Breakthrough study suggests not smoking pot or drinking alcohol correlated with better college grades

by Don Hank

 No, actually no such study has made headlines lately. But there is a new study on pot that mediocre students will love.

According to UAB News, Associate professor Stefan Kertesz of the University of Alabama has discovered, in a longitudinal study of over 5000 marijuana smokers aged 18-30 years, that “marijuana smoke is not as damaging to lungs as cigarette smoke.” In fact, the research also supposedly showed that occasionally inhaling small amounts of the combustion products of this dried weed can even enhance lung capacity.

That will be good news for our sons and daughters struggling against the ignorance and superstition of our benighted generation in their efforts to supplement their alcohol intake this semester and do so without guilt.

But for me, after reading through the hype and comparing it with the actual abstract of the study, it looks like just another example of research methodology on campus used to achieve a desired result. I am not necessarily impugning the researcher as much as those who seized upon the report with enthusiasm and an uncanny display of uncritical thought. As I have shown here and here, the scientific method (that is, actually looking at data objectively for the sole purpose of finding out the truth, no matter what that may be) has long been out of favor with the media. But as evidenced by the “Climategate” scandal at the University of East Anglia, it is none too popular even among a surprising percentage of scientists.

With this realization in mind, and also having read, translated and published (here, for example) a report by Portuguese doctors debunking that government’s study fueling a Cato report “demonstrating” that drug decriminalization “works,” and further, having had a pot-smoking friend – who did not use tobacco – die of lung cancer, I immediately smelled a rat.

Now, let me tell you a little about the profession of foreign language translation, which I have plied successfully full-time for over 40 years. In that time, I have translated medical and scientific texts for about 200 clients, including the American Cancer Society (translating reports from various countries in Europe on smoking and its effects in the induction of cancer, emphysema, “smoker’s leg” and other maladies) and a fair number of drug companies (series of reports on assorted drugs). One of my clients was also the NIH (National Institutes of Health). If you guessed that that agency’s assignments were predominantly medical in nature, you are correct. For a few years of my career, reports on medical studies were the main topic. Caution: I cannot operate on your brain or prescribe liver pills for you. But I will tell you with full confidence: I know the methodology of medical studies. And I know when a research report is pulling my leg.

I can tell you with all sincerity that the media reports on Stefan Kertesz’ studies on marijuana are misleading, and that is being overly generous. Sadly, the report on these studies in UAB News, a publication generally touting successes of persons affiliated with the University of Alabama, is also misleading to say the least. (Which is not necessarily to say that the researcher himself is at fault in this regard).

The headline proclaims: “Marijuana Smoke not as Damaging to Lungs as Cigarette Smoke.” Now, did you immediately assume that the study shows equal amounts of marijuana smoke to be less damaging than equal amounts of tobacco smoke?

I did. Well, I didn’t, but I would have if I had trusted such studies on illegal drugs since I read the Cato report and its thorough rebuttal by the Portuguese MDs who have studied the issue hands-on and met the actual patients (drug users). I have yet to see such a pro-drug study that is not a wide-eyed attempt to justify a bad habit generally endorsed by libertarians and political leftists – who righteously declare drug use of any kind to be a human right that is trampled by most governments generally recognized as legitimate (they think banning anything they like to do is unconstitutional).

So I decided to get a scientific report on the study. Not being a member of AMA, I am not privileged to download articles from JAMA.

However, I was able to obtain for free an abstract of the study from their site.

And lo and behold, what did I find that did not surprise me in the least?

It seems the author has come up with a creative new concept for measuring marijuana smoke exposure. He calls it the “joint year,” and he defines a joint year as 365 joints or filled pipe bowls. He calls this a “moderately high use level.”

Now, of course, in the course of his study, Kertesz no doubt encountered a few subjects who smoked more than these 365 joints per year. But you can see from this definition of a “joint year” that the assumption was for many subjects to have smoked about one joint a day, give or take a few.

One media report quoted the Associated Press as saying that the study:

“…has concluded that smoking cannabis once a week or even more does not harm the lungs.”

The term “even more” is not defined and is therefore meaningless, except as propaganda. But aside from that, if only smoking cannabis once a week is to be compared with what smokers ordinarily do, then the conclusion trumpeted in UAB News (“marijuana smoke is not as damaging to lungs as cigarette smoke”) does not fly. (Most cigarette smokers smoke more than one cigarette a day. You probably knew that).

Of course, there is an outside chance that Kertesz actually did compare the results of smoking 1 joint a day for year-long periods with the results of smoking 1 cigarette a day for year-long periods, but I found no evidence of that. And I can’t imagine where he would have gotten those one-a-day smokers as test subjects.

But here is the most serious flaw in the report that cannabis is less harmful than cigarette smoke: What do we fear most about smoking? Why, cancer, right? Now, the most convincing studies done by cancer researchers are longitudinal studies done on people over a period long enough to induce cancer. Most are seniors when they are stricken–not in the range of 18-30 as used in the Alabama study. In the papers I translated from the Cancer Society, the most feared carcinogen (cancer causing agent) in cigarette smoke was always said to be benzo(a)pyrene.  Mice whose shaved backs were painted with the stuff got cancer. So if marijuana smoke contains benzo(a)pyrene, then it is carcinogenic, right? Well, to find out, I did a search. One of the sites I brought up was run by people who liked to experiment with drugs. It showed a study by the Institute of Medicine and Health.

It showed results of a chemical analysis of cigarette and marijuana smokes. You’ll never guess which smoke contained the most benzo(a)pyrene.

No, not cigarette smoke, which prompted the government to sue the cigarette industry for billions. It was the smoke that Bill Clinton said he never inhaled. Here are the results:


marijuana: 31 ng

tobacco: 22 ng

Gee, marijuana contains about a third more of the chief carcinogen than cigarettes and our University of Alabama news letter declares marijuana smoke to the “less damaging.”

I predict that sometime in the not-too-distant future, after all this hype about the harmlessness of marijuana has taken its toll, persuading legions of gullible young people to indulge in this “safe” habit, someone in medical science with high powers of observation and the courage to swim upstream will do a study on marijuana smokers and cancer and discover that the older heavier users are getting lung cancer right and left. 

At any rate, I will not be advising either of my kids to smoke a joint a day while in college. However, I may tell them to study as hard as they can in a down economy when an alarmingly high percentage of graduates are failing to find jobs in their professions and are saddled for years with college loan payments.

You’d think some researcher somewhere would find the time to study the correlation between not smoking anything at all and not drinking alcohol on student grade levels and chances of graduating from college, as contrasted with a control group of students who indulge in these practices.

I won’t hold my breath for such a breakthrough study. Nor will I expect much improvement in the academic performance of US students over the next few years. At least not judging by their role models on campus.

You can contact Dr. Stefan Kertesz, the author of the Alabama pot report and encourage him to do a study among elderly persons who have smoked pot most of their lives. Tell him you would expect to see a strong correlation between lung cancer and heavy pot use:

And you can contact the writer of the above mentioned article on marijuana at U. of Alabama and let her know your thoughts (or send her a link to this article):


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Arguments in favor of drug legalization and analysis of them

The following are some of the main arguments in favor of drug legalization and/or decriminalization, followed by my debunking:

1–The fact that narcotic drug decriminalization has been tried successfully in Portugal is proof that this works.

That’s what you once said about Holland. Remember the story of the boy who cried ‘wolf.’ It was successful only according to the Portuguese government, which had been responsible for the ill-advised decriminalizing in the first place, and according to the Cato Institute, which has a vested interest in believing the experiment was successful and in promulgating the myth that it was. As for Scientific American, which swallowed it whole and then regurgitated it upon their pages, they will have to answer for themselves someday.

According to the doctors in Portugal, the government story is ‘pure disinformation.’

2—No one is advocating decriminalization of narcotic drugs, just the sale of drugs.

Pardon me, but if it is not harmful to let people take any drug they please, then it is not morally wrong to sell these drugs either. So why the hypocrisy?

There is only one reason for prosecuting dealers: The advocates of drug legalization know full well that decriminalization is not good for society. If it is wrong to sell drugs it is wrong to use them.

3—Libertarian groups all agree that taking drugs is a “right.” They can misquote von Mises and Friedman to sort of support this.

But since neither of these early libertarians or adopted libertarians (like Friedman) ever lived in a society where drugs were legal (because no society in the world allowed the sale and use of hard narcotics), any intellectual support they may have had for drug legalization was purely hypothetical and not provable. So, lacking the proof that drug decriminalization is not a net negative for society, it is clear that many who advocate decriminalization or legalization of narcotics (most being libertarian or ‘progressive’) are simply bowing to what they consider “authorities” or hewing to the libertarian or progressive party line. But since the “authorities” have not used the scientific method (analysis of hard evidence) to prove the soundness of their hypotheses, and in fact, since the Dutch and Portuguese experiments failed to pan out (as I have shown, despite worldwide hype), it is a question of the blind leading the blind.

4—When the Dutch experiment with legalization of narcotics in coffee houses failed, the pro-legalization crowd quickly declared “Holland never legalized drugs.”

This was disingenuous. Firstly, the Portuguese never legalized them either in the strict sense. They merely decriminalized their use, while maintaining stiff penalties for dealers. Secondly, the Dutch had certainly stopped enforcing drug laws to the extent that specially licensed coffee houses could allow open soft narcotic use on their premises – resulting in “drug tourism.” The reason legalization advocates suddenly backed off of Holland as a model was because the Dutch themselves backed off, seeing the abject failure of their model. They began to see “drug tourism” as an albatross, for example, and started to discourage it. They also started to see kids selling drugs in the schools, to an alarming degree.

