Cannabis and your bones: Recent work indicates that cannabis may accelerate the thinning of the skeleton that occurs as we age. Bone is a living tissue that is constantly being remodelled; cells called osteoblasts lay down bone while osteoclasts dissolve it. Careful balancing of the activities of both groups of cells mean that overall bone mass remains steady - at least until the age of 40 - despite our entire skeleton being replaced every seven years.

    Researchers from Aberdeen University have discovered that chemicals found in cannabis may upset this delicate balance in favour of the osteoclasts and bone resorption, leading to osteoporosis - a condition now thought to affect one woman in three, and one man in ten, over the age of 50.

    Cannabis and sex: Little is known about the impact of cannabis on sexual function but there is growing anecdotal evidence that it may be linked to shrinking of the testicles and low sex drive in men. Research published this week suggests that it may increase the odds of developing testicular cancer. More research is needed but should any of these links be proved they could become the most powerful deterrent of all for boys and men.

    Nothing in life is totally risk-free and all these potential hazards need to be put in context - the vast majority of people who try cannabis will come through the experience unscathed. But for some, particularly those who use it regularly, it will leave a permanent scar that could cost them their friends, family, career and possibly even their lives. At the moment we have no reliable way of identifying those most at risk but we do know that the earlier you start the more dangerous the drug is likely to be.

    February 14, 2009
    Dr Mark Porter

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  1. nibble
    A one in fifteen chance of developing schizophrenia with daily smoking? I'd like to see evidence for that.. If we were to randomly choose fifteen daily users the likelihood is one of them has/will develop schizophrenia, I highly doubt the validity of that.
    Now I'm certainly not under the impression that cannabis is some sort of wonder drug with no negative side effects but that's just incredibly over the top..
    To my knowledge, as a whole, the majority of studies that have been done over the past thirty years have had trouble linking cannabis use with any concrete negative health effects, only correlative evidence links it in any way to schizophrenia.

    I just don't understand where this cascade of woefully unfounded anti-cannabis propaganda has come from over the last year or so? It seems to be emanating primarily from UK tabloid newspapers. This certainly isn't as bad as some articles I have seen recently though..
  2. fishyknitboy
    SWIM no longer par takes in the use of Cannabis. There was a time when SWIM was aged 17-21 that SWIM used Cannabis relatively heavily, smoking at least an 8th of hard strength Skunk a day, most days, and it was rare that SWIM would go without! This appears to have had a profound effect on SWIMS mental health, even the smell of weed can have a devastating effect on SWIM, many years after, often triggering anxiety attacks! SWIM, along with many, many others was under the impression that Cannabis was a "light" drug that could be consumed at ones leisure, SWIM also feels that the current classification of Cannabis does not reflect the serious implications that can ensue from even moderate use. SWIM is confident in saying that he feels he is not a "one off"!!
    Do any fellow SWIYS agree with any of this?

    As always any replies/input would be greatly appreciated.
    Great thread by the way!! :p
    Much love as
  3. vantranist
    You raised some very good points here that I think cannabis users should consider.

    With that being said swim smokes cannabis on a daily basis... He admits its much more than he should be smoking and its probably not the right thing to be doing.

    SWIM smoked about 1/4 ounce of high grade meds every 2-4 days when he can, and usually 1/4 ounce every week when hes low on money.

    SWIM only has one complaint with this paper.

    Vaporization is proven to be significantly better for your lungs than other methods of smoking. I believe something like 97% of all carcinogens and other harmful compounds in the smoke are not present when cannabis is vaporized correctly.

    But then again id say about 97% of the people who smoke weed don't vaporizer their shit also. So its kinda moot for many.

    As for SWIM? Side effects he has noticed most from his cannabis use are, lung problems, memory problems and possibly depression.

    Still, swim smokes an INSANE amount, and while its not harmless, it is one of the safer drugs to be using.

    SWIM used to be addicted to meth and coke, he knows what a bad drug is.
  4. nibble
    It's not his opinion, if you notice the link at the bottom it's a copying of a newspaper article so why would he edit anything out?

    That's not relatively heavy fishyknitboy, that's just plain too much.. Learn responsible drug use and you probably wouldn't have these problems.
  5. vantranist
    Regardless they are good points...

