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The Great Drug War: Supporting Notes and Documentation
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The Heroin Solution,
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Paying The Piper
Marijuana and CancerDr. Tashkin's Surprise
By Keith Halderman
In the 1930s when most states and the federal government were outlawing the use of marijuana the prohibitionist argument asserted that the drug was dangerous because it caused people to become violent. Endlessly repeated stories of highly questionable veracity about Middle Eastern assassins killing under the drug’s influence or the boy from Florida who axe murdered his family while high on marijuana could be found in almost every newspaper essay, magazine story, or journal article on the subject. These tall tales even appeared in congressional testimony.
The government put forth this line of frightening marijuana induced violence despite the fact that the two most comprehensive empirical studies of use done up until that time, the British Indian Hemp Commission Report and the U.S. Army's investigations in the Panama Canal Zone, completely contradicted this propaganda.
Not until 1944 when another report, the La Guardia Committee Report, found no link between marijuana and carnage did the prohibitionists change their line of argument. Instigated by the popular and very well known mayor of New York City, Fiorello La Guardia the study was too conclusive and widely distributed to be ignored. Besides marijuana was now already illegal so the need to terrify people had lessened.
Other reasons for keeping the drug proscribed now took center stage. Even though in his presentation to the House Ways and Means Committee favoring the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 head of the Bureau of Narcotics, Harry J. Anslinger had explicitly said that there was no connection between marijuana use and the use of other drugs, the "gateway" or "stepping stone theory" became the chief contention supporting the notion that marijuana was a dangerous drug. Over the years new assertions were thrown into the mix such as marijuana makes people lazy, amotivational syndrome, the circular logic that marijuana is dangerous because it is illegal, and that marijuana causes cancer.
If one googles the words marijuana and cancer 8,120,000 hits come up. The Women's Christian Temperance Union will tell you that, "there are more cancer-causing agents in marijuana than in any other substance presently known to man. Crude marijuana contains more carcinogens (one hundred fifty more) and in greater concentration than tobacco." ABC news has a post on the marijuana smoker’s higher risk of lung cancer. The same goes for the BBC as well as Accuracy in Media. On their site Marijuana: Facts For Teens the National Institute on Drug Abuse and National Institutes of Health have cancer as the first category in the section on long term effects. The Office of National Drug Control Policy states that, "Cancer of the respiratory tract and lungs may also be promoted by marijuana smoke."
Countless more examples of the above assertions could be given; however, on the google list the majority of the most recent hits maintain that there is no connection between marijuana smoke and lung cancer. This occurs because a large recent epidemiological study found no relationship between marijuana use, very heavy or otherwise, and lung cancer. Senior researcher Dr. Donald Tashkin who had expected to find a strong correlation stated that; "What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect." He speculated that the THC in marijuana "may kill aging cells and keep them from becoming cancerous."
Dr. Tashkin should not have been so surprised with the result. A National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) report contains numerous links to earlier, less well publicized, peer reviewed scientific studies, which make it crystal clear that marijuana does not increase the danger of cancer.
This body of research, like that of British Indian Hemp Commission and the U.S. Army before it, has been largely ignored by policy makers. Let us hope that Dr. Tashkin’s findings will play the same role that the conclusions of La Guardia’s committee did and help to dispel the myth that marijuana is a dangerous drug whose use requires legal sanction.
Of course marijuana use can be problematic if someone smokes it to maintain a constant state of intoxication but that is a difficulty with the way it is used not a problem intrinsic to the drug itself, as say a pronounced tendency to cause cancer would be. There are a plethora substances or activities, which will cause an individual trouble if used or done in excess yet they are not illegal.
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