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NEW YORK, Dec 28 (Medical Tribune) - Researchers have found a link
                    between marijuana use and increased risk for head and neck cancers, further
                    dispelling the myth that marijuana is harmless.

                    Previous studies have suggested that marijuana use may be associated with
                    injury and even cancer of the respiratory tract. However, the report in the
                    December 17 issue of the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and
                    Prevention is the first epidemiological study to find a relationship between
                    marijuana use and carcinomas of the head and neck.

                    "Most people don't think about marijuana in relationship to cancer," said Dr.
                    Zuo-Feng Zhang, primary author of the study and director of the cancer
                    epidemiology training program at the University of California, Los Angeles.
                    "The carcinogens in marijuana are much stronger than those in tobacco. The
                    big message here is that marijuana, like tobacco, can cause cancer."

                    The researchers surveyed 173 patients diagnosed with carcinomas of the head
                    and neck and 176 cancer-free controls. The investigators found that people
                    who had previously used marijuana were more than twice as likely to develop
                    head and neck cancer than people who had never used the drug. The study
                    also found that the more marijuana used, the greater the risk of head and neck

                    In analyzing the data, the researchers were able to control for tobacco smoke
                    and alcohol use, which also increase the risk of certain cancers.

                    Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States, with an
                    estimated 31 percent of the U.S. population over 12 years of age having tried
                    marijuana. According to the study, marijuana smoke contains up to 50 percent
                    higher concentrations of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and
                    deposits four times as much tar in the respiratory tract than does a single

                    "We don't have very direct evidence at the individual level," said Dr. Li Mao,
                    associate professor of medicine at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the
                    University of Texas, Austin. "While there is not firm evidence to link head/neck
                    cancer and marijuana use, there is potential. We can't wait for firm evidence,
                    which may take decades. This is an important topic for the public to be aware

                    Zhang said that now is a particularly important time to be studying the harmful
                    effects of marijuana. "In the '60s we had very high numbers of people in their
                    20s smoking marijuana," said Zhang. These people are just now getting to the
                    ages at which they will get head and neck cancers." Head and neck cancers,
                    typically of the mouth, tongue, larynx and pharynx, often have latency periods
                    of 20 to 30 years.

                    Mao explained that it is very difficult to design an experiment to study the
                    potentially harmful effects of marijuana given the fact that it is an illegal drug.
                    Both researchers agreed that a larger population based epidemiological study is

                    Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention (1999; 8:1071-1078)