Part 2. Marijuana and cancer – assessing the science

This is Part 2 of a series of six articles discussing marijuana’s use in medicine and health care. In this part, we discuss marijuana and cancer – probably one of the most passionate and controversial “debates” associated with the use of cannabis.

It’s clear that there are numerous claims about the value of marijuana in preventing or treating various cancers. But what are facts? And what is smoke?

In this article, I’ll look at some of the more prominent claims, along with a skeptical analysis of those claims.

Continue reading “Part 2. Marijuana and cancer – assessing the science”

Part 3. Marijuana and neurological disorders – assessing the science

This is Part 3  of a series of six articles discussing marijuana’s use in medicine and health care. In this part, we discuss marijuana and neurological disorders – probably the only field of study regarding medical uses of cannabis that has a robust area of clinical research.

Although research into the use of marijuana and cancer takes all the news these days, there is probably just as vigorous research into neurological disorders.  If you read the story regarding CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who claimed he changed his mind about marijuana, you’d know he was also convinced that marijuana had some great potential in mental health. But is there really any high quality evidence?

In this article, I’ll look at some of the more prominent claims, along with a skeptical analysis of those claims. Continue reading “Part 3. Marijuana and neurological disorders – assessing the science”

Part 4. Marijuana and health risks – assessing the science

This is Part 4  of a series of six articles discussing marijuana’s use in medicine and health care. In this part, we discuss marijuana and health risks – even if there is evidence that marijuana had medical benefits, there must be a review of the risks of using it.

Only in junk medicine (see homeopathy or chiropractic, for example) is there a promise of great results with no risks. In real medicine, all benefits are balanced against the real risks of any medication or procedure.

The whole foundation of evidence (or science) based medicine is science – “it is the only set of methods for investigating and understanding the natural world.” Thus, the best factual evidence includes clinical research that describes not only the effectiveness, but also the risks, of a particular medical procedure.

In this article, I’ll look at marijuana and health risks – along with a skeptical analysis of those claims. Continue reading “Part 4. Marijuana and health risks – assessing the science”

Marijuana and cancer – what are facts and what’s just smoke

Editor’s note–this article has been updated and included into a multi-part series on marijuana and medicine. Check it out there. 

If you spend any amount of time on Twitter, Facebook, or just researching cancer treatments on the internet, you will run across something about marijuana and cancer – someone will claim that smoking pot, eating pot, hemp oil (which is manufactured from the seeds of cannabis plants that don’t contain much THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the active hallucinogenic agent of cannabis), or some other consumption of cannabis will cure or prevent cancer.

Of one hand, studies of cannabis’ effectiveness in reducing nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy, one of the the most common claims,  has generated negative results in some well done clinical trials and some positive results in others. But that has nothing to do with actually curing or preventing the cancer itself, just dealing with the effects of the treatment. Continue reading “Marijuana and cancer – what are facts and what’s just smoke”

Marijuana and pregnancy – again hitting that bong of science

Editor’s note–this article has been updated and included into a multi-part series on marijuana and medicine. Check it out there. 

As I have written previously, consumption of and growing marijuana should be completely decriminalized. And the laws need to be rewritten, not in the haphazard way it is now, but with protection and respect of rights of people to consume or grow (for personal use) cannabis. The criminal prosecution of marijuana use and distribution is a ridiculous waste of public resources.

The criminalization of marijuana has caused the growth of drug cartels that threaten the survival of Latin American democracies. And it has caused damage to delicate environments in pristine wilderness in the western USA where illegal marijuana farms use chemicals, human waste and water diversion to destroy the forest.

I could go on, but marijuana laws are simply unsupportable by any stretch of the imagination–the laws waste money and harm citizens.

That being said, it doesn’t mean that cannabis is completely safe. Or that the guy driving his car next to me or a surgeon about ready to slice into my abdomen or the pilot of the jet I’m boarding should be high.

Marijuana should be regulated and taxed like any other product in the class, such as alcohol and cigarettes. It’s a reasonable system where people can enjoy their weed, but it is regulated to prevent harm to others.

Continue reading “Marijuana and pregnancy – again hitting that bong of science”

Medical uses of marijuana–hitting the bong of science (updated again)

Marijuana_Cures_CancerEditor’s note–this article has been updated and included into a multi-part series on marijuana and medicine. Check it out there. 

As the push to legalize marijuana for personal or medical use gains traction in the USA, the “pro-pot” arguments become more enthusiastic and more off the beaten track of real science. I suspect, like legal same sex marriage, social norms have changed, and legal marijuana is something that will become commonplace across the country, except in some deeply conservative areas. The Federal Government has shown little enthusiasm in enforcing Federal law, which retains the highest authority in regulating certain drugs, in states that allow legal marijuana.

I personally have no issue with smoking marijuana, since other “drugs”, like alcohol, are completely legal and socially acceptable. I think that legalizing marijuana will reduce much of drug trafficking, reduce the burden of law enforcement and penal system costs, and have other beneficial effects to society.

I still want regulations such as control over public smoking (I don’t want second hand cannabis smoke wafting over me or my children, as much as I don’t want to inhale other people’s tobacco smoke), there needs to be regulations about when it might be illegal to be high (I don’t want my Delta Airlines pilot to be smoking weed before flying my jet, and I don’t want automobile drivers to be under the influence), and I want age regulations no different than there is for alcohol and cigarettes (despite . But I think those are reasonable boundaries for legalization of cannabis that would be reasonable to most people. But this isn’t the point of this article.

