Marihuana & lung cancer
Information about marijuana causing cancer like
From: Sol Lightman
The following is the text of a pamphlet I wrote for an organization
at UMASS amherst
It is an attempt to point out some of the absurdities in the marijuana-
is-bad-for-you-like-cigarettes bullshit, as well as take a few cheap
(but well aimed) shots at the tobacco industry.
It is written from a pro-marijuana-relegalization perspective,
and if you want a copy, mail us a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope.
An address and some sources are at the end.
So, you thought it was the tar that caused cancer...
Think again. Cigarette companies will have you believing
anything just as long as you continue to buy their products. The
fact is, although insoluble tars are a contributing factor to the
lung cancer danger present in today's cigarettes, the real danger
is radioactivity. According to U.S. Surgeon General C. Everette
Koop (on national television, 1990) radioactivity, not tar,
accounts for at least 90% of all smoking related lung cancer.
Tobacco crops grown in the United States are fertilized by law
with phosphates rich in radium 226. In addition, many soils have
a natural radium 226 content. Radium 226 breaks down into two long
lived 'daughter' elements -- lead 210 and polonium 210. These
radioactive particles become airborne, and attach themselves to the
fine hairs on tobacco leaves.
Studies have shown that lead 210 and polonium 210 deposits
accumulate in the bodies of people exposed to cigarette smoke.
Data collected in the late 1970's shows that smokers have three
times as much of these elements in their lower lungs as non
smokers. Smokers also show a greater accumulation of lead 210 and
polonium 210 in their skeletons,though no studies have been
conducted to link these deposits with bone cancer. Polonium 210 is
the only component of cigarette smoke which has produced tumors by
itself in inhalation experiments with animals.
When a smoker inhales tobacco smoke, the lungs react by
forming irritated areas in the bronchi. All smoke produces this
effect. However, although these irritated spots are referred to as
'pre-cancerous' lesions, they are a perfectly natural defense
system and usually go away with no adverse effects. Insoluble tars
in tobacco smoke can slow this healing process by adhering to
lesions and causing additional irritation. In addition, tobacco
smoke causes the bronchi to constrict for long periods of time,
which obstructs the lung's ability to clear itself of these
Polonium 210 and lead 210 in tobacco smoke show a tendency to
accumulate at lesions in specific spots, called bifurcations, in
the bronchi. When smoking is continued for an extended period of
time, deposits of radioactivity turn into radioactive 'hot spots'
and remain at bifurcations for years. Polonium 210 emits highly
localized alpha radiation which has been shown to cause cancer.
Since the polonium 210 has a half life of 21.5 years (Due to the
presence of lead 210), it can put an ex-smoker at risk for years
after he or she quits. Experiments measuring the level of polonium
210 in victims of lung cancer found that the level of 'hot spot'
activity was virtually the same in smokers and ex-smokers even though
the ex-smokers had quit five years prior to death.
Over half of the radioactive materials emitted by a burning
cigarette are released into the air, where they can be inhaled by
non-smokers. In addition to lead 210 and polonium 210 it has been
proven that tobacco smoke can cause airborne radioactive particles
to collect in the lungs of both smokers and non-smokers exposed to
second hand smoke. Original studies conducted on uranium miners
which showed an increased risk of lung cancer due to exposure to
radon in smokers have been re-run to evaluate the radioactive lung
cancer risk from indoor air radon. It turns out that tobacco smoke
works as a kind of 'magnet' for airborne radioactive particles,
causing them to deposit in your lungs instead of on furniture.
(Smoking indoors increases lung cancer risks greatly.)
It has been estimated that the total accumulated alpha
radiation exposure of a pack-a-day indoor smoker is 38 to 97 rad by
age 60. (Two packs a day yields up to 143 rad, and non-smokers
receive no more than 17 rad.) An exposure of 1 rad per year yields
a 1% risk of lung cancer (at the lowest estimate.)
Don't smoke. Or if you do, smoke lightly, outdoors, and
engage frequently in activities which will clear your lungs.
Imported India tobacco has less than half the radiation content of
that grown in the U.S.
Kicking the nicotine habit is not easy, and nobody has the
right to expect it of you. Often physical addictions are
reinforced by emotional and psychological needs. Filling or coming
to terms with those needs can give you the inspiration and added
freedom to succeed.
Most of all, inform yourself, even if the information is
disturbing. You are a lot less likely to be taken in by tobacco
advertising once you know the facts.
Nicotine, the active ingredient in tobacco smoke, has long
been known to be highly addictive. In fact, doctors and
pharmacologists are not in consensus as to which is more addictive
-- nicotine, or heroin. Physical addiction occurs when a chemical
becomes essential for the body or metabolism to function. In other
words, a substance is said to be physically addictive if extended
use results in a build up of tolerance in the body to the extent
that discontinuing use of the substance results in negative side
effects. Called "withdrawal symptoms," these consequences can
include anxiety, stress, trauma, depression and physical conditions
such as shakes or nausea. It is to avoid these consequences that
an addict will keep using his or her substance.
