Monday, October 17, 2011

Marijuana or Tobacco (Cigarette) Smoke... Which is Worse?

     I remember sitting in my 5th grade class listening to the D.A.R.E. officer speak about the dangers of marijuana. One thing that stuck with me was that smoking a joint was equivalent to smoking a whole pack of cigarettes in regards to the amount of lung damage incurred.  Fast forward to this year.  A common thought that has been passed around among cannabis smokers is that cannabis smoke is safer than tobacco smoke.  I decided to do my own homework and search for clinical studies and scientific explanations. The following is what I have found:


     When comparing cannabis to tobacco, I am going to be a little unfair.  I will be comparing commercially manufactured cigarettes to organically grown cannabis.  Why?  Because the vast majority of tobacco that is smoked is in the form of a cigarette made by one of the giant tobacco companies while cannabis, because of its current legal status, has not been exploited by industry and is generally grown by individuals or businesses who only use safe, organic products on the plants.  It may not be fair but it is a more accurate way of representing common usage.
    Tobacco smoke is laden with carcinogens created from the incomplete combustion of organic matter (the tobacco leaf).  Couple that with the myriad of items added to tobacco and a bigger danger occurs.  This *LINK* has a list of nearly 600 government-approved additives commonly found in cigarettes. While these substances may not pose much of a problem when ingested (they are all approved for use in food), combustion of these same additives produces thousands of various chemicals, most with the potential to cause cancer or other harmful effects.   Wait! I just got started...  Let us not overlook the *radiation found in cigarettes*.  It is a known fact that the fertilizers used by these tobacco giants contains radioactive elements that accumulate in and on the plant.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it!  (Actually, don't.)
     Cannabis on the other hand, because of the care put into growing it by hand, is simply that - cannabis!  Cannabis growers will use natural fertilizers like earthworm castings and bat guano (poop).  Sure, "N-P-K"s  (like fertilizers you might purchase for your garden) are used by some growers but those that do perform a "flush" prior to harvest to ensure the purity of the finished product. 
     As we continue to delve into the contrasts of the two smokes, we find that science has revealed to us a distinguishing factor - a family of chemicals known as cannabinoids (found exclusively in cannabis).  I will not go into full detail of how cannabinoids work in our body or how our own bodies actually have  receptors exclusive to cannabinoids and their endogenous equivalents.  That will have to be a future blog entry.  For now, let us focus on a particular study...
     Researchers at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the UCLA School of Medicine, have pitted tobacco and cannabis against each other in how much they encourage cancerous growth through the  activity of the enzyme CYP1A1 in the liver.  Activity of this enzyme on *polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons* (PAHs) has been linked to the formation of carcinogens in the body, leading to cancer.  What are PAHs, you ask?  Stay with me here.  When we cook a steak on the grill, PAHs are formed.  When we burn a campfire, we have produced PAHs.  PAHs are a by-product of combustion.  Unfortunately, our bodies do not take too kindly to them.  Our liver metabolizes them into nastier chemicals that cause genetic mutations, even to the point of altering or halting a cell's normal apoptosis.This would ultimately lead to the development of cancer.  Anyway, the researchers discovered that cannabis does exhibit far greater tar build-up (meaning more PAHs) in the lungs (because it is generally packed looser than cigarettes when smoked, cannabis smoke is typically held in the lungs longer, AND cigarettes generally have filters).  The crazy thing is that the researchers found that THC found in cannabis tar reduced the effects of the PAHs in tar by inhibiting the actions of CYP1A1 .  The full findings are located  *here*.  The study is not to conclude that smoking is safe.  Anything you smoke will have some risks involved.  It is refreshing to know that scientists are discovering that cannabis and its exclusively-found cannabinoids may very well be the saving grace of the cannabis smoker.

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