OASIS on the Move: Is Marijuana Dangerous?

Debunking some common pro-marijuana myths.

The following is written by Dan Tarlin of .

Dan Tarlin is a clinical social worker and Licensed Alcohol & Drug Counselor at Westwood Lodge Hospital, where he directs the Partial Hospital Programs for children, adolescents, and adults.  He has been working in the field for over twenty years and is a charter member of OASIS.

OASIS (Organizing Against Substances In Stoughton) partners with a diverse group of people and agencies that offer various support for: families, education in schools, policy development and after-school programs.


Marijuana Series Part 1 – Is Marijuana Dangerous?

Marijuana is the most commonly-used illegal drug in the US, used by over 25 million Americans in the past year according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

While most teenagers do not smoke, marijuana use among teens has been rising for the past four years, according to www.monitoringthefuture.org

In the 2011 survey, 6.6% of 12th graders reported daily marijuana use.  Among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, 25% have used at least once in the past year.

Of course, recent successful efforts to decriminalize marijuana are most likely driving this increase, as legal sanctions for use are less serious than they used to be.  

We hear a great deal of information from “pro-hemp” forces that marijuana is not harmful and should not be grouped with other illegal, and more dangerous, drugs.  I’d like to go over some of the arguments they make:

  • Pot is totally natural; it’s a plant: So is tobacco. So are many varieties of poisonous and hallucinogenic mushrooms.  Poison hemlock is a plant, and is fatal to humans.  Lots of things in our environment are natural but still harmful or deadly. 
  • Weed isn’t nearly as harmful as alcohol, which is legal: It’s true that alcohol in large quantities is more harmful and kills more people.  One way to put it is to say that marijuana harms fewer people than alcohol does, but more than tofu does.  It isn’t health food.
  • Marijuana is not addictive: It’s true that marijuana is not physically addictive like heroin.  Cocaine isn’t technically physically addictive either, but nobody would seriously say it’s not dangerous.  Some people can find pot psychologically addictive.  If you find yourself thinking about the drug when you’re not using, or find that you need it to calm down or to feel “normal”, then you’re addicted.
  • Marijuana has been proven effective for managing pain and glaucoma: There have been no controlled studies to prove that marijuana is more effective than conventional drugs.  Medical science does not consider any smoked medicine to be appropriate- dosage can not be controlled, and the method of smoking damages lungs and other organs just like cigarettes do. 
  • Pot is just recreational and doesn’t lead to other drugs: It’s true that many people use marijuana and never graduate to hard drugs.  It’s also true that virtually everyone on hard drugs started with marijuana.  It’s not a “gateway” for everyone, but it certainly increases your risk.

So do you (or someone you know) have a problem?  How can you tell?  Keep checking this space for more information.

Part 2 will deal with the following topic: “How Do I Know if I Have a Marijuana Problem?”

