Advice to TRU: educate, don’t prohibit cannabis

Thompson Rivers University plans to prohibit the recreational use of cannabis on campus. This, despite the failure of prohibition to deter use for the last 95 years in Canada.

image: SchoolFinder

Cannabis is not harmless. Inhaling smoke, be it from wildfires, tobacco, or cannabis carries risks. But banning cannabis is not the way to control those risks.

Education is. Education has reduced the consumption of tobacco. Reductions have been especially greater for those with a higher education according to a report from Statistics Canada.

TRU has nine designated locations where tobacco and medical marijuana can be smoked. Once cannabis is legalized on October 17, those locations would be a logical place for recreational cannabis smokers as well.

TRU’s Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee voted on March 5, 2018, to ban all smoking of recreational marijuana on campus for health and safety reasons. Chris Montoya, committee member and Senior Lecturer in Psychology, says not all of the 20-member committee agreed:

“Pro-marijuana smokers on the TRU committee argued that marijuana smoke is no different than cigarette smoke and that smoking areas designated for cigarette smoke should also be used for marijuana.”

But they were apparently swayed by arguments  presented by Montoya: cannabis is more potent than ever before, bystanders can get stoned from second-hand smoke, and marijuana has been linked with psychoses.

Montoya is a member of the National Advisory Council (2016-18) and the Partnership for a Drug Free Canada. He repeated some of his claims to Kamloops This Week:

“A student cannot get drunk walking next to another student drinking a beer. However, students, staff and faculty can get stoned breathing in second-hand smoke.”

Ian Mitchell, Kamloops Emergency Physician, disagrees:

“There have been a series of studies in which non-smokers are shut into a small room with cannabis smokers and tested for both impairment and positive urine tests. While these things can happen, it is only under the most extreme circumstances,” he told me by message.

A doctoral student in clinical psychology at UBC Okanagan also disagrees with Montoya:

“Researchers at John Hopkins University have been conducting studies on the effects of cannabis smoke exposure to non-users and have found that, under regular indoor conditions, non-smokers did not experience changes in cognitive ability –i.e. ’get high,’” says Michelle Thiessen in a letter to KTW.

There are places on campus for students and staff to drink alcohol as well as smoke cigarettes. TRU spokesperson, Darshan Lindsay, told CFJC Today: “There are a lot of regulations, systems in place to promote responsible use of alcohol. We just don’t have that in place for cannabis. For the university, recognizing that we are a place of education and that we want to promote an environment that’s safe and healthy for everyone, our position is that recreational cannabis should not be present on campus.”

Failing to have a “place for cannabis” perpetuates the notion that prohibition will reduce cannabis use. Banning cannabis has a predictable effect -it simply drives consumption into the shadows and prevents dealing with the risks.

TRU should become a model in harm reduction, as “a place of education.”

Prohibition is futile: TRU might as well prohibit wildfires -it would be as effective.

 

How to market sugar water

There’s no doubt that consumption of pop is harmful, even deadly but you’d never know it from the soft drink industry. Professor Paulette Nestle, nutritionist at New York University, is blunt:

“The science is clear. Kids and adults who drink pop tend to be heavier and have a higher prevalence of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay.”

coca_cola_bubbles

Studies funded by the soft drink industry find the opposite: roughly 85 per cent of them find pop to be harmless. And if there is a problem, they say, it’s your fault. No one is holding a gun to your head and forcing pop down your throat. The problem lies on the shoulders of individual consumers. It’s a matter of choice. If only consumers would exercise more.

However, consumers make choices on what they perceive about a product and the sugar water industry is persuasive. They spend millions of dollars on Super Bowl ads that avoid the product itself. Instead, they market deep emotional connections to friends and family. If I can find happiness in a can of Coke, why wouldn’t I drink it?

And if I can find my identity in a can of pop, all the better. Coke sells cans with my name on it and words such as Love and Superstar. Who wouldn’t want to support a corporation that supports the arts, community projects, and cleaning up the environment?

“When Philadelphia was considering a soft-drink tax, Coke offered to give the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia $10 million. It’s that kind of thing,” says the author of eight books in a newsletter from the Centre for Science in the Public Interest.

