Not the only one concerned about the safety of smoking marijuana

Last month, I ignited a hot debate on the legalization of marijuana. I have serious concerns about the long-term safety of smoking marijuana. Especially for young people. And especially when it comes to lung cancer.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one with these concerns. In fact, just four days after sending you my Daily Dispatch on the dangers of smoking marijuana, I read an article in USA Today on the exact same subject. The article quoted Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Now, I don’t always agree with the NIH. But when I do, it’s because they’re being careful about the science. And in this case, Dr. Collins knows the science. As do I.

Just as I argued in my Daily Dispatch, Dr. Collins voiced concerns about the safety of smoking marijuana regularly. He said we don’t have enough good, solid research because until recently it was an illegal drug. So, it was impossible to do quality, large-scale trials about its safety. You see, no one really wanted to sign up for a study like that. They’d have to admit to smoking an illegal substance.

What research we DO have alarms him, however.

He actually referenced two of the exact same areas of concern I mentioned in my Daily Dispatch last month. First, there’s the issue of marijuana’s harmful effect on the adolescent developing brain.

Research shows adolescents who regularly smoke marijuana experience significant and lifelong brain changes. He even cited research that young adolescents who regularly smoke marijuana lose an average of about 10 IQ points.

It makes sense. In my Dispatch, I told you about a similar study conducted at Northwestern last year. In the study, researchers found that adolescents who regularly smoke marijuana experience brain changes and long-lasting memory problems. Imaging studies show their brains actually shrink.

Dr. Collins also said there’s a link between smoking marijuana and lung cancer. Here again, I made this point last month in my Daily Dispatch. He said we still need more research. Of course we need more research! We need more research on ALL aspects of lung cancer, ever since NIH adopted its single-minded focus on tobacco three decades ago.

After citing these concerns, Dr. Collins back-pedaled a bit.

He said, “I’m afraid I’m sounding like this is an evil drug that’s going to ruin our civilization and I don’t really think that. But there are aspects of this that probably should be looked at more closely than some of the legalization experts are willing to admit.”

Yes, the NIH is highly politicized. But usually, they stay out of the perverse politics of “controlled” substances. And they don’t usually comment on the legalization of recreational drugs or on drugs of abuse. (They leave that to other government agencies to trip over.) So that probably explains the back-pedaling a bit.

I–on the other hand–am not reluctant to come out clearly on the subject. And point out the double standard. It still amazes me that there can be those who believe inhaling one burning plant leaf–tobacco–should be condemned and criminalized. But inhaling another burning plant leaf–marijuana–should be praised and legalized. Burning and inhaling any plant leaf is still “smoking.”

And that brings up another point. I got some good comments regarding the benefits of hemp oil, raw hemp, liquid hemp, or raw cannabis. But all of my arguments on this topic pertain to the dangers of smoking marijuana. They do not pertain to any other form of the plant. In addition, you can always find the citations for the studies I reference at the very bottom of my Daily Dispatch, under my closing salutation.

In the end, I simply do not believe smoking marijuana is as safe as some politically correct factions want you to assume. Will legalizing the drug save tax dollars? Maybe. We certainly won’t keep wasting valuable time and money chasing down and charging pot smokers. And local governments won’t continue to put ever more “sin” revenues into their coffers, for better or worse.

But will we end up paying for it later, with a whole generation of young adults with smaller brains and 10-point lower IQs? Will lung cancer become an even bigger problem in this country?

Cleary, as Dr. Collins pointed out, we need more research. And as always, I’ll continue to bring it to you in my Daily Dispatch and Insiders’ Cures newsletter.


“NIH director on legalizing pot: Not so fast,” USA Today ( 2/28/2014

“Cannabis use and risk of lung cancer: A case-control study,” Eur Respir J. 2008 February; 31(2): 280–286

“Heavy Marijuana Use Alters Teenage Brain Structure,” Psychology Today ( 12/16/2013