What troubles me about the “debate” about legalization of cannabis is that the pro-pot side seems to make claims about various medical benefits that appear to be only tenuously supported by real scientific evidence–in fact, some of the claims are downright dangerous. The reasons for doing this is probably, though I can only speculate, to make it appear that marijuana is some miracle product, so let’s speed up the legalization of it. It’s like the Food Babe telling us that kale is the miracle food, except that kale isn’t illegal. It does taste awful (but not the point). Continue reading “Medical uses of marijuana–hitting the bong of science (updated again)”

The skeptical subjects of your desire

big-foot-loch-nessAnother poll. This time, about this blog.

I’ve written over 640 articles over the past 2 ½ years, 3-4 a week. It’s fun, mostly. About 360 of those articles are on vaccines, vaccination, and you know, those who don’t like vaccines.

When I started, I wanted to write about all kinds of topics that always rub us skeptics the wrong way: creationism, global warming denialism, UFO’s, the Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster having an affair with Sasquatch, everything but the kitchen sink causing or curing cancer (seriously, it’s that bad with cancer), and, near the bottom of the list, vaccines. Why at the bottom of the list? I naively believed that vaccines were a settled question. You know, vaccinate or really horrible diseases will return. I guess I was wrong.

This is just a “sense of the readers” poll. So choose wisely. I might go in that direction.

Smoking cannabis doesn’t cure cancer but it may cause it

Marijuana_Cures_CancerAs I have written before, there is a lot of controversy about medical uses for marijuana, although it appears to be much more of a political debate than a scientific one. There just isn’t much evidence that supports a hypothesis that marijuana has any significant therapeutic effect on diseases like cancer, neurological disorders, or other diseases.

Scientists have long suspected that smoking marijuana could be linked to lung cancer, but there has only been weak evidence supporting a causality.  Recently, a 40 year review of  over 49,000 men strongly suggests that smoking cannabis does indeed increase the risk of lung cancer. The study examined 49,321 men between the ages of 18 and 20 who were being enlisted in the Swedish military between 1969 and 1970, examining their health and lifestyle issues, along with their use of marijuana. The researchers reviewed other potential risk factors such as respiratory disease, other types of smoking, and socioeconomic status. Continue reading “Smoking cannabis doesn’t cure cancer but it may cause it”

Marijuana and cancer – Sanjay Gupta’s anecdotes are not science

Editor’s note–this article has been updated and included into a multi-part series on marijuana and medicine. Check it out there. 

Unless you were hiking in the Amazon River jungles, with no access to the internet or American TV, you probably have heard that CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, changed his mind about marijuana (or “weed” as he keeps saying). Of course, this has become big news, because he’s such a “respected doctor” (why is that? Because he’s on TV?), and because a few years ago he was vociferously anti-cannabis.

I have no doubt that Dr. Gupta’s “conversion” to being pro-weed is genuine (and that his previous stance of anti-weed was similarly authentic), but we need to weed out what is real and what’s just smoke about his comments. His first major point about cannabis* was that the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) considers marijuana to be a Schedule 1 drug, which is defined as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

Dr. Gupta thinks this classification is ridiculous, and on the surface, many people, even those who are not devoted pot smokers, would probably agree. However, this is a political discussion, at least in the USA, and it is hardly a medical/scientific one. The chances of any political party having the fortitude to correct this classification is about as close to 0 as you can get, without actually stating that there is a 0 chance. But if Gupta wants to make a big deal of this, or that he’s so self-centered that he thinks he’ll change the mind of politicians, more power to him. But for me as a skeptic, it is not the most important thing he says.

In his article, he mentions a young girl who “started having seizures soon after birth. By age 3, she was having 300 a week, despite being on seven different medications. Medical marijuana has calmed her brain, limiting her seizures to 2 or 3 per month.” This is simply an anecdote of no quality whatsoever. Did he thoroughly investigate her case to determine if the number of seizures actually went down? Do we know that cannabis has anything to do with the change? Is this nothing more than a Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, that just because she consumed cannabis and the seizures decreased does not mean anything about cannabis’ causative properties with regards to this type of seizure. And then, Dr. Gupta continues with the anecdotes by stating, “I have seen more patients like Charlotte first hand, spent time with them and come to the realization that it is irresponsible not to provide the best care we can as a medical community, care that could involve marijuana.” Why do these TV doctors (like Dr. Oz) think that their anecdotes are better than anyone else’s.

Anecdotes are useless because they aren’t controlled, because they are subject to all levels of bias, and because these stories aren’t peer-reviewed. In other words, anecdotes have no value in science-based medicine. Anecdotes do have value in formulating testable scientific hypotheses, but assuming that anecdote=data, and more anecdotes=more data is simply pseudoscientific. I don’t care what Sanjay Gupta writes or says publicly, but providing these stories as “evidence” that marijuana has a medical benefit is essential like telling me that he observed homeopathy (which is just water) working. It’s laughable.

Continue reading “Marijuana and cancer – Sanjay Gupta’s anecdotes are not science”