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Misleading Headline: "Cannabis Kills 30,000 a Year"

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By "Radical" Russ Belville

Just when I get all riled up about our domestic reefer madness at the Partnership (to Protect Big Pharma) at, our NORML Network UK host, Cannabis Cure UK, forwards me this ominous headline from the UK Daily Mail:

Cannabis ‘kills 30,000 a year’

Oh, dear.  From zero deaths* in 5,000 years of human use to ’30,000 a year’.  That sounds serious. Let’s read on…

More than 30,000 cannabis smokers could die every year, doctors warn today.

Wait, “could die”?  We’ve gone from the active headline verb “kills” to the lede adverb “could”? Usually you bury that wiggle room somewhere in paragraph umpteen.  Continue…

Professor John Henry, a leading authority on the drug, said the change – due to take place this summer – had undermined doctors’ efforts to highlight the risks.

He said: “Cannabis is as dangerous as cigarette smoking – in fact, it may be even worse – and downgrading its legal status has simply confused people.”

“May be” worse?  Where are the wards full of cannabis smokers?  Britain actually has some level of health care worthy of a civilized (civilised) people.  You’d think the National Health Service would bring these figures up.  It sounds like quite a cost to the government.

Here in America 15 million adults are smoking pot monthly and 1.1 million are daily tokers.  56 million adults are smoking cigarettes at least once a month and 35 million are daily smokers.  There are 276,000 new cases of respiratory or oral cancers diagnosed annually.  Cigarettes are proven to cause 435,000 deaths a year.  Cannabis-only smoking has been shown to reduce the incidence of head, neck and lung cancer.  So again, where are the wards full of cannabis smokers?

Researchers calculate that if 120,000 deaths are caused among 13 million smokers, the corresponding figure among 3.2 million cannabis smokers would be 30,000.

I calculate that if my wife drops a dollar on the lottery and correctly picks six random unique integers between and including 1 and 59 we’ll be rich and the corresponding donation to NORML would be substantial.  I mean, if we’re going to be throwing in meaningless calculations, why not have some fun with it?  Where are these 120,000 deaths among 13 million smokers you begin with?  Is that an American estimate?  Because we don’t have 120,000 deaths over here and you don’t have 30,000 deaths over there.

The drug can cause cancer, lung disease and abnormalities associated with serious mental illness.

Users are up to six times more likely to develop schizophrenia.

The British Lung Foundation says smoking three joints a day can cause the same damage to the airways as a pack of 20 cigarettes.

Few people are smoking three joints a day and even those who do aren’t developing schizophrenia, psychoses, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  Even if they were, is a prison cell the best way to help them?  You’d need 36 grams to roll three joints a day at the DEA’s skinny 0.4g joint standard, and that will get you jail time in most states.

As for the schizophrenia, a ten-year study of mental hospitals in the UK found psychoses and schizophrenia rates remained steady even as cannabis use increased.

Dr William Oldfield, from St Mary’s Hospital and one of the authors of the article, said: “Cannabis and nicotine cigarettes have a different mode of inhalation. The puff taken by cannabis smokers is two-thirds larger, they inhale a third more and hold down the smoke four times longer.

And when that joint is done (usually half-done), the toker doesn’t toke again for hours or days or weeks, unlike the tobacco smoker who’s lighting up another cigarette within the hour.

“All these factors could contribute to illnesses of the heart and respiratory system, particularly as the chemicals in cannabis smoke are retained in the body to a much higher degree.”

“Could” again?  If this is such a danger, show us the bodies!

And what are these “chemicals… retained in the body”?  The chemicals in marijuana smoke that he’s criticizing as being like cigarette smoke dissipate from the body at the same rates.  The only chemicals he could be referring to are the inert metabolites of cannabinoids that are fat-soluble and stored in the body for days or weeks, and those aren’t harmful to the body in any degree.

He said the cannabis used today – especially that bought in the Netherlands – was up to 40 times stronger than that used by Flower Power hippies in the 1960s.

The level of active ingredient in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has increased from around 0.5 per cent 20 years ago to almost five per cent today.

The United Nations declares that industrial hemp is cannabis with <1% THC.  So all those “Flower Power hippies” were smoking hemp, huh?  No, wait, twenty years ago is 1991!  All those Seattle grunge rockers were smoking hemp!  Who knew?

*Dr. Mitch Earleywine, on our 4/6/11 show said that now it has been reported there is one death from acute marijuana use; a man with a history of heart problems who succumbed to the tachycardia side effect of smoking pot, had a heart attack, and died.  Sorry, I’m not convinced; if that’s the way they want to play, we’re going to have to make fast food a Schedule I drug (or Class C, for the British readers) as its side effects are killing more Americans and Britons than cannabis ever will.  Legalize (legalise) it and go ahead and slap a “do not use if you have a history of heart problems or arrhythmia” label on it.


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