Article by Dr. Frank, Cannabis Culture
For a plant that has caused no deaths via overdose when used on its own, cannabis has certainly faced more than its unfair share of demonization.
Yet, it wasn’t until the 1940s that cannabis was taken out of all the medical and pharmacotherapy textbooks. Until relatively recently, cannabis was considered to have significant medical value by many people and cultures throughout the world. This started to change around the early 1900s, when cannabis started to become associated with brown-skinned laborers of Indian or Latin origin, black jazz musicians and anyone thought of as “non-conformist” (i.e. beatniks and hippies, although this was more in the post-WWII period).
In this time, there’s been a lot of myth-making surrounding cannabis. Many of these myths were and are based on propaganda rather than science, or over-extrapolate/jump to conclusions based upon a small grain of truth. We shall go over the most common ones, in no particular order of importance …
- “Cannabis causes cancer”
This is a very confusing issue for many people. How can something be both a treatment and a cause of cancer? One of the most common reasons cited is the smoking of cannabis. Whilst this makes sense intuitively – inhaling burning matter is not ideal, and there are many issues regarding how well grown the cannabis is (i.e. how many chemicals the plant had sprayed on it) – the evidence so far suggests that cannabis and tobacco smoke are not equally carcinogenic. However, in many countries, it is common to mix cannabis and tobacco, so the dangers of tobacco are not entirely mitigated.
Yet, interestingly enough, a study into the association between cannabis and tobacco smoking on the incidence of bladder cancer shows that cannabis use may be “inversely associated with bladder cancer”. This means that those who used cannabis only were less likely to get bladder cancer than those who didn’t smoke anything at all! Those who used both cannabis and tobacco had a slightly increased incidence of bladder cancer, whilst those who used tobacco only had a much higher rate of bladder cancer incidence. This may be because those who use tobacco only may smoke far more, whilst those who mixed cannabis and tobacco may use far less tobacco and may be more likely to not smoke everyday. Those who avoid tobacco altogether may also tend to live healthier lifestyles in other areas, such as diet and exercise.
Of course, just because cannabis may protect against some kinds of cancer, doesn’t mean that it may not be a factor in the development of other kinds of cancer. Surely smoking cannabis may cause or at least be a factor in the development of lung cancer? Well, there seems to be little evidence for an increased risk of lung cancer among habitual or long-term cannabis smokers. As for the cannabinoids themselves potentially causing cancer, we simply do not have enough data to say whether this is for certain, and there is a not-insignificant amount of evidence to suggest that cannabinoids may be used to treat certain cancers. Indeed, we have even talked to cancer biologist Dr. Michael-Masterman-Smith about this. To quote:
“We studied more than 30,000 compounds over the course of about 5 years. We reduced those 30,000 compounds to about 11 compounds that could be therapeutically active in cancer stem cells. About half of those compounds were cannabinoid receptor agonists – called CB1 and CB2 receptor agonists – that told us that cannabinoid compounds could be potentially effective in killing these deadly cells.”