Health claims against marijuana? Evidence, please!

by Jennifer F. Knight

Do you require honest proof supported by scientific evidence before choosing to believe secondhand cannabis smoke causes firsthand cancer?

Something like two years ago, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment launched an aggressive public service campaign called “Good to Know Colorado” with the goal of educating retail marijuana consumers on safe, legal, and responsible use.

A news article about “Good to Know Colorado” published by USA Today, says that Jonathan Singer, Democratic House Representative in Colorado’s District 11 and substance abuse counselor, wanted to find an appropriate balance between education and acknowledgment surrounding Colorado’s new laws. Singer also encouraged the comprehensive tracking of marijuana use and public perception.

I had some questions, and Singer seemed an appropriate source:

Mr. Singer,[I wanted] … to discuss the current state of affairs with Good to Know Colorado and the work you’re doing there. My focus is on education and perception. I would also like to discuss your background as a former substance abuse counselor and more specifically how that experience affects your views on legalization here in Colorado and across the country.Jennifer Knight

My original interest stemmed from a tiny section of the “Good to Know” brochure, with a header that reads: “Secondhand smoke IS NO JOKE.” The brochure then says: “Marijuana smoke has many of the same cancer-causing chemicals as tobacco smoke, so be considerate. Don’t smoke around children, women who are pregnant, or anyone who doesn’t want to be exposed.”

I’m inclined to agree with the obvious mission of the paragraph as it relates to basic human courtesy and acceptable social use, but I was baffled entirely by the claim that marijuana smoke causes cancer. I am perfectly aware this is not what the organization said verbatim. The brochure did not say secondhand marijuana smoke causes firsthand cancer, not in so many words, but was it not implied?

“… anyone who doesn’t want to be exposed.” to what? Cancer?

Cancer. Or secondhand cannabis smoke that causes cancer that “Good to Know” purports as fact in its lead statement. C’mon, folks. Maybe we should make a big public service announcement about the safe and responsible adult use of rhetoric. I mean, it’s very powerful stuff, high potential for abuse.

In lieu of an expedient response from Mr. Singer’s office, I reached out to another valuable source for some scientific answers to the secondhand smoke question, Dr. Tim McGettigan at the Institute of Cannabis Research.

McGettigan, a Fulbright Fellow and Professor of Sociology at Colorado State University, played a substantial role in the creation and launch of the Institute of Cannabis Research at CSU-Pueblo, which is the first multidisciplinary academic and scientific research-based approach to cannabis studies in the nation.

Professor Tim,I’m wondering if you can offer a bit of wisdom, some insight on a recent public statement made by the fine folks over at Good to Know Colorado about cannabis smoke and how it contains many of the same cancer-causing chemicals as tobacco smoke.Jennifer

His response was almost immediate:

“The simple and honest answer to the secondhand smoke question is unknown. As is typical with cannabis, there is a lot of hysteria in the media. We don’t have sufficient scientific research to conclude that secondhand cannabis smoke is better or worse than tobacco [smoke].”

I don’t mean to discount the work of “Good to Know Colorado.” In fact, the only thing that alerted me to investigate further was the loosely worded paragraph about secondhand cannabis smoke and cancer. Until I hear back from the organization itself, I choose trust the professor’s statement. The answer will remain “unknown” until somebody provides the public with hard scientific evidence.

Jennifer Knight is a freelance writer, thanks in no small part to her day job at Durango Solar Works. ([email protected])Roldo is an ink-slinging angel, an investor of true talent.


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