Listeners Light Into Marijuana Conversation

Host Michel Martin and editor Ammad Omar open up the listener inbox. This week, many listeners reacted to a segment on marijuana. Tell Me More parses the truth.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now it's time for BackTalk. That's where we lift the curtain on what's happening in the TELL ME MORE blogosphere. Editor Ammad Omar is with us once again. What's going on today, Ammad?

AMMAD OMAR, BYLINE: So we got almost 100 comments on our website and by email on a conversation you had on talking to your kids about marijuana use. That came after it was legalized for recreational use in Washington state and Colorado. So a lot of those messages we got were very critical of this comment made by our guest Dr. Leslie Walker when you said to her that some people think marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

DR. LESLIE WALKER: Yeah. People do say that. But we know that there's carcinogens in it. We know that the smoke is not good to breathe in. You know, people need to think about it. If you wouldn't smoke cigarettes in front of your kids in your home because you know the dangers, you shouldn't somehow think that marijuana is going to be better.

OMAR: All right. So we made some phone calls about that comment because a lot of people were critical of it. So I spoke with Dr. Donald Tashkin from the School of Medicine at UCLA. He studied the health effects of marijuana extensively. And Dr. Tashkin told me that there are carcinogens in marijuana smoke, actually quite a few carcinogens in the smoke and in the tar. But the story doesn't end there. Here he is.

DR. DONALD TASHKIN: And you would expect, therefore, that smoking marijuana regularly, particularly heavily, would increase the risk for developing lung cancer and head and neck cancer. And we were surprised to find that there was no increased risk for the occurrence of lung cancer or head and neck cancer among self-reported marijuana smokers.

OMAR: So the bottom line is that there are carcinogens in marijuana. We know carcinogens cause cancer. But the current research suggests that there's no proven link between marijuana use and higher risks of lung, neck, or mouth cancer, which of course is easy to prove when it comes to cigarette smoke.

Now, it could be because there is something else in the marijuana that fights cancer or acts against the growth of cancer. Or it could be for a completely different reason altogether. We don't know because there's just not a lot of research in that field. And some of the research that is out there isn't the most reliable.

I should point out, though, that there are studies that strongly suggest that smoking marijuana harms brain development for people younger than 18 years of age.

MARTIN: So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

OMAR: There you go.

MARTIN: Sorry. Sorry. I just couldn't help myself. Sorry. What else?

OMAR: So last week you spoke to Andy Marra. She is transsexual, meaning she was born male but considers herself female. She was adopted at a young age and she told the story about looking for her birth mother in Korea and being afraid that her mother would reject her because she's transsexual.

Well, Tracy Steffi(ph) from Brooklyn wrote in and she had this to say. Quote, "So I usually don't have time to put on mascara before I head to work for my night class. Today I did and what a waste of time that turned out to be. None of it was left after hearing Andy's story."

MARTIN: She went on to write, quote, "When Andy got to the part in her story about how her mother identified Andy to her friend as her daughter, I was a mess. I can only imagine what my fellow commuters must've thought of the sight. What an amazing story. One that I hope kids not as lucky as Andy or me hear and can take some comfort from." Anything else, Ammad?

OMAR: All right. Last bit. New Year's is coming up, Michel, and a lot of people are making big changes in their lives or hope to make big changes in their lives or hope to make big changes. So we want to know if listeners are doing anything to bring peace to their own lives, whether it's cleaning out your closet literally or metaphorically, we want to hear about it. Visit us online at npr.org/tellmemore.

You can also reach out to us on Twitter using the hashtag tmmpeace.

MARTIN: Thanks, Ammad. And of course, remember at TELL ME MORE the conversation never ends. To tell us more you can go to our website. We're also on Twitter and Facebook. Just look for TELL ME MORE NPR.

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