It’s a standard tactic used by the merchants of misery. You see it used by proponents of Ajax mine in Kamloops. They don’t address the problems that the mine will create: like toxic dust, groundwater contamination, potential sludge spills, the environmental headache created by the mountain of tailings when they leave.

No, Ajax mine tells us how important copper is to our daily lives, how they will create jobs, how they support our university and the arts. To oppose the mine is to oppose family and community, they would have us to believe.

The sugar water industry has learned from the tobacco industry that you can counter science by creating doubt. Sure, 99 per cent of studies might find that consumption of tobacco causes cancer but if only one study is inconclusive, then maybe tobacco is not that bad. It’s human nature to hope that something we want will be OK despite mounting evidence to the contrary, something we are addicted to or feel a deep emotional connection to, something that will create jobs.

Another tool in the toolbox is to fund groups like the Global Energy Balance Network. The group employed scientists of considerable stature who found that lack of exercise, not diet, was responsible for the obesity epidemic. Then a reporter for the New York Times discovered that these scientists had been taking millions of dollars in research grants from Coca Cola including funding of the website.

One of these scientists said not worry about eating less, gobbling junk food, drinking pop. Just be more active. Would it were true.

Lies, damn lies, and category 1 carcinogens

The World Health Organization recently placed processed meat in category 1 of carcinogens, along with radioactive elements and asbestos. That’s the list of agents “carcinogenic to humans.” They also placed red meat in 2A which includes Glyphosate (Roundup) and lead compounds which are merely “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

bacon

Is eating bacon more likely to cause cancer than exposure to an herbicide? No. Agents aren’t listed according to risk. The criterion used is: do they or do they not cause cancer. The categories are grouped by experts according to certainty from the most evident all the way down to category 4, “Probably not carcinogenic to humans” of which there is one item, Caprolactam (used to make nylon).

Risk is determined by how much you are exposed to the carcinogen. André Picard, public health reporter for the Globe and Mail explains:

“The expert group does hazard identification, not risk assessment. Practically, that means they determine, yes or no, whether something may cause cancer, but not how potent it is at a causing cancer,” and adds, “It’s important to remember, however, that not every exposure to a potential carcinogen will cause cancer: Frequency, intensity and potency matter.”

All agents in a category don’t carry the same risk. If they did, people would be dropping like flies from eating meat. Compared to other items, they are not.

Eating processed meat and smoking tobacco, both in category 1, don’t have the same mortality rate. Processed meats result in 34,000 deaths worldwide annually whereas smoking causes about one million cancer deaths. Also in category 1, asbestos kills more than 100,000 and alcohol causes 600,000 cancer deaths a year.

Also misleading is the way percentages are used to translate statistics. For example, two slices of bacon are reported to increase your risk of colorectal cancer by 18 per cent. Eating a 4 ounce steak will result in a similar increase. But when risks of colorectal cancer are low to begin with, a small percentage increase of a small risk is still a small risk. The actual numbers expose this fallacy, explains Pickard:

“Based on these estimates, about 66 in every 1,000 people who eat a lot of red meat or processed meat will develop colorectal cancer in their lifetime; by comparison, 56 of every 1,000 who eat very little meat, processed or otherwise, will develop colorectal cancer.”

In other words, the increased risk is 10 out of 1,000. If you are one of those 10 persons who acquire cancer from eating meat, it’s tragic but as a risk assessment it’s not that bad.

Risk assessment is complicated by the toxicity of the agent, the amount of the agent you are exposed to, the length of time exposed to it, the way you are exposed (inhaled, ingested, topically applied), and your genetics.

The categories are useful in determining what to avoid, if possible. But some things are almost unavoidable. Like living: walking in the sun (ultraviolet rays), working (painter, hairdressers and shift-workers), eating (barbequing at high temperatures), camping (wood smoke), and travelling (cosmic rays from flying in a plane, breathing vehicle exhaust).

Unavoidable, like being alive: the naturally produced hormone estrogen has been linked with cancer, especially when combined with the artificial hormone progestin.