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Comedian Ralphie May: Marijuana Almost Killed Me

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By "Radical" Russ Belville

According to TMZ, former Last Comic Standing finalist Ralphie May says “Weed nearly killed me!”

Last Comic Standing” finalist and outspoken weed advocate Ralphie May is finally calling it quits on the sticky icky — telling TMZ, smoking marijuana nearly killed him last year … so he’s giving it up for good.

May tells us, he was diagnosed with walking pneumonia before taking a cruise last November — but the condition quickly got worse … and before long, he was holed up in the boat’s infirmary with a life-threatening lung infection.

May tells us, “If I hadn’t been a 20-year weed smoker, it wouldn’t have been as bad.”

According to the report, May claims to have been consuming a quarter-pound of marijuana per week.  A look at gives us a comment in protest from May:

Everyone TMZ took 1/4 I said and made an article. Please if you’d like to read what I said and tried to post on their site go to my Facebook

So we did, and found posts explaining (written by his wife, I assume) his bout with walking pneumonia.  A story in the Tampa Bay Times explains in more detail, without mentioning weed at all:

The worst it got, said Ralphie May, was when he began coughing up wads of foul phlegm the color and consistency of peanut butter.

“I felt like I was drowning in it,” said May. “I stayed awake for five days. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I felt like I was getting stabbed in one of my lungs.”

One of the most popular touring comics in America — he sold out Ruth Eckerd Hall in April — May knows that if he’d kicked the bucket in Tampa, some of his fans might not have been shocked by his death.

“They’d probably just put it to me being obese,” he said, “and just write it off like that.”

So what happened? Start with the schedule.

“The first seven months of this year,” May said, “I slept in my bed a total of 17 nights. That’s how you get sick.”

Look, we don’t begrudge anyone who wants to stop smoking marijuana – that leaves more for us.  And certainly, smoking a quarter-pound of anything every week is not leading to positive lung health.  But being on the road 92% of the time (and the late nights, parties, drinks, and substances that come with it) and weighing close to 400 pounds are far more dangerous to May’s health.  After all, the Journal of the American Medical Association just concluded “Long-Term Exposure To Cannabis Smoke Not Associated With Adverse Effects On Pulmonary Function“.  Of course, that was a study of moderate use and specifically warned “These are not the Cheech and Chongs of the world.”

What’s more, there was some evidence that very heavy users — those who smoked the equivalent of a joint a day for 40 years or lit up more than 25 times a month — might lose lung function.

But because the number of heavy users in the study was small, researchers say they aren’t sure whether those trends are valid or not.

“This is a well-designed, well-described study,” says Jeanette M. Tetrault, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn.

“The jury is still out about smoking marijuana, especially with heavy smokers and long-term chronic use,” says Tetrault, who has reviewed the health effects of smoking marijuana on the lungs but was not involved in the current study. “There are a lot of studies that are conflicting.”

So, yes, there may be worse outcomes in pulmonary health for people that smoke over a half-ounce a day as opposed to a half-gram joint a day.  But to say “weed nearly killed me!” when it was pneumonia that nearly killed you is sensationalist and inaccurate, especially when we know that “Obesity may boost pneumonia risk in men“.

After accounting for factors such as lifestyle and education, moderately obese men — those with a BMI between 30 and 34.9 — had a 40 percent greater risk of pneumonia compared with those of normal weight (BMI of less than 24.9). Men who were severely obese, having a BMI greater than 35, were twice as likely to get pneumonia.

May’s BMI is probably in the high-40′s / lower-50′s.

After the researchers accounted for chronic diseases diagnosed during the study, the effect of obesity among the men… disappeared. It seemed that obesity’s role was playing out through… related ailments. The authors note that diabetes, for example, has been associated with a 25 to 75 percent increased risk of hospitalization for pneumonia.

In addition to its relationship with chronic disease, Kornum suggests other routes by which obesity could impact pneumonia risk: a decrease in immunity, a higher risk of aspiration, reduced lung volume, and an altered ventilation pattern.


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