The government and anti cannabis campaigners in general are usually only too eager to warn about health risks of using cannabis, although the claims they make often prove to be exaggerated or more often than not simply wrong, but for some reason they never warn consumers about a very real danger, a danger caused by mixing cannabis with a drug which is a known to be highly addictive and a carcinogen.
We’re talking about tobacco of course. To be fair, it’s not only the government that doesn’t want to talk about the way cannabis is usually smoked, most stoners don’t want to either. In the UK, most cannabis users roll joints – cannabis mixed with tobacco.
The dangers of tobacco are well known, its physically and psychologically highly addictive and its carcinogenic – which means it causes cancer.
Tobacco isn’t included in the Misuse of Drugs Act (the law that prohibits cannabis) simply because the government decided not to include it. This was an arbitrary decision made by politicians which makes no sense whatsoever – and indeed the Act makes no provision for a drug like tobacco to be excluded in this way – but is probably at the heart of the reason why the situation has continued for so long.
Perhaps as a result of this decision a lot of people don’t really think of tobacco is a drug even now, but it is one and in fact it’s one of the most dangerous drugs there is. In terms of the harm it can do tobacco is up there with heroin and crack cocaine. So the aim of this CLEAR campaign is to make cannabis users aware of this danger – a danger which is easy to avoid.
The aim of Tokepure is to encourage anyone who wants to use cannabis to toke pure and to keep well away from tobacco.
The age of the tobacco joint is over, help make it happen.
What’s the problem?
In some respects, tobacco is not unlike cannabis. Both are plants and hence totally natural herbs and both are smoked. When the plant material is burned chemicals which affect the brain – which we call drugs – boil off and get sucked into the lungs where they enter the bloodstream and make their way to your brain. Along with the drugs of course comes lots of other smoke which you don’t really want. Anyway, this is where the similarity ends. Both plants contain very different drugs which do very different things.
As the government is normally eager to tell us tobacco is a killer. In fact Tobacco is responsible for 140,000 deaths each year in the UK alone and 5.4 million deaths worldwide according the World Health Organisation. Clearly, whatever the dangers of smoking cannabis might be, adding tobacco to the mix is only going to make things much, much worse.
Our big claim for cannabis is that it has never directly killed anyone and as far as we know, that is true.
But doesn’t cannabis cause cancer anyway?
Cannabis smoke does include carcinogens – compounds which cause cancer – as lab experiments have shown. Because of these lab studies prohibition campaigners have claimed that smoking cannabis is something like four times more dangerous than tobacco, but as with so many of the claims these people make they don’t stand up to proper study and in fact the truth seems to be the exact opposite.
A big study in the US (read it here) found “that the association of these (lung) cancers with marijuana, even long-term or heavy use, is not strong and may be below practically detectable limits” and another study (read it here) found that “Smoking only marijuana was not associated with an increased risk of respiratory symptoms or COPD.” COPD is “chronic obstructive Pulmonary disease” – it’s not nice and is strongly connected with tobacco smoking. Another study demonstrated that cannabis and tobacco are not equally carcinogenic, with tobacco being far more dangerous than cannabis (read it here). Although cannabis smoke contains cancer causing chemicals, studies have found that one of the main ingredients of cannabis, THC, has anti cancer properties (Read it here).
So the truth seems to be that not only is cannabis smoked alone in fact far safer than tobacco in terms of what it does to your lungs but that that smoking the two together may be the worst of both worlds. This is serious stuff.
Now lets be honest here, we are not saying smoking cannabis is harmless. Breathing in any smoke is bad for you and the less you breath in the better; but mixing cannabis and tobacco is adding a level of harm cannabis by itself doesn’t seem to have, or at the very least is making any such risk massively greater. Lung cancer is a nasty illness that kills by a slow painful death, it really is something to be avoided.
Cannabis taken with a vaporiser carries none of the risks of smoking whatsoever.
But as if that isn’t enough, there’s more.