In addition to being addictive, nicotine is also a toxin (i.e.
lethal if ingested in sufficient quantities.) Nicotine has been
shown to have a negative effect on the heart and circulatory
systems, causing a constriction in veins and arteries which may
lead to a stroke or heart attack. In fact, nicotine is so
poisonous that smokers who ignore their doctor's advice and
continue to smoke while using dermal nicotine patches have managed
to overdose and die of heart seizure.
Many people think smoking marijuana is just as harmful as
smoking tobacco, but this is not true. Those who hold that
marijuana is equivalent to tobacco are misinformed. Due to the
efforts of various federal agencies to discourage use of
marijuana in the 1970's the government, in a fit of "reefer
madness," conducted several biased studies designed to return
results that would equate marijuana smoking with tobacco smoking,
For example the Berkeley carcinogenic tar studies of the
late 1970's concluded that "marijuana is one-and-a-half times as
carcinogenic as tobacco." This finding was based solely on the
tar content of cannabis leaves compared to that of tobacco, and
did not take radioactivity into consideration. (Cannabis tars do
not contain radioactive materials.) In addition, it was not
1) Most marijuana smokers smoke the bud, not the leaf, of
the plant. The bud contains only 33% as much tar as tobacco.
2) Marijuana smokers do not smoke anywhere near as much as
tobacco smokers, due to the psychoactive effects of cannabis.
3) Not one case of lung cancer has ever been successfully
linked to marijuana use.
4) Cannabis, unlike tobacco, does not cause any narrowing of
the small air passageways in the lungs.
In fact, marijuana has been shown to be an expectorant and
actually dilates the air channels it comes in contact with. This
is why many asthma sufferers look to marijuana to provide relief.
Doctors have postulated that marijuana may, in this respect, be
more effective than all of the prescription drugs on the market.
Studies even show that due to marijuana's ability to clear
the lungs of smog, pollutants, and cigarette smoke, it may
actually reduce your risk of emphysema, bronchitis, and lung
cancer. Smokers of cannabis have been shown to outlive non-
smokers in some areas by up to two years. Medium to heavy
tobacco smokers will live seven to ten years longer if they also
Cannabis is also radically different from tobacco in that it
does not contain nicotine and is not addictive. The psychoactive
ingredient in marijuana, THC, has been accused of causing brain
and genetic damage, but these studies have all been disproven.
In fact, the DEA's own Administrative Law Judge Francis Young has
declared that "marijuana in its natural form is far safer than
many foods we commonly consume."
The disturbing thing about all of this information is that
the majority of Americans are as yet unaware of the radioactive
risk in cigarettes. In fact, many professionals: doctors,
scientists and health administrators, either have never heard of
polonium 210 or consider it to be just another scare story.
Why is this information so hard to come by? When the
studies were first released in the late 70's, many magazines were
unable to print articles because their main advertisers,
cigarette companies, threatened to pull support if they published
the facts. Although network news did pick up the story,
virtually nothing came out in print. Those who heard were hard
pressed to produce collaborating evidence, and were eventually
convinced it was nothing to worry about.
The power of the cigarette industry to suppress information
goes far beyond magazines, however. A well financed tobacco
lobby has been very active in the United States Congress for
decades procuring subsidies and fighting laws and proposed
research which could hurt the American tobacco industry. Tobacco
interests practically own Senate and House seats, as many
campaign contributions come from cigarette profits. Tobacco pay-
offs also go to fund organizations such as the Partnership For A
Drug Free America, which adopt a harsh anti-drug agenda yet seem
to omit alcohol and tobacco (claiming they are harmless.)
As an example, a 1984 law which was intended to require
tobacco companies to release to the public a list of additives
used in the manufacture of cigarettes was watered down to the
extent that the list is now released only to the Department of
Health and Human Services on the condition that it not be shown
to anyone else. Companies have been known in the past to add
chemicals to cigarettes for flavor, and, many assert, for their
addictive properties. In Britain such chemicals have included
acetone and turpentine, as well as an assortment of known
Tobacco companies argue that revealing their 'secret
ingredients' would hurt their competitiveness. In fact, when
Canada passed legislation forcing additive lists to be released,
one large company reformulated its recipe for its Canadian
distribution; another took its product out of Canada entirely.
Tobacco companies do not have the right to poison the
public. Don't trust them. Get the information you need to make
your own decisions, and restore government to the people.
Another destructive aspect of the Drug War is the
unreasonable measures taken as a result of "reefer madness."
Because of the long standing anti-pot-smoking paranoia begun in
the 1930's, many law enforcement agencies have taken it upon
themselves to censor and limit the marijuana culture through
whatever channels they can find. This includes the banning of
various forms of drug "paraphernalia" (pipes, clips, rolling
Water pipes, or "bongs," are quite often the target of such
efforts. Claiming that water pipes are constructed to allow
marijuana smokers to inhale "dangerous" marijuana smoke deeper
into their lungs, many states and towns have passed laws
controlling the sale, manufacture, and possession of these items
for "health" reasons.
