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Ingesting Marijuana
July 2002

Q. I'm a healthy 24-year-old male. I quit smoking cigarettes about a year ago and also quit smoking marijuana a few months ago. I smoked both on and off for about 7 years and will never smoke anything again. I now regularly exercise, have been improving my diet and have at most a few beers per month. My question regards the safety of occasionally (1-4 times/month) eating marijuana (i.e., baked into brownies/cookies).

I realize it's better to err on the side of caution, but can you tell me of any general or specific concerns you might have regarding this? Obviously ingesting the drug bypasses lung damage done by smoking it, but can you tell me of any other possible systemic dangers (liver-GI/kidney/brain, etc...) inherent in this practice?

I have on one occasion ingested it in the form of a brownie with no noticeable negative effects. I am currently a medical student and have found nothing substantial in the literature I've researched related to this. I would greatly appreciate any information or resources you can give me.

A. Recent data on marijuana is not at all encouraging as to its safety. Carcinogen levels in marijuana smoke are at higher levels than those in cigarettes, and laboratory studies in mice show evidence that marijuana inhibits some of our natural abilities to fight tumor cells. Similar data are not available in humans, but caution is advised.

Different forms of ingestion are not likely to make anything safer; cigarette smokers have higher rates of many types of cancer in addition to lung cancer. And of course many professions are known for higher stress levels, making the temptation for alcohol or drug use appealing as relaxants, so you will need some caution that anything of this nature does not interfere with your well being and professional responsibilities.

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