Tobacco is a more addictive drug than heroin, it really is very addictive. Breaking a tobacco habit can be a very agonizing and difficult experience which many people can never manage to do, even when they know the smoking is killing them.
Both cannabis and tobacco are psychologically addictive, which means you associate using them with doing things you enjoy and this can be hard to break, but in addition tobacco is strongly physically addictive. ‘Physically addictive’ means your brain needs a constant feed of the drug just to function normally and so for you to feel normal. There is much debate as to whether Cannabis is physically addictive at all, it may be for long term very heavy tokers, but certainly for the vast majority of consumers it isn’t.
Quitting a tobacco addiction involves real “cold turkey” just like heroin withdrawal (although it’s different of course) plus the problems of breaking the psychological addiction.
Some people think tobacco isn’t a drug because it doesn’t make you stoned or anything like that. Cannabis works on the bit of the brain you’re aware of, so when you get stoned you feel intoxicated. Tobacco works on a part of the brain that controls emotions, it makes you feel good about having taken it, which is why smoking tobacco is so enjoyable. It’s a real mugs drug.
Why do people smoke cannabis with tobacco?
A simple question which has, of course, a complicated answer. The cannabis tobacco connection is historical; tobacco of course is nothing new to us; not so long ago most people smoked and tobacco use was glamorized by Hollywood. Smoking was considered an important part of socialising and it was normal to offer cigs around. It was into this tobacco using culture that cannabis use took off. Added to this we used to get mostly hash from Morocco or Lebanon and smoking pure hash requires a pipe so the easiest way was to roll a tobacco joint, especially if you smoked anyway and so already had the tobacco and papers.
These days herbal cannabis is far more normal and less people smoke fags, but the joint tradition seems to have stuck. All this wasn’t helped by stoners who took joint rolling to the level of an art, crafting a fine joint was something people took a great pride in; “Camberwell Carrots”, “cones”, all sorts of shapes and styles and it all became a part of the ritual of getting stoned.
Add to this the honest fact that although very harmful a tobacco joint is a very, very enjoyable thing to smoke. We might as well be honest because tobacco is a great mixer drug – it goes well with almost all drug use. A tobacco joint not only gets you stoned, but it also gives you one hell of a nicotine hit at the same time and as the nicotine drug effect is to make you feel good about having smoked it joints are very enjoyable.
Because of all this cannabis users came to associate the tobacco hit with the cannabis experience. This is true for most of northern Europe, but isn’t true for everywhere and in many countries cannabis users would never consider mixing the two drugs.
Some users become tobacco addicts very quickly, although others take a lot longer but most people get there eventually and many people who started off smoking to try cannabis end up with a long term tobacco smoking habit.
Tobacco filled joint smokers are experiencing the effect of the two drugs in combination and taking two drugs together isn’t the same as taking them separately at different times. So people who are introduced to tobacco through smoking joints find that just smoking tobacco on its own doesn’t give the same experience, so they feel they need a joint not realising that it is the tobacco addiction kicking in.
Many users of cannabis in tobacco joints start to smoke at regular intervals in order to keep up their nicotine levels to satisfy the tobacco craving and end up smoking a lot of cannabis as a result. For the minority of people who do suffer some negative effects from using cannabis, this is clearly a bad thing, for others it may mean they just get stoned all day.
Using cannabis with tobacco is likely to increase the amount of cannabis you use and to make your cannabis use far more habitual than it would be if you toke pure.
So why haven’t things changed?
Things should have changed by now for sure, but they haven’t. Over the past 20 or so years, there’s been a lot of health education and anti smoking measures aimed at tobacco users and as a result far fewer people now smoke tobacco than previously. Not only that but tobacco smoking isn’t the socially accepted thing it once was, you can’t smoke in buildings any more, at work or anywhere really. But none of these restrictions on tobacco use has affected the way people – especially young people – use cannabis.
