Pubdate: Wed, 01 Feb 2012
Source: Massachusetts Daily Collegian (U of MA, Edu)
Copyright: 2012 Daily Collegian
Author: Ardee Napolitano


Unlike tobacco, smoking marijuana - even when done regularly - does 
not damage the performance of people's lungs, according to a recent 
study published by The Journal of the American Medical Association. 
The two-decade research, which followed 5,000 people who smoked an 
equivalent of one joint per day over the course of seven years, found 
out that despite their regular marijuana use, subjects were still 
able to push out a normal amount of air in one second after taking a 
deep breath.

This means that only minimal if any pulmonary obstruction has 
developed, contrary to findings involving tobacco.

"Recent evidence indicates that smoking marijuana, for lung cancer, 
is not as bad as smoking tobacco is," said Lyle Craker, a plant 
sciences professor at the University of Massachusetts who has studied 
medical marijuana for several years now. "Marijuana is relatively 
less dangerous than some other drugs." One possible explanation from 
the authors of the study states that because marijuana users "train" 
themselves to hold in the smoke, they were able to maintain proper 
breathing cycles.

Still, smoking marijuana can result in heavy coughing and is linked 
to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression, according 
to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The NIDA also states 
that cannabis impairs users' senses by reducing attention span and 
motivation, which makes them prone to accidents, public health advocates say.

"All drugs contain alkaloids, and alkaloids are bad for you," Craker 
said. "Getting hooked on anything is bad for you." Marijuana, which 
is now the most widely-used illegal drug in the country, has gained 
popularity among youth in recent years, according to the National 
Institutes of Health's Monitoring the Future study.

The study shows that one out of 15 high school students smoke the 
drug daily. "National surveys say that kids have a much easier time 
getting marijuana than they are getting alcohol because alcohol 
stores ask for an I.D., while underground drug dealers don't have a 
card policy," said Will Snyder, a UMass student and a member of the 
Cannabis Reform Coalition (CRC) on campus. Snyder said that the 
government's anti-drug campaigns, such as, fail 
to regulate marijuana use among teenagers because they " find a way 
to get [marijuana] anyway." He said that marijuana should instead be 
legalized with a minimum age restriction as with alcohol. In 
addition, he said that marijuana is less fatal than other vices 
popular with youth, such as tobacco and alcohol, which kill 443,000 
and 80,000 Americans each year, respectively, according to the 
Centers for Disease Control. UMass student Rob Jacobs expressed 
concern over marijuana legalization if it was not sufficiently taxed 
and regulated.

"To just make it a legal substance doesn't enact the necessary 
control of it," Jacobs said.      The CRC has also been pushing for 
the legalization of growing marijuana for medical research.

In 2007, it backed Craker as he pitched the idea of growing medical 
marijuana in the University for research purposes to the Drug 
Enforcement Administration. However, the DEA rejected his proposal.

At the moment, only the University of Mississippi is authorized to 
grow marijuana to be handed down to and studied by the Food and Drug 

While he insisted that recreational usage of marijuana is still 
disruptive, Craker said that making marijuana a total taboo is not 
fair. Many have already speculated that marijuana could help to cure 
glaucoma and post-traumatic stress disorder, and may even help women 
to conceive better, he said. Currently, marijuana has no legal 
medical use according to federal regulations.

"Because it's not been tested in a scientific study, all we have is 
lay evidence," Craker said. "That's why we want to be able to grow 
this here at the University to provide material to medical doctors so 
it can run on clinical trials." Craker and Snyder both agree that the 
ban on experimental marijuana growth hinders probable medical 
breakthroughs involving marijuana. "If you say that there's no 
science behind [the medical use of marijuana], why can't someone like 
Professor Craker study it?" Snyder said. "We live in an age of 
science, and these things should be tested," Craker said. According 
to Craker, marijuana has been prohibited primarily because hemp was 
overtaking wood as a better fiber for paper production during the 
early 1900s. Because businessmen, such as publisher William Randolph 
Hearst, relied on their timber lands and did not want any 
competition, they insisted that "marijuana is the worst thing in the 
world." This point of view, he said, was passed on from generation to 
generation, and at present, organizations such as the National 
Institute of Drug Abuse and the DEA employ people to promote a 
drug-free society.

Consequently, legalizing marijuana would hurt certain people's jobs, 
he said. "I don't want to accuse anyone, but things get into trends, 
and they're not willing to look at alternatives," Craker said. "I 
think it's those with an interest in keeping it restricted [who] 
demonize marijuana." On the other hand, Snyder is optimistic that 
with findings that clarify people's knowledge about its health 
effects, marijuana would gradually become more accepted by society.

"Our generation's attitudes towards cannabis have become much more 
positive," he said.
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