The sad fact is, water pipes have been shown to be extremely
effective in removing harmful materials from smoke before it
reaches the lungs. They also cool the smoke and prevent injury
and irritation to lung passages. In effect, laws against water
pipes hurt all smokers, cannabis and tobacco, by preventing the
development of safer forms of consumption.
Produced as a public service by the University of Massachusetts
at Amherst Cannabis Reform Coalition
Researched and written by Brian S. Julin
Corrections, comments, inquiries should be addressed to:
S.A.O. Box #2
UMASS Amherst, MA
o E.A. Martel, "Alpha Radiation Dose at Bronchial Bifurcations
From Indoor Exposure to Radon Progeny", Proceeds of the National
Academy of Science, Vol. 80, pp. 1285-1289, March 1983.
o Naoimi H. Harley, Beverly S. Cohen, and T.C. Tso, "Polonium 210:
A Questionable Risk Factor in Smoking Related Carcingenisis."
o "Radiactivity: the New-Found Danger in Cigarettes," Reader's
Digest, March 1986.
o "Would You Still Rather Fight Than Switch?," Whole Life Times,
o "What Goes Up In Smoke?," Nation, December 23, 1991.
o "The Emperor Wears No Clothes," Jack Herer, HEMP/Queen of Clubs
Winters-TH, Franza-JR, Radioactivity in Cigarette Smoke,
New England Journal of Medicine, 1982;
306(6): 364-365 (reproduced w/o permission)
To the Editor: During the 17 years since the Surgeon General's
first report on smoking, intense research activity has been focused
on the carcinogenic potential of the tar component of cigarette
smoke. Only one definite chmical carcinogen -- benzopyrene --
(typist note: He was later corrected on this "fact")
has been found. Conspicuous because of its absence is research into
the role of the radioactive component of cigarette smoke.
The alpha emitters polonium-210 and lead-210 are highly con-
centrated on tobacco trichomes and insoluble particles in cigarette
smoke (1). The major source of the polonium is phosphate fertilizer,
which is used in growing tobacco. The trichomes of the leaves con-
centrate the polonium, which persists when tobacco is dried and
Levels of Po-210 were measured in cigarette smoke by Radford and
Hunt (2) and in the bronchial epithelium of smokers and nonsmokers
by Little et al. (3) After inhalation, ciliary action causes the insoluble
radioactive particles to accumulate at the bifurcation of segmental
bronchi, a common site of origin of bronchogenic carcinomas.
In a person smoking 1 1/2 packs of cigarettes per day, the radia-
tion dose to the bronchial epithelium in areas of bifurcation is 8000
mrem per year -- the equivalent of the dose to the skin from 300
x-ray films of the chest per year. This figure is comparable to total-
body exposure to natural background radiation containing 80
mrem per year in someone living in the Boston area.
It is a common practive to assume that the exposure received
from a radiation source is distributed throughout a tissue. In this
way, a high level of exposure in a localized region -- e.g. bronchial
epithelium -- is averaged out over the entire tissue mass, suggest-
ing a low level of exposure. However, alpha particles have a range of
only 40 um in the body. A cell nucleus of 5 to 6 um that is traversed
by a single alpha particle receives a dose of 1000 rems. Thus, although
the total tissue dose might be considered negligible, cells
close to an alpha source receive high doses. The Po-210 alpha activity
of cigarette smoke may be a very effective carcinogen if a multiple
mutation mechanism is involved.
Radford and Hunt have determined that 75 per cent of the alpha
activity of cigarette smoke enters the ambient air and is unab-
sorbed by the smoker, (2) making it available for deposit in the lungs
of others. Little et al. have measured levels of Po-210 in the lungs of
nonsmokers that may not be accounted for on the basis of natural
exposure to this isotope.
The detrimental effects of tobacco smoke have been considerably
underestimated, making it less likely that chemical carcinogens
alone are responsible for the observed incidence of tobacco-related
carcinoma. Alpha emitters in cigarette smoke result in appreciable
radiation exposure to the bronchial epithelium of smokers and
probably secondhand smokers. Alpha radiation is a possible etio-
logic factor in tobacco-related carcinoma, and it deserves further
Thomas H. Winters, M.D.
Joseph R. Di Franza, M.D.
University of Massachesetts
Worcester, Ma 01605 Medical Center
1. Mertell EA. Radioactivity of tobacco trichomes and insoluble cigarette
smoke particles. Nature. 1974; 249:215-7.
2. Radford EP Jr, Hunt VR. Polonum-210: a volatile radioelement in cig-
arettes. Science. 1964; 143:247-9
3. Little JB, Radford EP Jr, McCombs HL, Hunt VR. Distribution of po-
lonium-210 in pulmonary tissues of cigarette smokers. N Engl J Med.
This letter was followed up by 5 letters which appear to support Winters
and Di Franza and 2 letters which appear to not support them. I'm not
about to type all those in along with the author's rebuttal, however.
Check out NEJM 307(5):309-313.