Friday, May 16, 2008

Cannabis Link to Heart Attack/Stroke Full of Flaws

It's all over the online press; 'Marijuana Use Linked to Heart Attack/Stroke' - 'Cannabis Could Cause Stroke'. On the face of it, and according to the summaries and interviews that have flooded the web in the past few days, it appears cannabis users are all doomed to die of heart disease.

If you haven't seen the headlines, I'll give you a sample to check out:

'Marijuana Use May Raise Risk of Heart Attack/Stroke' -
US News and Global Report

'Study Finds Possible Connection Between Marijuana Abuse And Stroke or Heart Attacks' -
Armenian Medical Network

'Marijuana May up Heart Attack/Stroke Risk: Study' -
Yahoo Health News

But then, someone smells a rat and digs a little deeper to find that there is something strange going on. Russ Belville, podcaster over at NORML, checked the figures and discovered exactly how misleading the mainstream media must be. You can read the above link to the blog, or check the NORML blog with much the same but prettier coding.

A U.S. group supporting legal sales and regulation of marijuana disputed the findings. Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Bruce Mirken said, for example, the study involved people who were extremely heavy users.

“I think the low end was 78 joints a week. That’s 10 or 11 joints a day,” Mirken said in a telephone interview.

“We’re talking about people who are stoned all the time. We’re talking about the marijuana equivalent of the guy in the alley clutching a bottle of cheap wine. If you do anything to that level of excess, it might well have some untoward effects, whether it’s marijuana or wine or broccoli,” Mirken added.

“Even if you take this finding at face value, it’s not at all clear that it has any relevance to the real world because there is still no data showing higher rates of mortality among marijuana smokers. If this was a significant cause of cardiovascular disease, where are the bodies?”

So instead of us smokers being the next wave of dead people, we're just being mislead with extreme science.
Russ Belville sorts the figures:

Mirken’s right. 78 to 350 joints a week? That’s 11 to 50 joints per day. Let’s see, the government-rolled joints weigh in at about ¾ gram each (you do know there are official US Federal Government joints, right?), but the folks I know roll them a bit bigger (even to the ridiculous cubit-sized 70-gram models). However, most researchers seem happy with the ¾ gram model, so let’s do the math:

Low-end = 11 joints/day = 11 x 0.75g = 8.25g/day = about 2 ounces / week
High-end = 50 joints/day = 50 x 0.75g = 37.5g/day = over 9 ounces / week

So if you are consuming daily enough cannabis to equal about one-half to two-and-one-half pounds per month, then you might run an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart disease. Personally, I’m thinking that at $300 per ounce, you’re more likely to run the risk of bankruptcy!

Yet still, note that the study doesn’t check to see if the heavy marijuana users actually do have heart disease. The research done on the health effects of even heavy marijuana smokers show little if any difference between cannabis users and their non-using counterparts, and some studies even show a benefit from cannabis in treating hypertension.

However, overeating, drinking alcohol, and smoking tobacco are proven to have deleterious effects on the heart and on health. I doubt we’re going to see any major effort to arrest the users of those substances, though.

More information can be found at the Marijuana Policy Project website

After seeing this article, I got curious and find some average cannabis consumption rates from the real world. Now, I couldn't just go out and ask folks this sort of question, so I went where I knew I could get some pretty accurate answers. My online friends at are helping to build a picture of average daily usage by smokers.

If you read this and you smoke, pop over and see the figures so far (this site is for 18+ Internet users sorry) Maybe you could join and contribute with your daily average usage.

Twelve hours into the poll, 42 punters have given their input with 40% of people being in the 1 to 2 gram window. There are only 4 users, or 9.5% that are doing more than 7 grams a day.
Hopefully this poll will get a few more contributing to get a good picture.
Personally, I doubt that we'll see a huge number of 7 gram plus smokers.