January 23, 2002
(Ottawa) - Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada (PSC) delivered a 'Weedless Wednesday' message to Health Minister Anne McLellan, asking her to abandon Health Canada's current marijuana program and replace it with one that does not involve inhaling marijuana smoke.
"Like tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke causes severe lung damage." said Dr. Atul Kapur. Dr. Kapur is an emergency medicine physician in Ottawa and president of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. "Someone who smokes two or three marijuana cigarettes per day likely faces the same risk of lung-cancer risk as a pack-a-day cigarette smoker."
Health Canada opened the doors to legal marijuana use by selected Canadians following a 1997 court ruling requiring medical exemptions. Health Canada's regulations and research programs make no distinction between smoked marijuana, which contains cancer-causing chemicals, and other forms of marijuana use less likely to cause disease.
"Health Canada gets no brownie points for its decision to provide sick Canadians with cancer-causing marijuana joints instead of safer forms of marijuana," said Dr. Jim Walker, an Ottawa dermatologist and a member of PSC's executive board. "The marijuana joint is a harmful drug delivery system, the proverbial dirty syringe."
As a reminder of readily available safer forms of marijuana, PSC today home-made brownies to the Minister of Health and members of the Commons Health Committee.
PSC's policy paper on marijuana, released today, reviews evidence showing that marijuana produces more tar per weight of leaf burned than tobacco and a higher level of some cancer-causing substances, such as benzopyrene. Because marijuana smokers tend to inhale larger amounts of smoke, breathe it deeper into their lungs and hold it in their lungs for longer periods than cigarette smokers, researchers conclude that lung tissue is exposed to harmful chemicals to a relatively greater extent.
"Health Canada should not provide Canadians with smoked marijuana and should not fund clinical trials which expose Canadians to harmful marijuana smoke," said Dr. Kapur. "The department should instead advise Canadians, especially those whose health is already compromised by disease, against inhaling any form of smoke."
Dr. Walker expressed concerns about inconsistencies between Health Canada's policies on marijuana and its policies regarding tobacco and pharmaceutical approvals. "Just as we applaud the strong new warnings on cigarette packages, we are deeply disturbed by the absence of any requirement to inform patients or participants in clinical trials of the harmful consequences of smoking marijuana. In our opinion this is not only inconsistent, it reflects dubious scientific and medical ethics."
Health Canada's regulations allow for exemptions to persons suffering from terminal and non-terminal illnesses, and require the recommendation of the treating physician. Because marijuana is not established as a safe or effective medicine, and because smoked marijuana is known to be harmful, PSC recommends that its members and other Canadian physicians should refuse to prescribe smoked marijuana.
PSC called on Anne McLellan to reflect on the evidence and her new responsibilities to protect the health of Canadians and urged her to instruct her department not to provide smoked forms of marijuana.
"Processed marijuana may eventually join many other therapeutic drugs derived from plants" said Dr. Kapur. "But smoked marijuana has no more place in modern medicine than smoked opium."
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