Tamara February 27, 2012 at 09:31 PM
this is a very narrow minded article. I have never used marijuana in a recreational manner. I use Medical Marijuana Edibles for relief from chronic pain. True, I *could* be seriously drugged up on prescription meds, which I was and were not relieving the pain ... or I can eat some cannabis, not be "drugged up" or stoned, not pay the massive co-pays each month, not be ingesting a "drug cocktail" multiple times a day ... IF it supposedly does not help with pain, why are CBDs patented by the US Government and why is the FDA looking to approve Sativex for pain relief??? "Medicines" are also dangerous ... in my opinion, FAR more dangerous than eating the cannabis herb (and eaten raw, cannabis IS a health food) My name is Tamara My "crime" is chronic pain from Multiple Sclerosis https://www.facebook.com/pages/Weed-Eaters/306033026098492?
malcolm kyle February 27, 2012 at 10:42 PM
Here are just a few of the many highly motivated athletes whose drug of choice is cannabis/marijuana: * Usain Bolt, the 2008 World Record holder of the 100 and 200 meter sprint. * Michael Phelps, the most decorated swimmer ever with 14 Olympic gold medals. * Tim Linecum, the National League baseball’s Cy Young Award winner for 2009. * Santonio Holmes, the Super Bowl XLII’s MVP. Marijuana is used by the majority of top sportspeople everywhere: * "I just let him know that most of the players in the league use marijuana and I have and do partake in smoking weed in the offseason" - Josh Howard, forward for the Dallas Mavericks. Howard admitted to smoking marijuana on Michel Irvin’s ESPN show. * "You got guys out there playing high every night. You got 60% of your league on marijuana. What can you do?" - Charles Oakley (Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Houston Rockets) * "I personally know boxers, body builders, cyclists, runners and athletes from all walks of life that train and compete with the assistance of marijuana," - WWE wrestler Rob Van Dam * Some of the best cricket players of all time, like Phil Tufnell and Sir Ian Botham, have admitted to regularly using marijuana to deal with stress and muscle aches. In 2001, half of South Africa's cricket team was caught smoking marijuana with the team physiotherapist. They were celebrating a championship victory in the Caribbean.
malcolm kyle February 27, 2012 at 10:47 PM
1) Tobacco is cancer causing largely because it delivers specific carcinogens such as NNK and NNAL that are not present in cannabis. Not all "tar" is created equal, and tobacco has some of the most carcinogenic types of tar known to science, whereas cannabis does not. 2) Cannabis (marijuana) use is associated with a DECREASE in several types of cancer... potentially even providing a protective effect against tobacco and alcohol related cancer development. Donald Tashkin, a UCLA researcher whose work is funded by NIDA, did a case-control study comparing 1,200 patients with lung, head and neck cancers to a matched group with no cancer. Even the heaviest marijuana smokers had no increased risk of cancer, and had somewhat lower cancer risk than non-smokers (tobacco smokers had a 20-fold increased lung cancer risk). Tashkin D. Marijuana Use and Lung Cancer: Results of a Case-Control Study. American Thoracic Society International Conference. May 23, 2006. Researchers at the Kaiser-Permanente HMO, funded by NIDA, followed 65,000 patients for nearly a decade. Tobacco smokers had massively higher rates of lung cancer and other cancers. Marijuana smokers had no increase in risk of tobacco-related cancers or of cancer risk overall. In fact their rates of lung and most other cancers were slightly lower than non-smokers. Sidney, S. et al. Marijuana Use and Cancer Incidence (California, United States). Cancer Causes and Control. Vol. 8. Sept. 1997, p. 722-728.
malcolm kyle February 27, 2012 at 10:53 PM
The following text is taken directly from the US government's National Cancer Institute website: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/cannabis/healthprofessional/page4 * ANTI-TUMOR EFFECTS One study in mice and rats suggested that cannabinoids may have a protective effect against the development of certain types of tumors. During this 2-year study, groups of mice and rats were given various doses of THC by gavage. A dose-related decrease in the incidence of hepatic adenoma tumors and hepatocellular carcinoma was observed in the mice. Decreased incidences of benign tumors (polyps and adenomas) in other organs (mammary gland, uterus, pituitary, testis, and pancreas) were also noted in the rats. In another study, delta-9-THC, delta-8-THC, and cannabinol were found to inhibit the growth of Lewis lung adenocarcinoma cells in vitro and in vivo. In addition, other tumors have been shown to be sensitive to cannabinoid-induced growth inhibition. Cannabinoids may cause antitumor effects by various mechanisms, including induction of cell death, inhibition of cell growth, and inhibition of tumor angiogenesis and metastasis. Cannabinoids appear to kill tumor cells but do not affect their nontransformed counterparts and may even protect them from cell death. These have been shown to induce apoptosis in glioma cells in culture and induce regression of glioma tumors in mice and rats. Cannabinoids protect normal glial cells of astroglial apoptosis mediated by the CB1 receptor.
Kevin Sterling February 27, 2012 at 11:25 PM
People like the writer blame recent increases on lesser legal penalties although there is no evidence supporting the assertion that the law prevents use. The writer should explain how he can postulate such an assertion and reconcile the over 1000% increase in the incidence of use that the US experienced in the 1960s. Petty possession was punishable as a felony and led to stiff prison terms in that day in every State of the Union. The writer should explain why the incidence of use is so much lower in the US than in Holland. Youth use in Holland is significantly less than half that in the US. Let's not forget to mention that the writer has a vested financial interest in perpetuating the idiocy of prohibition. As Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it." Demand evidence rather than baseless assertions before you take the word of a prohibitionist.
Esoteric Knowledge February 28, 2012 at 12:22 AM
In My Opinion, OASIS is a falsehood plasterer. People's lives are being destroyed more by people who are bigoted against drug users than the drugs themselves, so don't pat yourselves on the back. Furthermore you are extremely easy to out-debate. You talk about the fact that is pot is natural, and then you bring up hemlock, poisonous mushrooms, tobacco...what do those things have to do with marijuana? Nothing. Those are red herrings. And #2 marijuana harms more people than tofu? No. Intollerent people harm marijuana users is more like it. #3 "Psychologically addictive" is called habit. #4 is a long one: "There have been no controlled studies to prove that marijuana is more effective than conventional drugs." Your info comes from the FDA who are authoritian liars in bed with pharmaceutical corporations. If the are effective is enough, anyway. And: "Medical science does not consider any smoked medicine to be appropriate- dosage can not be controlled, and the method of smoking damages lungs and other organs just like cigarettes do." Sure, but chemo with 1% success rate is fine in their psychotic world. Plus hospitial accidents cause 100,000 deaths a year...so much for medical science. Smoking has great control over dosage control, but don't forget we are concerned with dosage control because those other drugs can kill you if you have too much, not the case with marijuana. And marijuana smoke causes damage just like cigarettes? No. You have lost.
Danny Hoardern February 28, 2012 at 01:32 AM
"Pot is totally natural; it’s a plant:" you failed to disclose how this makes cannabis dangerous: there have been zero recorded deaths attributed solely to cannabis usage! "Weed isn’t nearly as harmful as alcohol, which is legal:" Growing evidence suggests that weed is a substitute to alcohol: in states that have legalized medical marijuana we have seen a 9% decrease in road fatalities and a decline in alcohol sales. States with medial marijuana have also seen a 5% decline in suicide rates. "Marijuana is not addictive:" Cannabis is not physically addictive like other drugs but like chocolate or anything you enjoy in life it is habit forming. Thinking about something does not make you an addict. "If you find yourself thinking about the drug when you’re not using..." by this definition this makes YOU an addict! "Marijuana has been proven effective for managing pain and glaucoma:" To claim that marijuana has no medicinal qualities you are dismissing every study in every article for every condition listed here: http://norml.org/library/recent-research-on-medical-marijuana "Pot is just recreational and doesn’t lead to other drugs:" Legalizing, regulating and taxing cannabis like wine will remove the need to see a dealer that pushes other drugs. Legalizing will create jobs and take a large percentage of profits away from the black market and cartels. Is Marijuana dangerous? Only if your job depends on it being illegal. Is prohibition dangerous? You bet!
Esoteric Knowledge February 28, 2012 at 06:36 PM
No rebuttal from Dan Tarlin? How about an apology for trying to lie and propagandize the public? How about an admission of wrong doing?
Danny Hoardern February 28, 2012 at 10:34 PM
@Esoteric "Dan Tarlin is a clinical social worker and Licensed Alcohol & Drug Counselor". You have your answer right there. Dan's job depends on Marijuana being illegal - currently those who are arrested for possession get a choice of going to jail or seeing a drug counselor (aka Dan). However, I would like to think that when the inevitable legalization eventually happens that Dan is still there for people who DO have genuine problems with drugs. I'm taking a stab in the dark here and saying the amount of time taken up with people that don't have a problem with drugs (the ones that chose not to be arrested) are taking up resources from those that really do need help. I would think that "helping" those that don't really need help would be an extremely unsatisfying line of work - hence the reefer madness attempt at scaring people away from pot. Dan, your job will become more meaningful once you realize that drug counseling is meant for those with problems using drugs and not those with problems with our prehistoric laws. Legalizing, regulating and taxing cannabis like wine is the only sensible way out of this mess.
Andrew Childress February 29, 2012 at 04:00 AM
This is directly to Dan Tarlin. I grew up in the east coast, south,midwest, and west coast finally graduating from Mizzou (one of the best Journalism schools in the nation). I was caught with a tiny little jar of pot once, and I had to go through numerous court mandated AA and NA and drug treatment, drug testing programs for almost an entire year, not to mention the fines I incurred. My conservative religious family lost faith in me despite my gpa at age 21. I am now 27 years old, make a six figure income, pay state and federal taxes, and have a very happy life from owning multiple medical marijuana businesses. So I am seeing first hand how the geographical location is very much associated with modern science. Let's be honest, there are a ton of people still behind the times writing articles like this using ZERO FACTS. I love how when dan goes over the arguments, he lists not a single fact. Reminds me of that show Americna weed i saw last week where the ignorant city councilman was trying to have verbal conversations with locals and he couldn't fabricate words, he was at a loss, lol. Please learn about this wonderful plant and the fact that the fda is approving a patch for use. Thanks to Tamara, Malcolm, and Kevin, Esoteric and Danny Hoardern for all having such factual and direct posts.
Dan Tarlin March 02, 2012 at 02:53 PM
The purpose of this piece is not to argue that Marijuana is going to kill everybody tomorrow; rather it is to push back a bit on the "pro-hemp" community regarding some of their arguments that don't hold up to scrutiny. In my treatment of people who use drugs, I only encounter clients who have a problem causing them to enter treatment. I've met with young people whose parents brought them in because they were flunking all their classes, had been picked up for shoplifting, etc..... and oh yeah, they were smoking weed every day. That's someone who seems to have a problem! If Marijuana is fully legalized, then things will change and treatment will start to resemble treatment for other habits that are unhealthy but not illegal. But there will still be some people whose marijuana use will be out of control, and who will need to stop using (as with some people now who are alcoholic). But all that is theoretical, because right now it's still illegal on a federal level. Drug counselors don't make the laws- we're just trying to help people live healthier lives. Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting!! -Dan Tarlin
Danny Hoardern March 03, 2012 at 12:16 AM
While I agree that Cannabis usage should be restricted to adults your article title suggests that Marijuana is dangerous, but does not contain one fact to back this up. Articles containing misinformation do more harm than good. For example: "smoking damages lungs and other organs just like cigarettes do." This is incorrect - studies show that cannabis smoke increases lung function (http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/307/2/173.abstract) and protects against cancer. "We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use. What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect." - http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/25/AR2006052501729_pf.html Unfortunately, many kids flunk their classes whether they consume cannabis or not. Kids also shoplift (I did when young, but did not smoke pot). Human nature dictates that it is easier to put the blame to an external factor (e.g., the pot made me do it) rather than an internal factor (I lack confidence). Self-handicapping occurs when someone lacks confidence in achievement, so they partake in activities which gives them an excuse for failure. This suggests that there could be an underlying cause for those that are in school and abuse pot. Respect kids by giving them facts and they will be more likely to engage in safe behavior. Peace :)
Todd Brown March 04, 2012 at 04:02 PM
The people who criticize this article are taking statements out of context or completely ignoring the facts. This article is about the risk of marijuana use in teenagers. As a pharmacist, a professor of pharmacy at a major university for decades, and someone with experience in drug abuse policy, I can confirm that every fact in this article is correct. Marijuana use in teenagers is associated with an increased risk of other more dangerous drugs. The teenage years are typically a time of significant physical, mental, and social development. Heavy use of marijuana can impact this development. One would hope that individuals who support the legalization of marijuana would also support that it be used responsibly. This would certainly include most teenagers for the reasons stated above. Unfortunately that is not the case here. Until they do so they will never be taken seriously.
Danny Hoardern March 05, 2012 at 12:19 AM
Todd, imagine yourself as a teenager and reading "smoking damages lungs and other organs just like cigarettes do." Now you are faced with someone offering you cannabis (assuming it is not via an edible or vaporizer) and you say "no thanks, smoking damages lungs and other organs just like cigarettes do." Now what would you think if the person offering the cannabis showed you (or mentioned) multiple peer-reviewed studies disproving your false beliefs? Would the original misinformation make you question other information you've been given about harder drugs? I most certainly agree that marijuana is not good for the teenage brain, but I feel that loading kids up with misinformation will only make them distrust drug campaigns (think reefer madness). If you want to be taken seriously, please provide evidence that smoking cannabis damages lungs and organs just like cigarettes.
Todd Brown March 05, 2012 at 12:47 AM
Danny, It is extremely unlikely that a teenager is going to understand what is communicated in a peer-reviewed study. It is more unlikely that they will be able to take the conclusions and apply it appropriately to other situations. The article states that marijuana causes damage to the lungs like tobacco. It does not state that is causes the same amount of damage. I stand by my original statement. This is factually correct. The production, storage, and treatment of marijuana in the US is not controlled and there is significant documentation that marijuana can contain insects and harmful chemicals that in some cases can do more damage than the marijuana itself. You may not like it but these are the facts.
Danny Hoardern March 05, 2012 at 04:23 AM
Studies show that cannabis smoke increases lung function (http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/307/2/173.abstract) and protects against cancer. "We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use. What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect." - http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/25/AR2006052501729_pf.html Cigarettes do the opposite - they decrease lung function and cause cancer. How does this make you factually correct? Assuming teenagers are unable to understand (or get the gist of) the conclusions/summaries of the two studies mentioned, let's change the original scenario to "...the person offering cannabis states that unlike tobacco, those who have light to moderate cannabis usage have a tiny increase in lung function and unlike cigarettes, cannabis protects against cancer. ..." I'm sure you get the idea. Realistically, telling kids that marijuana does damage like cigarettes is probably not going to stick. Bugs and harmful chemicals would have been better placed in the article, although I'm not sure of the percentage of those affected - when you start on fringe cases almost any substance can have negative effects. You may not like the results of these studies but these are the facts.
Stephanie Patton March 05, 2012 at 07:16 PM
It is never a bad thing to engage in a healthy disagreement. I want to applaud Dan Tarlin for writing an article that was sure to appear controversial to some. The OASIS coalition produces the OASIS on the Move editorials to share some information about local youth substance abuse and hopefully get people in Stoughton talking and thinking about that information. We are a local coalition working to address the health of youth in Stoughton. I want to ensure that our Stoughton readers have some more facts about youth marijuana use. We know that in both Massachusetts and Stoughton, teen marijuana use is on the rise. Among youth who are using, that use is starting at a younger age. We are concerned because research has demonstrated that heavy marijuana use during adolescence may impact normal brain development. Marijuana use in youth has been linked to problems with learning and memory, as well as greater drop-out rates (than among non-users). More youth enter substance abuse treatment with a primary diagnosis for marijuana dependency than all other illegal drugs combined. It continues to be true that most Stoughton High School students do not currently use marijuana, but that does not mean that there is not a cause for concern.
Dan Tarlin March 11, 2012 at 08:37 PM
For me I guess the bottom line is that Marijuana isn't health food. One can argue about how much damage it does, but I don't think you can reasonably argue that it's good for you (I'm not buying the "protective effect"- I'd need to hear a reasonable theory regarding how that might work). As I noted in the original piece, Marijuana is not as bad for you as cocaine, but it's not as good for you as Tofu. Now we can all do things that aren't optimally healthy, but we should at least be realistic about it- I love ice cream and I eat it a lot, but I don't claim it's good for me!
Danny Hoardern March 14, 2012 at 04:19 AM
Cannabis is definitely not health food, and if it is easier for adolescents to obtain over alcohol then regulation will help. I agree with Stephanie that cannabis usage during adolescence should be discouraged for the reasons she outlined. But most of the commenters here are aware that for responsible adults there are very few negative effects. Here's a link to NORML to fill you in on the protective effects: http://norml.org/component/zoo/category/cannabis-and-the-brain-a-user-s-guide#Neuroprotection You may be more interested in the references at the bottom of the page. For many more studies, download Granny Storm Crow's 2011 pdf and search for neuroprotectant. Speaking of health food, this is also an interesting study (n~50,000) though at this stage it is only a correlation: http://norml.org/news/2011/09/01/frequency-of-marijuana-use-associated-with-lower-prevalence-of-obesity-study-says One could argue that a 9% reduction in road fatalities (having safer roads) in states with medical marijuana is good for your health. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-11/uocd-ssm112911.php I can almost hear the prohibitions saying 'meh, safer roads will be boring!'
Paul Hurteau October 17, 2012 at 09:25 PM
"marijuana can contain insects and harmful chemicals" Duhhh,,, So can cereal. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/consumer-reports-foods-can-contain-surprising-even-alarming-ingredients/2011/07/15/gIQAO8oaNK_story.html
Paul Hurteau October 17, 2012 at 09:29 PM
"We are a local coalition working to address the health of youth in Stoughton." Cool,,, then why no attempt to close liquor stores and places that sell cigarettes?? Do you have ANY alcoholic beverages in your house??
Paul Hurteau October 17, 2012 at 09:30 PM
Oh,, Tofu can kill you! http://savingaplanetatrisk.org/poisoning-americans-daily-genetically-modified-soda-tofu-and-chips/


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