Finally and most importantly of course, this whole issue has been ignored by the government and even by most drugs advice agencies. There hasn’t been anything like a “toke pure” campaign from Talk to Frank, if anything the government has been happy to talk of cannabis use and tobacco use as the same thing. Its as if they want to encourage this connection and for sure, the law doesn’t help:
• Cannabis is prohibited and tobacco has simply joined cannabis in the “underground” culture as it gets ever more excluded from the mainstream.
• Safer ways of smoking cannabis such as pipes, water pipes or the very safe (but almost unknown in this country) ‘Vaporiser’ can become incriminating evidence for the authorities, whereas a joint is easy to hide.
• New cannabis smokers are introduced by friends who roll tobacco joints which spreads the tobacco addiction.
• Myths have grown up, not least of all that it would be more expensive to smoke cannabis without “diluting” it with tobacco. This is actually totally untrue and cannabis users who smoke pure cannabis often use much less than joint smokers, plus they don’t have to buy the tobacco.
DIY Harm Reduction: what cannabis users can do for themselves.
Apart from anything its a waste of cannabis if you are smoking joints to simply satisfy your tobacco addiction.
The first thing to understand is that smoking with tobacco isn’t saving you money, it isn’t diluting the cannabis and isn’t making your stash go further, in fact its costing you a lot more and making you use much more cannabis than you need to.
Whether or not cannabis smoking is bad for you, we know for sure that tobacco smoking is. Tobacco joints don’t have filters and so they are far worse than cigarettes.
TokePure is a campaign to kick out tobacco.
Make a note of how much money you’re spending on tobacco and think what you could buy with it, you’ll be amazed at how much it is.
If you don’t believe you’re addicted to the tobacco, just go without it for a few days if you can, chances are you’ll feel the addictive craving tobacco causes. If you’ve not been smoking for very long it’s not too hard to stop but If you’ve been a tobacco head for a few years it’s not going to be easy. Bite the bullet and quit the evil weed though, you’ll love yourself for it after, promise!
Cannabis used without tobacco is a very different experience in some respects, but it is the cannabis experience, it’s the real thing.
What do we want the government do?
CLEAR is calling for the government to tell the truth and to enable people to use cannabis as safely as possible:
As a minimum Tokepure calls for
A Safer use campaign: The government should be advising the millions of cannabis users how to use cannabis as safely as possible through a safer toking campaign.
A Pipesafe policy: The carrying of pipes and other safer ways of consuming cannabis (what they call “paraphernalia”) should no longer count as evidence of illegal drug use and headshops should be encouraged to sell safer smoking equipment.
This is an issue that affects millions of mostly young people after all. This sort of thing is called “Harm reduction” and is deeply opposed by those idiots who support the war on drugs, the reason for that is hard for normal people to understand, but basically prohibition depends on drugs being made as dangerous as possible. Yes, it is stupid but that’s the UK drugs policy.
The most obvious action the government should do is to regulate and control the cannabis supply based on facts and evidence, then not only will the cannabis itself be of better quality but users can be encouraged to use it in safer ways – in food or drink for example where knowing the dose and purity of the supply is most important. This is just one reason why cannabis law reform is needed and why CLEAR exists.
Tobacco free coffeeshops? One of the big arguments in favour of “coffee shops” – cannabis cafes – is that they separate the cannabis market from that of dangerous drugs. Way back before the smoking ban some campaigners wanted to see cannabis cafes which were tobacco free, where cannabis could be bought and used on the premises without tobacco. Providing a tobacco free place where people could get stoned would be the best way to break this tobacco connection.
A note about herbal smoking mixtures: If you really want to roll joints there are various alternatives to tobacco available, such as “Honey Dew”. These non-tobacco herbs burn reasonably well and don’t have the nicotine addiction of tobacco. But they are likely to have many of the other health risks caused by breathing in large amounts of smoke and don’t give the nicotine hit, but they are a better option than tobacco.
TokePure was an idea first proposed by the website UKCIA