• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

A generous supporter has offered a $25,000 matching grant. So for this week only, whatever you can donate will be doubled up to $25,000! If you have the means, please donate! If you already have done so, thank you for your support. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Greatest Story Never Told

Smoking Cannabis Does Not Cause Cancer
Of Lung or Upper Airways, Tashkin Finds;
Data Suggest Possible Protective Effect

The story summarized by that headline ran in O’Shaughnessy’s (Autumn 2005), CounterPunch, and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. Did we win Pulitzers, dude? No, the story was ignored or buried by the corporate media. It didn’t even make the “Project Censored” list of under-reported stories for 2005. “We were even censored by Project Censored,” said Tod Mikuriya, who liked his shot of wry.

It’s not that the subject is trivial. One in three Americans will be afflicted with cancer, we are told by the government (as if it’s our immutable fate and somehow acceptable). Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. and lung cancer the leading killer among cancers. You’d think it would have been very big news when UCLA medical school professor Donald Tashkin revealed that components of marijuana smoke -although they damage cells in respiratory tissue- somehow prevent them from becoming malignant. In other words, something in marijuana exerts an anti-cancer effect.

Tashkin has special credibility. He was the lead investigator on studies dating back to the 1970s that identified the components in marijuana smoke that are toxic. It was Tashkin et al who published photomicrographs showing that marijuana smoke damages cells lining the upper airways. It was the Tashkin lab reporting that benzpyrene -a component of tobacco smoke that plays a role in most lung cancers- is especially prevalent in marijuana smoke. It was Tashkin’s data documenting that marijuana smokers are more likely than non-smokers to cough, wheeze, and produce sputum.

Tashkin reviewed his findings April 4 at a conference organized by “Patients Out of Time,” a reform group devoted to educating doctors and the public (as opposed to lobbying politicians). Some 30 MDs and nurses got continuing medical education credits for attending.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse supported Tashkin’s marijuana-related research over the decades and readily gave him a grant to conduct a large, population-based, case-controlled study that would prove definitively that heavy, long-term marijuana use increases the risk of lung and upper-airways cancers. What Tashkin and his colleagues found, however, disproved their hypothesis. (Tashkin is to marijuana as a cause of lung cancer what Hans Blick is to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction -an honest investigator who set out to find something, concluded that it wasn’t there, and reported his results.)

Tashkin’s team interviewed 1,212 cancer patients from the Los Angeles County Cancer Surveillance program, matched for age, gender, and neighborhood with 1,040 cancer-free controls. Marijuana use was measured in “joint years” (number of years smoked times number of joints per day). It turned out that increased marijuana use did not result in higher rates of lung and pharyngeal cancer (whereas tobacco smokers were at greater risk the more they smoked). Tobacco  smokers who also smoked marijuana were at slightly lower risk of getting lung cancer than tobacco-only smokers.

These findings were not deemed worthy of publication in “NIDA Notes.” Tashkin reported them at the 2005 meeting of the International Cannabinoid Research Society and they were published in the October 2006 issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention. Without a press release from NIDA calling attention to its significance, the assignment editors of America had no idea that “Marijuana Use and the Risk of Lung and Upper Aerodigestive Tract Cancers: Results of a Population-Based Case-Control Study” by Mia Hashibe1, Hal Morgenstern, Yan Cui, Donald P. Tashkin, Zuo-Feng Zhang, Wendy Cozen, Thomas M. Mack and Sander Greenland was a blockbuster story.

I suggested to Eric Bailey of the L.A. Times that he write up Tashkin’s findings -UCLA provided the local angle if the anti-cancer effect wasn’t enough. Bailey said his editors wouldn’t be interested for some time because he had just filed a marijuana-related piece (about the special rapport Steph Sherer of Americans for Safe Access enjoyed with some old corporado back in Washington, D.C.) The Tashkin scoop is still there for the taking!

Investigators from New Zealand recently got widespread media attention for a study contradicting Tashkin’s results. “Heavy cannabis users may be at greater risk of chronic lung disease -including cancer- compared to tobacco smokers,” is how BBC News summed up the New Zealanders’ findings. The very small size of the study  -79 smokers took part, 21 of whom smoked cannabis only- was not held against the authors. As conveyed in the corporate media, the New Zealand study represented the latest word on this important subject (as if science were some kind of tennis match and the truth just gets truthier with every volley).

Tashkin criticized the New Zealanders’ methodology in his talk at Asilomar:  “There’s some cognitive dissonance associated with the interpretation of their findings. I think this has to do with the belief model among the investigators and -I wish they were here to defend themselves- the integrity of the investigators… They actually published another paper in which they mimicked the design that we used for looking at lung function.”

Tashkin spoke from the stage of an airy redwood chapel designed by Julia Morgan. He is pink-cheeked, 70ish, wears wire-rimmed spectacles. “For tobacco they found what you’d expect: a higher risk for lung cancer and a clear dose-response relationship. A 24-fold increase in the people who smoked the most… What about marijuana? If they smoked a small or moderate amount there was no increased risk, in fact slightly less than one. But if they were in the upper third of the group, then their risk was six-fold… A rather surprising finding, and one has to be cautious about interpreting the results because of the very small number of cases (14) and controls (4).”

