As medical and recreational use of marijuana continues to grow, a dangerous lack of awareness about its health risks could be putting millions of lives at risk. This is the conclusion reached by the British Lung Foundation (BLF), a leading charity that is worried about the "alarming disconnect" between the public perception of the drug as being relatively safe, and mounting evidence indicating that it dramatically increases a person's chance of developing cancer.
According to a report issued by the BLF, nearly 9 in 10 people believe that smoking cigarettes is worse than marijuana — but the risk of developing lung cancer is as much as 20 times greater from a cannabis joint than a tobacco cigarette. Researchers contend that smoking one marijuana joint is equivalent to smoking an entire pack of cigarettes.
The BLF report contradicts a study from earlier this year claiming that marijuana does not cause lung damage. Back in January of 2012, Stefan Kertesz, an associate professor in the UAB Division of Preventive Medicine, published a study claiming that occasional marijuana use was associated with increases in lung air flow rates and increases in lung capacity. His data showed that even up to moderately high-use levels — one joint a day for seven years — will not decrease air-flow rates or lung volumes.
The Kertesz study did not make mention of marijuana as a potential carcinogen.
What makes marijuana particularly dangerous, say BLF researchers, is the way that it is smoked. Cigarette users quickly exhale their smoke, whereas cannabis users tend to hold it in for as long as possible to better absorb its THC content. It's this practice of holding smoke in the lungs that significantly exacerbates its carcinogenic effects.
According to the BLF, 6.8% of 16 to 59-year-olds in England and Wales have used cannabis in the past year, which is approximately 2.2 million people.
Marijuana use in the United States is nearly identical, with some 17.4 million Americans - or 6.9% of the population - saying they have used marijuana as of 2010.
The widespread use of marijuana has prompted the BLF to proclaim the need for a "serious public health campaign" of the kind that has helped raised awareness about such things as tobacco use and obesity. Their ultimate goal is to "finally dispel the myth that smoking cannabis is somehow a safe pastime."
Via. Image via Shutterstock / holbox.