    And no swim did not notice the link hehe
  6. fishyknitboy
    Admittedly SWIM was somewhat naive and ignorant at that age, but, even a fraction of that amount could potentially cause some degree of mental harm in an unsuspecting user, my point being the current classification could mislead a novice user into thinking it is a "weak" drug because it is only a class C, this being SWIM's exact train of thought at the time... "It's ok it's only dope"!!
    For the record SWIY is also correct in saying that this was a particularly high dose, SWIM had been using Cannabis for quite sometime and so had built up a natural tolerance, please all, use safely!
    Thanks again for the reply SWIY.
  7. vantranist
  8. nibble
    Err OK.. In denial about what exactly? That the earth is a sphere? Please be less ambiguous.
  9. vantranist
    SWIM miss read your post... Sorry he should not blaze and chat at the same time :)
  10. nibble
    No problem, SWIM knows all too well what you mean!
  11. tim_19
    SWIM has been reading new articles on the effects of cannabis and studies almost on a daily basis for quite some time now. Reading through that article SWIM can see some of the studies they are referring to, but they also appear to be the studies that found no hard evidence and only suggested a link. Though, with testicular cancer, it does seem that the 'suggested link' is a little more concrete than the others. What SWIM is saying is, cannabis is mostly safe. Remove smoking it as a factor and there isn't much to go on. Some medical patients use 8-9 grams a day and have for the past 20 years and little seems to have gone wrong.

    Studies HAVE shown though that vaporizing practically removes anything harmful. The schizophrenia thing. The amount of people developing schizophrenia was 1% 50 years ago, and, despite rising users, 1% still get it today. 1 in 15 regular users is just silly.

    Potency doesn't have much to do with it either. The more potent it is, the less they are going to use. Though the bone thing is interesting, though SWIM has yet to see a study on it.

    Moderation is key. Abuse anything and there will be negatives.
  12. cannabis-sam
    I think cannabis is a drug with a fairly high potential for abuse, the amount of users who will smoke everyday from morning to night is quite high, although it is not addictive people do seem to want to smoke and keep smoking as much as possible, every SWIM knows a fellow SWIMmer who smokes constantly. Heavy abuse on a drug is going to have some negative effects. Heavy smoking does seem to cause short term memory loss, but weather this is permanent or not is unclear. The link to mental illness is not strong either, these aside from the lung damage caused by inhaling any burning plant material for an extended time, although users do have the option to vaporise. Abuse of any drug is bad and cannabis is no exception I'm not going to jump on the cannabis is harmless or the cannabis is evil side. Of course I'd be much happier to smoke cannabis every waking moment for an extended period of time than I would doing the same with alcohol, but thats not to say it's a good idea.

    The above article IMHO is quite biased and as nibbler said the UK media seems to be running a heavy campaign against cannabis, it started with the independant's article that said something like:"we apologise for the 1997 campaign on decriminalizing cannabis, we have now learnt the cannabis on the streets is 20-30 times stronger than it was 30 years ago, and it is now as powerful and addictive as drugs such as cocaine, LSD and ecstasy". The campaign against skunk has been running ever since and the "skunk epidemic" as the papers call it has scared the government to upgrade cannabis to a class B. It's pretty insulting.
  13. vantranist
    Cannabis IS addictive... Anything can be addictive. People need to understand that.

    SWIM is a cannabis addict.

    And has a few friends who are the same.

    Maybe not physically but swim can guarantee you its psychological addictive, just as anything can be. And many people are psychologically addicted to blazing a bowl in the mornings or evening, after they get off work or before they go to school ect...

    I need no statistics or studies, just common sense and a lot of experience.

    Remember a drug doesn't need to caused physical dependency in order to be addictive... it just needs to feel good and get into the right person.
  14. nibble
    That's true but it certainly isn't limited to drugs, I mean if someone enjoys doing something then they will want to keep doing it, there's no way around that unless you were to remove pleasure from absolutely everything thereby ensuring nobody gets "addicted" to anything. You have to ask is an appreciable amount of harm coming to a user from this addiction? If you were to use powerful stimulants every day then probably yes, but with a lot of other activities it isn't so clear..

    But 1 in 15 regular users developing schizophrenia? That's just a blatant fallacy.
  15. Froid

    A long-term debate SWIM thinks that has been politically raging for over 9 decades - and a lot longer informally.

    SWIM has worked with people with drug problems for years and SWIM's overwhelming understanding is that there are no problems with drugs per se...but plenty of problems with people not being happy enough to prevent their recreational habits from messing with their lives.

