Cannabis: UN report leaked
By Tim Radford, Science Editor
The Guardian Thursday February 19, 1998
United Nations health chiefs suppressed a finding that cannabis is safer than either alcohol or tobacco, according to a report today.
A World Health Organisation report published in December was to have concluded that even if cannabis was consumed on the same scale as cigarettes and whisky, it would probably still be safer than either, but the passage was scrapped at the last moment, says the magazine New Scientist.
The comparison with alcohol and tobacco, the suppressed passage said, was made "not to promote one drug over another but rather to minimise double standards that have operated in appraising the health effects of cannabis".
The disputed passage was leaked to New Scientist after it was withdrawn, reportedly in response to pressure from the US National Institute on Drug Abuse and the UN International Drug Control Programme. It says: "In developed societies cannabis appears to play little role in injuries caused by violence, as does alcohol." It also says there is good evidence that alcohol can harm foetal development, while the evidence that cannabis can harm foetal development is "far from conclusive".
The WHO report does admit that, like heavy drinking, marijuana smoking can produce psychosis in susceptible people. It also says chronic cannabis smoking may contribute to cancers of the aerodigestive tract. But one lung disease researcher, Donald Tashkin of the University of California at Los Angeles, found that volunteers who smoked three joints a day had much the same lung capacity and function as those who smoked none.
However, dope smokers must inhale deeply and hold the smoke in the lungs, so they got a large dose of potentially damaging tar.
The leaked UN report comes at a time of renewed pressure to think again about drug policies.