Susan, a 53-year-old Santa Rosa apartment dweller, smokes marijuana every day to alleviate chronic pain from a variety of conditions, including herniated discs, spinal curvature and tendinitis. She also uses the drug to relieve her anxiety and depression.
As a longtime medical cannabis patient, Susan, who asked not to have her last name published, said she has cut back on prescription drugs and gotten off antidepressants after 18 years.
“The less pharmaceuticals the better,” she said, convinced she’ll live longer the fewer she takes.
The prospect of her landlord banning the smoking of medical cannabis is upsetting. “I’d have to go back on a ton of meds,” she said.
But a bill proposed by Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, would make it clear that California landlords who prohibit smoking tobacco in rental properties may also ban medical pot smoking. The reason, Wood said, is the same: secondhand smoke of either type is unhealthy.
The legislation would parallel local laws in Sonoma County that ban tobacco smoking in attached housing, including Santa Rosa’s prohibition enacted last year, along with limits on smoking in parks and other outdoor areas. Regulating medical marijuana has proved problematic due to concerns over patients’ rights and the various means of consuming cannabis as medicine.
Wood’s bill is supported by several real estate and housing organizations, and by two groups representing health care districts and health executives.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws California chapter is neutral on the bill.
Wood, a dentist, said his judgment on marijuana smoke relied on research by a UC San Francisco medical professor that shows secondhand marijuana smoke, which contains many of the same chemicals as tobacco smoke, causes a 70 percent reduction in blood vessel function in laboratory rats.
Matthew Springer, an expert on cardiovascular disease, said he believes his study is the first to identify such an impact. It fills a gap in scientific assessment of secondhand smoke from the plant that millions of people regard as medicine and that supports a fast-growing, multibillion-dollar industry in California and other states where it is legal.
“While I don’t want to give medical advice, I do feel comfortable saying that our results provide evidence that marijuana secondhand smoke is not necessarily harmless, as some might want to believe,” Springer said, adding that it may have effects on blood vessels that are “similar and potentially more extreme than those from tobacco.”
His findings apply only to rats, but Springer said it is a “reasonable extension” to say humans would have the same response. The impact is not due to THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, because it occurred in rats exposed to pot smoke with all the cannabinoids removed, Springer said.
More generally, Springer said that smoke from the combustion of any plant material — wood, tobacco or marijuana — is loaded with harmful chemicals. “Smoke is bad for you — it’s that simple,” he said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that secondhand tobacco smoke causes more than 41,000 deaths a year from lung cancer and heart disease. Tobacco and marijuana smoke both carry numerous cancer-causing chemicals, but research efforts to link marijuana with cancer and lung disease have been inconclusive, Springer said.