    SWIM can also add some more points to increase the research confusion. SWIM is well used to reading research for professional reasons and there is a dearth of pro-research for obvious reasons - good research costs money and researchers want to be accepted for future money and there is no funding or credibility for pro research for political reasons.

    However, there is some pro-research and it suggests that following - modern day cannabis does not have the abuse potential of other commonly available drugs - rats don't choose it above certain thresholds to the extent they do for other drugs; cannabis has 'anti-cancer' properties that mitigate the effects of the inherent carcinogenic elements - unlike tobacco for example; there are flaws in the discussion/explanation of con-researchthat go undiscussed.

    General points are also to do with correlation not being causation and operationalised outcomes being loaded with uncontrollable factors.

    Regarding the re-classification, there was a clearly vocal professional majority who disagreed with this decision deriding it as blatantly political. The main angle? Brewers have lobbied the govt for years to make cannabis more 'dangerous' because it impacts on their sales - is it really that surprising that re-classification came after a general smoking ban that reduced brewers profits even further?

    Regarding the strength increasing argument...strong cannabis has always been available if you were lucky enough to know where to go. What has increased is it's availability because unobtainable strains have been crossed with available strains. The THC/CBD debate, although unknown to most journos, is about production - pick your plants early and you get more THC vs CBD - leave them later and you get more CBD vs THC. It can get more informative, but basically and for most smokers, this will do.

    I think, from a macro view, the 'against' crowd are actually amassing a great argument for legalisation. If illegality places mass production & distribution into the hands of career criminals, then all you will get is high THC plants - not for the THC, but for the cost savings in lighting because an early plant means less cost. Additionally, to force-grow a plant quickly requires some high strength regular feeding and aggressive pest-control (you can bet it won't be with 'healthy' ferts and control products). Add this to the fact that the plants won't be flushed at the end of their cycle because it reduces yield and you have essentially a govt-created psychological and physical health problem - not to mention the problems with associating with said criminals to purchse. The only way this could be made worse at the moment is to make it more difficult for self-cultivation - which I expect within the next 5 years.

    Regarding the teenage brain argument...there is plenty of con-research done on rats that 'proves' other against-cannabis theories such as maternal neglect, birthing problems, later onset of cognitive and behavioural difficulties, etc. The only problem with these papers is the amounts that are given to the rats - they tend to be unrealistically huge (sometimes relatively as much as 1/2 oz a day). This could be the equivalent of giving a teenage rat 2 bottles of whiskey a day and then suggesting that alcohol use causes liver problems in developing bodies. Of course it does, but a basic link like this is disigenuous as best and blantantly manipulative at worst.

    One thing is for sure, this debate will always be going on because we're used to it.

    For those interested, find out why many countries around the world made cannabis a controlled substance in the first place, its an infomative journey around patent protection and nuclear proliferation...believe it or not...what a world. You may also find it interesting the read the info on the impact of using radioactive chemicals on tobacco production and its relation to future carcinogenic effect - interesting, but SWIM's not sure about the accuracy of its claims as it is a very hard trail to follow.

  16. nibble
    ^^That is an excellent post Froid, it sums a lot up right there..
  17. vantranist
    SWIM would like to add, he ENJOYS being addicted to cannabis :)

    Theres no withdraw to speak of, very few manageable side effects and a lot of fun!

    I agree with nibble!

    Tho SWIM is still an addict, and that can never be good.

    SWIM has major depression and he uses many of the drugs hes addicted to if not all of them to self medicate.
  18. Grabnar
    its only a drug if u have to go to a drug dealer to get it :thumbsup:
  19. EscapeDummy
    This is quite possibly the most incorrect statement I have EVER seen on DF.
  20. Valseedian


    tho the thread does discuss many of the pro's and con's of marijuana, it still doesn't scientifically explain WHO we are protecting from cannabis or it's users... there is no reason to count us in with murderer's rapists and theifs. the only reason the drug crowd generally falls into these lifestyles is because they are so used to being illicit from their drug use that breaking other laws ( and thus creating victims) doesn't seem to be soo much of a leap.

    stop criminalizing us for our hobbies, and we will be much more likely to remain law abiding citizens... 20 million americans can't all be wrong..

    legalize weed and stigma on cocaine and heroin will increase if anything. by showing that the government can differentiate between those drugs which are blatantly harmful to the human mind, body or spirit, we can further deter those from making worse decisions. If marijuana were more legally available, Swim knows people who use MUCH harder drugs and would be glad to go back to just THC, if they didn't have to worry about the 45 day urine detection life.
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