Letter: Further thoughts on cannabis use effects

April 15, 2019

Geary Foertsch, in his letter (4/12) on pot use, told a story that I would say had two main points: 1) cannabis might be the safest recreational drug around, and 2) its legalization would bring more benefit than detriment to society. While I think his story merits attention I also think some of the following issues also merit attention.

Mr. Foertsch said death rates due to alcohol, cigarettes, and (for one example) opioids were very large while the death rate for cannabis was zero. A detail obscured by this claim is that cannabis is usually taken by smoking a joint. My check on the internet found many references to cannabis smoke as containing many of the same dangerous components as tobacco and thus could cause lung cancer or other pulmonary problems.

More internet searches for how much research data exists on this issue brought up some statistics confirming a measurable increase in lung cancer but other statistics saying that results are inconclusive. Granted that joint smoking has been going on for decades and cannabis has been illicit over this time period and that many pot users are concomitantly smoking tobacco, the lung cancer question may not be answerable in a definitive way for another decade or two. Otherwise, it might be premature to suggest a zero death rate for cannabis use.

Another related question is drug-induced psychosis. More internet searches that I did – for alcohol, opiods, LSD, etc., and cannabis – showed many references that say a small percent of all users of any of these drugs do sometimes experience an episode of psychosis. There are also reports of recent increased visits to hospital ERs for adverse reactions to pot use in Colorado where recent legalization took place. Still more internet searches brought up many reports of increased violent behavior in a small fraction of cannabis users as well as in users of all the other drugs including alcohol.

Still another related issue is the effects on behavior when a psychotropic drug is used by a person with a mental illness. A very fair, detailed, and well-researched article on this was written by Kelly Patricia O’Meara and is on the website.

It reports that some pieces of information exist in some police reports on mass shooters which reveal that quite a few of the shooters had histories of mental illness diagnoses and they were simultaneously on an antidepressant or another prescription psychotropic drug at the time of the shootings. Most if not all of those drugs had warnings of violent behavior side effects in a small percentage of users. Consequently, a mentally ill person whose violence is augmented or induced by a psychotropic drug could cause deaths in many innocent bystanders rather than the one user.

In closing, I would call attention back to Foertsch’s citation, in his letter, of a much greater death rate due to cigarette use (from carcinogens and nicotine addiction). Thus tobacco use - starting in our culture some hundreds of years ago, and shown in the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement court case, to be the collective fault of the tobacco industry - is still a far bigger and still largely ignored problem in society (rather than the cannabis “problem”).

Arthur E. Sowers


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