Clearing the Smoke: The Whole Truth About Combusting Cannabis
A Brief Look Back at the Political Stigmatization of Smoking Cannabis
Let’s face it; nearly a century of prohibition and anti-cannabis propaganda has left deep misconceptions about the plant still prevalent today. The deleterious effects of “Reefer Madness” and a plethora of anti-cannabis propaganda can still be seen and felt in the modern day.
Can combusting cannabis really be dangerous? Historical record suggests cannabis has been used as an ancient medicine in a variety of smokeless ways, from consumption of cannabis seeds in early China, to the popular “ganja” (cannabis) infused tea called “bhang” in India, cannabis has been used in various forms outside of simply smoking the buds. Why then is there such a strong association with cannabis and smoking? The answer, in part, lies in the political, anti-cannabis fear campaign of the 60s and 70s.
The “Marijuana Cigarette”: Nixon Era Rhetoric Effectively Manipulates Many
While the Nixon era anti-cannabis coalition nefariously used the term “marijuana cigarette” to associate cannabis with everything from racist undertones, to the dangers of smoking tobacco and even references to “the smoke of hell” and other hyperbolic, hellish imagery. Fortunately, much of the paranoia and fear generated during this era has gone up in smoke as science and logic started taking precedent over unsubstantiated smear campaigns.
But Isn’t Combusting Cannabis Harmful? Cannabis Smoke & The Lung Cancer Paradox
Since the public was made aware of the harmful and even deadly carcinogenic effects of cigarettes in the 50’s and 60’s, the same beliefs were attributed to smoking cannabis. While inhaling smoke has intrinsic risks associated with it in general (e.g. inhalation of tar and other toxic organic compounds), there are significantly different risks associated with cannabis smoke versus tobacco smoke.1,2 In fact, several studies have failed to find any conclusive evidence that smoking cannabis is linked to long-term lung disease and cancers like tobacco smoke, many still view them as one in the same.3–5 Some studies have even shown there are benefits from actually combusting and smoking the plant for patients with AIDS, Wasting Syndrome, spasticity, severe pain, chemotherapy induced nausea, and vomiting.6
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Going Smokeless: The Many Ways to Consume Cannabis Without Combustion
Patients today can consume cannabis any number of different ways without combusting any plant matter at all! This article examines several of those modalities and investigates their benefits and side effects to better inform patients of the diversity of options available to them today. Stay tuned for our follow-up piece that discusses the diversity of non-smoking options cannabis users can enjoy today!
From delectable edibles to vaporizers, capsules and even transdermal patches, there’s an abundance of smoke-free choices for patients to select from. Nonetheless, it is important to debunk all the myths and misconceptions that have carried over from the past. It is only by using facts and science that we can set the record straight and continue to make progress as a grassroots movement of evidence-based and compassionate care.
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- Pryor, W. A. Biological effects of cigarette smoke, wood smoke, and the smoke from plastics: the use of electron spin resonance. Free Radic. Biol. Med. 13, 659–676 (1992).
- Zhang, L. R. et al. Cannabis smoking and lung cancer risk: Pooled analysis in the International Lung Cancer Consortium. Int. J. Cancer J. Int. Cancer 136, 894–903 (2015).
- Huang, Y.-H. J. et al. An epidemiologic review of marijuana and cancer: an update. Cancer Epidemiol. Biomark. Prev. Publ. Am. Assoc. Cancer Res. Cosponsored Am. Soc. Prev. Oncol. 24, 15–31 (2015).
- Robert Melamede. Cannabis and tobacco smoke are not equally carcinogenic. Harm. Reduct. J. 2, 21 (2005).
- Loflin, M. & Earleywine, M. No smoke, no fire: What the initial literature suggests regarding vapourized cannabis and respiratory risk. Can. J. Respir. Ther. CJRT Rev. Can. Thérapie Respir. RCTR 51, 7–9 (2015).
- Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base – PubMed – NCBI. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25101425. (Accessed: 4th March 2019)