Bill Clinton - "I puffed, but I didn't inhale" - was wiser than he knew. A
new report from the British Lung Foundation, based on 90 published research
studies, suggests that three cannabis joints a day can cause the same
damage to the lining of the lungs as 20 cigarettes; and that cannabis
cigarettes contain 50% more cancer-causing carcinogens than tobacco,
depositing four times as much tar on the respiratory tract as unfiltered
cigarettes of the same weight.

The new report says research studies carried out in the 1960s and 1970s
showing the relative harmlessness of cannabis have been overtaken by the
more potent forms of cannabis smoked today. The typical joint now has 15
times as much THC, the ingredient which accounts for the psychoactive
properties of the drug, than 30 years ago. We also know more about the
differences between smoking cannabis and tobacco: the puff volume is two
thirds as high; inhalation one third as high; and breath-holding four times
as long. So where does this leave the government's plan to downgrade
cannabis from a B to a C category of harmfulness?

Unchanged - for three reasons. First, because the new research ignores the
pattern of use. For the majority, cannabis use remains recreational and
irregular. Most users do not smoke three joints a day. Second, the drug's
current level of illegality (and price) dictates its consumption method:
mixed with tobacco to make it look like a normal smoke. The new approach -
a caution rather than arrest - would encourage more use of hookahs, which
would reduce many of the drug's dangers. Third, the social reasons for the
reclassification still stand up: it remains far less dangerous than heroin,
cocaine and crack; it diverts enormous amounts of police time; and it
threatens its 2.5 million young users with a criminal record. Serious
reformers never denied the drug was risk-free. Let the new risks be widely
publicised, but not prompt a new war on its users.


Pubdate: Tue, 12 Nov 2002
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Guardian Newspapers Limited