One web site, operated by Schoolguard, a group of Dutch activists for safer schools, recently reports:

“According to researchers, drug use is on the increase. They find that 39% of 17 year olds have tried cannabis (hash or weed) at least once, and 9% have tried hard drugs once.


In 89% of secondary schools, drugs are sold by students. In virtually all secondary schools, you can find hash. Further, ecstasy can be had in 61% of schools, cocaine in 40% and speed in 19%.” [my translation]

It was reports like these that spoiled the Dutch model for the libertarians and leftist or faux conservative legalization advocates. This forced them to look for a new model while trashing the old model by suddenly claiming, in retrospect, that the Dutch “never legalized drugs.” Remember that bona fide information about the Dutch experiment was initially hard to find in the Anglo press because of the language barrier.  However, I did publish an eye-opening report a while back based on my translation of a Dutch article. My blog on this went to hundreds of policy makers and journalists. Once the truth came out, it was hard for legalization advocates to maintain the facade. I believe the dissemination of such information in the media is the main reason legalization advocates switched to Portugal, a nation that also speaks an obscure enough language to keep the world in the dark long enough to achieve political inroads to legalization.

Here again, as before, I intend to be a spoiler.

It needs to be noted that while the Mises Institute article touts the ‘resounding success’ of the Portuguese model, it also admits that the “success” (consisting mainly of a reported higher survival rate among hard drug users) is due in part to government programs through which addicts can acquire free needles and surrogate drugs. This is hypocritical when you consider that the Von Mises Institute elsewhere renounces all government intervention in social affairs. Yet here, it supports what amounts to a Big Government approach. Obviously, drug legalization is more important than their free market ideological underpinnings.

The picture that emerges here is that, despite its emphasis on the “free market,” libertarianism is probably no better for the West than is progressivism, communism or any of the other zippy-sounding isms.

The bombastic libertarian claim that drug legalization will help solve our economic problems, as will open borders and amnesty, is smoke and mirrors obscuring the fact that drugs – not the enforcement of drug laws – and open borders/amnesty – not immigration enforcement – are some of the main causes of our current economic malaise.

Ironically, there is one very promising solution to these two problems, and it is the one most maligned by libertarians and ‘progressives’ alike, namely, closing the border and banishing illegal-alien criminals (including as many illegal entrants as can be caught — of course, we can’t catch them all. Who said we could?) to their homelands following incarceration (I had shown here that, incredibly, released illegal-alien felons are in fact given government assistance with the acquisition of green cards. Any fool can see why we have a drug smuggling problem, and any fool can see how easily it could be stopped if our government wanted it stopped).

If we stopped meddling in the affairs of Middle Easterners in a way that promotes terror (as I have shown for all but the hardiest of deniers here, here, here and here), we could bring home our ill-stationed troops serving the political purposes of a usurper in a war effort with no constitutional basis whatsoever, and send many of them to the border states, armed as they are now, and specially trained, and entrust them with the safeguarding of our borders.

In so doing, we could immediately:

1-significantly bolster our flagging economy

2-almost completely stop the flow of drugs into our country

3-greatly reduce the need to fight terror, by ending our indirect support for terror in the Middle East, and simultaneously, by keeping out non-Mexican aliens at the border.

People have a bad habit of letting their ideology trump their common sense, intuition and observational skills. Even conservatives like me can be guilty of this at times.

But the Mises article proudly reports that Rep. Ron Paul, a medical doctor with decidedly libertarian views, is in favor of legalizing narcotics and wants to join Barney Frank in drafting such a law.

If libertarians can ever manage to get down off their sacrosanct ivory towers and humbly look at real world facts, they may eventually be able to gain our confidence again.

But most representatives of the movement, like Mark Thornton and Ron Paul, to name but a few, have a long way to go and it’s all uphill.

Von Mises and Rand for open borders:

Milton Friedman: “You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.”

LP is for open borders, amnesty:

Ron Paul has changed on immigration

More proof of higher drug use in Portugal


Don Hank


In the previous article, one of my readers questioned the translated excerpt from the article in the Portuguese medical journal Saude. He pointed out that when drugs are first legalized, people who once were afraid to report their drug use were emboldened enough to admit it and this was a factor that skewed the statistics, making it look as if drug use had increased when in fact it had not.

He was sure that if I translated the rest, he would be able to deduce such a skewing from the rest of the article.

This challenged me to translate the rest in case others may have had the same suspicion. As you can see from the translation below, however, there are considerable data on increased drug related mortalities, which are not dependent on subjective reporting by the drug users themselves. The significant increase in drug-related homicides is also independent of reports by the users themselves.

Therefore, at least for these data, we can pretty much discount the above-mentioned skewing factor.

The long time – about 6 years – from the time of decriminalization to the end of the study also militates against such an explanation.

My full translation of the Saude article is found here: