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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tobacco Is Healthier Than Marijuana, Says Obama's Drug Doctor

Posted By on Tue, Jul 1, 2014 at 7:18 AM

Explaining why cigarettes are cool(er) - NIH
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  • Explaining why cigarettes are cool(er)

Obama's people stay on message. Even as the erstwhile Choomer in Chief seems to hint more and more strongly that drug legalization is inevitable and that it wouldn't be such a bad thing after all, the people President Barack Obama appointed to set the nation's policy on law enforcement and health are saying otherwise.

Police chiefs were told by Gil Kerlikowske, the former drug czar, that calling marijuana "medical" "sends a terrible message" to our nation's youth (a slam delivered in San Francisco of all places). Presumably included among those youth are the kids receiving relief from epileptic seizures by using high CBD strains.

Most recently, it was the chief of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow. In an interview with the Washington Post, Volkow posited that a tobacco habit is healthier for kids than marijuana use.

While Volkow (who is, by the way, Leon Trotsky's great-granddaughter) freely admits that alcohol and tobacco kill far more people than cannabis has and will, she also directly contradicted her boss's suggestion that alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis.

Her take: We don't know. And since we don't know, we ought not "risk" a "third legal drug" in America.

Volkow uses a tried-and-true argument: the science on cannabis is incomplete and insufficient, therefore no statements on its safety, efficacy or risk can be made. The argument is perfect, because it is cyclical -- more research is needed to see if marijuana can be legalized; as long as marijuana is illegal, research is hampered -- but Volkow goes ahead and makes a value judgment anyway.

When the Post suggests that cigarettes are worse for a person than cannabis, Volkow goes off.

"Wait a second. . . . Nicotine does not interfere with cognitive ability. So if you are an adolescent and you are smoking marijuana and going to school, it's going to interfere with your capacity to learn. So what is worse, as an adolescent right now? To have basically something that is jeopardizing your development educationally or to smoke a cigarette that, when you are 60 years of age, is going to lead to impaired pulmonary function and perhaps cancer? . . . I would argue that you do not want to mess with your cognitive capacity, that that is a very large price to pay."

There you have it, straight from the government's mouth: If you're going to smoke anything, smoke a Marlboro -- doctor's orders.

It's a bizarre thing for a doctor to say, especially a doctor who herself admits that 32 percent of people who smoke a cigarette will become addicted, compared to 9 percent of marijuana users who become "dependent."

Keep in mind that there are indeed longitudinal studies that compare the health outcomes of long-term marijuana and tobacco smokers, the most famous of which -- conducted by UCLA's Dr. Donald Tashkin -- found that marijuana use may not harm lung function at all and is not linked to lung cancer.

And also keep in mind the mounting evidence that marijuana use isn't good for a developing brain. Then again, neither are alcohol, mercury, or lead paint chips, all of which are legal.

But that's marijuana legalization for you -- it makes people do and say funny things.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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