July 11, 2003
In the Health Canada news release announcing the provision of marijuana for medical purposes, Health Minister Anne McLellan admits that the effectiveness of marijuana therapy is unknown, but fails to mention that adverse health effects of marijuana smoke inhalation have already been demonstrated. Marijuana smoke contains many of the same respiratory irritants and carcinogens found in tobacco smoke - many in higher concentrations.
Will marijuana smokers be warned of both the known harmful effects and the risk of further harmful effects that continue to be found as research progresses? Will Health Canada be liable for the lung damage that will be caused by breathing marijuana smoke, whether directly or as second-hand smoke?
The Lung Association has seen all too many cases of lung disease caused by tobacco and is working hard to reduce the carnage through denormalization of tobacco use. It is ironic that although Minister McLellan claims to have taken this step for compassionate reasons, she has begun the process of normalization of marijuana smoking, which has an incredible potential for damage to the respiratory health of Canadians.
For those who can only achieve pain relief from marijuana use, alternate pharmacological preparations of cannabis, which do not inflict lung damage, which have been duly proven to be safe and effective, and which are approved for medical use by prescription, could be used.
The Lung Association regards marijuana smoking as a public health hazard. Health Canada should not be supplying marijuana in a form that will be inhaled into the lungs with dirty, irritating, toxic, carcinogenic smoke. The Minister of Health should never condone smoking of any substance.
Dr. Brian Graham
President and CEO
Lung Association of Saskatchewan