Studies Tie Marijuana to Illnesses; Will Medical Pot Laws Be Affected?
A recent study finds that marijuana growing operations can produce high levels of mold, which can cause deadly respiratory diseases. Another study found that young men who use marijuana have a higher risk of testicular cancer. Will these studies affect medical marijuana laws?
Jason Pohl reports for The Denver Post that a team headed by National Jewish Health researcher Dr. John Martyny found mold levels in 30 pot growing operations in Colorado’s Denver, Littleton, and Larimer counties to be 100 times higher than what is considered safe, “and in a few cases so high that their instruments could not read the levels.” None of the growing operations was a licensed medical-marijuana cultivation venue, according to the researchers, Pohl writes.
Pohl quotes Martyny:
‘These are pretty incredible exposures,’ Martyny said during a news conference where the findings were reported. ‘These are extremely high levels that we would consider dangerous.’
The researchers, who worked with the Colorado Drug Investigators Association, the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, and County Sheriffs of Colorado, compared the environmental issues related to illegal pot growing to the boom in methanphetamine production a decade ago but with less exposure to dangerous chemicals.
The study suggests that the greatest risk from the mold is to people living in the actual residence where the marijuana is being grown, especially to any children, Brian Shlonsky writes for NBC11News.com. But he quotes Martyny as saying that because mold spores can spread through ventilation systems, people in apartment buildings where marijuana is being grown could also be exposed.
Law enforcement will be changing the way it responds to indoor marijuana growing operations as a result, Shlonsky writes: “Because of the risks, Dr. Martyney has new recommendations for first responders who come in contact with the grows, from chemical resistant gloves and boots, to full- face masks with air purifiers.”
Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey, who was in Denver for Martyny’s presentation on Monday, said he is especially concerned with people living near a marijuana growing operation, Shlonsky writes.
Shlonsky goes on to say:
Sheriff Hilkey said he’s concerned with the new findings because of Amendment 64, because if it gets passed into law, people would have the constitutional right to have a grow in their home. The sheriff says it raises public policy questions that haven’t even been talked about yet.
Doctors say mold from marijuana grows could cause respiratory problems, including asthma in kids, that would stay with them forever.
(Colorado Amendment 64 is an amendment to the Article 18 of the Colorado state constitution that would allow the “personal use and regulation of marijuana” for adults 21 and over and for marijuana be regulated in a manner similar to alcohol, according to Wikipedia.)
The other recent study, published on Monday in the journal Cancer, of 455 California men, found that those who had smoked pot were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with testicular germ cell tumors, reports Katie Moisse for ABC News. That is the most common form of testicular cancer in men younger than 35, she writes.
The study’s author, Victoria Cortessis, assistant professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles, said she and her team sought to answer the question of why testicular cancer among young men is on the rise.
Cortessis and colleagues used interviews to probe recreational drug use among 163 men diagnosed with testicular cancer and 292 healthy men of the same age, and found those who smoked marijuana had double the risk of testicular tumors compared with men who passed on grass. On top of that, their tumors tended to be faster-growing and tougher to treat.
‘We now have three studies connecting marijuana use to testicular cancer, and no studies that contradict them,’ said Stephen Schwartz, an epidemiologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle and author of the first study linking marijuana use to testicular cancer in 2009. ‘I think we should start taking notice.’
Exactly how marijuana increases the risk of testicular cancer is not clear, Moisse writes; in animal studies, pot smoke and THC (the cannabis chemical tetrahydrocannabinol) reduce levels of circulating hormones like testosterone.
Cortessis told Moisse: “We know testosterone is an important regulator of testes development and function. It may be that marijuana use disrupts this regulation in a way that makes the testes much more vulnerable to cancer.” She said she suspects that boys who experiment with marijuana during puberty might be especially susceptible. Her study found that the risk of testicular cancer was higher in men who smoked less than once a week and for fewer than 10 years, Moisse writes.
Moisse reports that both Cortessis and Schwartz said more work needs to be done to figure out how marijuana use affects testicular cancer risk, but that men should not assume that smoking pot has no impact on their heath.