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Polis Report

Pot & Death

By Bob Struckman

A locally conducted study published in April's American Journal of Public Health has concluded that marijuana use is not associated with an increase in death rates.

Kaiser Permanente's Stephen Sidney, M.D., polled 65,000 Bay Area residents between 1979 and 1985 who filled out questionnaires while waiting for general health check-ups at Kaiser Permanente health facilities. The survey, conducted on a grant from the National Institute for Drug Abuse, covered cigarette smoking, marijuana use and alcohol consumption.

Sidney conducted the study because relatively few have been done on the effects of marijuana. And it was convenient. Kaiser Permanente already had the raw data.

Sidney said, "Scientists will understand this study as science, and that's all. But the anti-drug people probably wouldn't be happy about it, and pro-marijuana would be happy. But that's not an important part of the message."

The important message? People don't die faster when they smoke marijuana. In contrast, people do when regularly smoking cigarettes or consuming alcohol. The study is already being touted by pro-marijuana groups like NORML, a Washington, D.C., foundation that lobbies for legalization.

But the data doesn't mean marijuana use is healthy, Sidney cautioned, adding that some current studies indicate that regular marijuana use may cause respiratory problems and cognitive disorders, otherwise known as "coughing" and "forgetfulness."

He also suspects that a longer study might show an increase in mortality rates of female marijuana users. Some deaths of women in his study were due to accidents or respiratory problems, which could have been marijuana-related. "We're working on a study about that now and will release it later this year," Sidney said.

Expect to hear from an anti-marijuana group like the International Drug Strategy Institute of Topeka, Kan., when that study comes out.

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From the June 5-11, 1997 issue of Metro

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