Tashkin said the New Zealanders employed “statistical sleight of hand.” He deemed it “completely implausible that smokers of only 365 joints of marijuana have a risk for developing lung cancer similar to that of smokers of 7,000 tobacco cigarettes… Their small sample size led to vastly inflated estimates… They had said ‘it’s ideal to do the study in New Zealand because we have a much higher prevalence of marijuana smoking.’ But 88 percent of their controls had never smoked marijuana, whereas 36% of our controls (in Los Angeles) had never smoked marijuana. Why did so few of the controls smoke marijuana? Something fishy about that!”

Strong words for a UCLA School of Medicine professor!

As to the highly promising implication of his own study -that something in marijuana stops damaged cells from becoming malignant- Tashkin noted that an anti-proliferative effect of THC has been observed in cell-culture systems and animal models of brain, breast, prostate, and lung cancer. THC has been shown to promote known apoptosis (damaged cells die instead of reproducing) and to counter angiogenesis (the process by which blood vessels are formed -a requirement of tumor growth). Other antioxidants in cannabis may also be involved in countering malignancy, said Tashkin.

Much of Tashkin’s talk was devoted to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, another condition prevalent among tobacco smokers. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are two forms of COPD, which is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Air pollution and tobacco smoke are known culprits. Inhaled pathogens cause an inflammatory response, resulting in diminished lung function. COPD patients have increasing difficulty clearing the airways as they get older.

Tashkin and colleagues at UCLA conducted a major study in which they measured lung function of various cohorts over eight years and found that tobacco-only smokers had an accelerated rate of decline, but marijuana smokers -even if they smoked tobacco as well- experienced the same rate of decline as non-smokers. “The more tobacco smoked, the greater the rate of decline,” said Tashkin. “In contrast, no matter how much marijuana was smoked, the rate of decline was similar to normal.” Tashkin concluded that his and other studies “do not support the concept that regular smoking of marijuana leads to COPD.”

Hope that makes you breathe easier.

FRED GARDNER is editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at: fred@plebesite.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 15, 2019
Victor Grossman
The Berlin Wall, Thirty Years Later
Raouf Halaby
Kurdish Massacres: One of Britain’s Many Original Sins
Robert Fisk
Trump and Erdogan have Much in Common – and the Kurds will be the Tragic Victims of Their Idiocy
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal in the Levant
Wilma Salgado
Ecuador: Lenin Moreno’s Government Sacrifices the Poor to Satisfy the IMF
Ralph Nader
The Congress Has to Draw the Line
William A. Cohn
The Don Fought the Law…
John W. Whitehead
One Man Against the Monster: John Lennon vs. the Deep State
Lara Merling – Leo Baunach
Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Not Falling Prey to Vultures
Norman Solomon
The More Joe Biden Stumbles, the More Corporate Democrats Freak Out
Jim Britell
The Problem With Partnerships and Roundtables
Howard Lisnoff
More Incitement to Violence by Trump’s Fellow Travelers
Binoy Kampmark
University Woes: the Managerial Class Gets Uppity
Joe Emersberger
Media Smears, Political Persecution Set the Stage for Austerity and the Backlash Against It in Ecuador
Thomas Mountain
Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed Wins Nobel Peace Prize, But It Takes Two to Make Peace
Wim Laven
Citizens Must Remove Trump From Office
October 14, 2019
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
Class Struggle is Still the Issue
Mike Miller
Global Climate Strike: From Protest To Power?
Patrick Cockburn
As Turkey Prepares to Slice Through Syria, the US has Cleared a New Breeding Ground for Isis
John Feffer
Trump’s Undeclared State of Emergency
Dean Baker
The Economics and Politics of Financial Transactions Taxes and Wealth Taxes
Jonah Raskin
What Evil Empire?
Nino Pagliccia
The Apotheosis of Emperors
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A Passion for Writing
Basav Sen
The Oil Despots
Brett Wilkins
‘No Friend But the Mountains’: A History of US Betrayal of the Kurds
John Kendall Hawkins
Assange: Enema of the State
Scott Owen
Truth, Justice and Life
Thomas Knapp
“The Grid” is the Problem, Not the Solution
Rob Kall
Republicans Are Going to Remove Trump Soon
Cesar Chelala
Lebanon, Dreamland
Weekend Edition
October 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
CounterPunch in Peril?
Anthony DiMaggio
Fake News in Trump’s America
Andrew Levine
Trump’s End Days
Jeffrey St. Clair
High Plains Grifter: the Life and Crimes of George W. Bush
Patrick Cockburn
Kurdish Fighters Always Feared Trump Would be a Treacherous Ally
Paul Street
On the TrumpenLeft and False Equivalence
Dave Lindorff
Sure Trump is ‘Betraying the Kurds!’ But What’s New about That?
Rob Urie
Democrats Impeach Joe Biden, Fiddle as the Planet Burns
Sam Pizzigati
Inequality is Literally Killing Us
Jill Richardson
What Life on the Margins Feels Like
Mitchell Zimmerman
IMPOTUS: Droit de seigneur at Mar-a-Lago
Robert Hunziker
Methane SOS
Lawrence Davidson
Donald Trump, the Christian Warrior
William Hartung – Mandy Smithburger
The Pentagon is Pledging to Reform Itself, Again. It Won’t.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail