The marijuana question: If (and when) it’s legalized, should you use?

This little plant is causing quite a stir in state legislatures across the country.

This little plant is causing quite a stir in state legislatures across the country. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

One of the more interesting and fast-moving developments over the past few years has been the changing stance many people – and some states – have toward marijuana.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have chosen to legalize medical marijuana. Two states – Washington and Colorado – have made recreational marijuana legal. The pros and cons of legalizing the drug are being hotly debated in many other states.

What I want to do here is explore this issue from a practical standpoint. I don’t want to get into the politics of the war on drugs, nor do I feel qualified to say much about the medical benefits of marijuana use.

But there is information out there about the health impacts of marijuana.

Respiratory issues: The most common way marijuana is used is by smoking. Smoking pot has been shown to increase respiratory problems. To quote an abstract from one National Institutes of Health document, “Habitual smoking of marijuana has been shown to be associated with chronic respiratory tract symptoms, an increased frequency of acute bronchitic episodes, extensive tracheobronchial epithelial disease, and abnormalities in the structure and function of alveolar macrophages, key cells in the lungs’ immune defense system.”

Potential cancer risks: Though comprehensive studies on the link between pot smoking and cancer is lacking, the chemical makeup of marijuana looks startlingly similar to what is found in cigarettes. In fact, some chemical characteristics look even worse. Quoting an information sheet from the University of Washington, “Marijuana smoke contains about 50% more benzopyrene and nearly 75% more benzanthracene, both known carcinogens, than a comparable quantity of unfiltered tobacco smoke.”

That same site also notes that smoking pot through a bong does not lessen the risk of inhaling carcinogens, and vaporizers may actually increase the intake of ammonia, another toxin.

It should be noted that the body of work looking at cancer risks of marijuana smoking is pretty thin, and because a lot of pot users are also tobacco users, any conclusions thus far are muddied.

(It should be noted that data on the consumption of edible pot is lacking, but clearly eating pot is not going to affect your lungs directly.)

But the real point is this: If you’re serious about your health, you’ll steer clear of this stuff, even if your state legalizes it. If it’s used in some form of your medical treatment and it’s working, that’s one thing. But for most people, it’s a recreational drug. If you’re a recreational user, you’ll have to ask yourself if using it is worth the potential risks.

If you’re an athlete, or you are interested in pursuing athletic endeavors, this should be a no-brainer. Smoking anything compromises your respiratory system, and the importance of heart/lung strength and efficiency is of the highest rank when you’re competing in a sport or even just trying to get in shape. When athletes smoke pot – or even endorse it – I find myself stunned. Surely there are other ways to mitigate pain, relax and have fun without having to compromise your cardiovascular health.

I believe that the nationwide legalization of marijuana is coming, but debating that future is something for another time, and definitely in a different space than this one. Just keep in mind that just because something is legal, or considered socially acceptable/fun/cool or whatever doesn’t mean that it’s right for you. It’s a choice you’re free to make. But even if legal problems cease to become a concern, just remember that there are consequences to putting toxic substances in your body.

Instead, I’d suggest breathing deep, feel the power of a set of healthy lungs and do what you can to preserve that.

Bob Doucette

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The Weekly Stoke: Top mountaineering posts of 2013, skiing in North Korea, a frigid marathon and a Texan skier’s reaction to legalized pot

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. (Wikipedia commons photo)

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. (Wikipedia commons photo)

Hopefully everyone is out of the deep freeze and is avoiding the bug that’s been going around. I’m one-for-two on that count, but on the mend. Anyway, Here’s a good collection of links I think you’ll find interesting from the world of the outdoors. Let’s get on with the Weekly Stoke!

The good folks at In Ice Axe We Trust put together their top 10 (more like 13) mountaineering  trip reports for 2013, and there are some good ones in there. If you’re a regular reader of Proactiveoutside, you might recognize one of those posts…

North Korea’s construction of a ski resort is more than just an attempt to boost tourism, though I have to wonder how much demand there is for North Korean powder. It may be a middle finger directed toward European and other ski lift manufacturers who refused to help build the site, this post posits.

What’s the coldest marathon you’ve ever run? Probably not as cold as this guy’s. Hint: It was run in Russia.

The survivor of a plane crash in Hawaii managed to record the entire event, and part of that includes what is probably going to be the selfie of the year.

And finally, we go back to the slopes where a rich Texas ski tourist says he’ll take his business elsewhere is he sees or hears too much “pot” stuff at Colorado ski resorts. Note to rich Texan ski guy: I don’t think you’ll be missed.