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U.N. Health Agency Fails to Suppress Pot Report

A leaked World Health Organization report revealing that pot is healthier than booze and cigarettes has left officials in Geneva scrambling to downplay its significance.After suppressing the politically loaded findings, the WHO was thrown into a tizzy when the London-based magazine New Scientist published the report last week.Officials in Geneva immediately went into damage-control mode, vehemently insisting that the scientific research compiled from 16 individual studies was inconclusive, and denying that the report was locked away for political reasons."It was pure speculation. There was no science in it," claims Tokuo Yoshida, head of narcotic drugs at the WHO, in an interview with NOW. He warns that the public should not see the unofficial findings as a licence to start smoking up guilt-free.Free Use"If people start using cannabis as freely as alcohol or tobacco, there would be harmful effects," he warns, although he admits the study did find the effects of the legalized substances to be more severe.But with more widespread use, the risks associated with cannabis may become comparable, claims Yoshida. "Instead of smoking cannabis at home so that nobody would notice, people may start using it during tea time or coffee breaks and take time out at work to use it," he predicts, envisioning secondhand problems and a greater number of daily accidents caused by impaired judgment.Alleged unsound findings aside, Yoshida explains that releasing the report was not in the public interest because people would simply begin using cannabis rather than giving up other drugs, creating more of a health problem.Robin Room, chief scientist at the Addiction Research Foundation, which submitted one of the reports in the compilation, admits they found cannabis less risky but does not deliver the news enthusiastically."We said it would be difficult to say cannabis could be more harmful than alcohol or tobacco, but fundamentally we didn't know," he stresses, pointing out that a larger cannabis user pool might have altered the findings.No Overdoses"It is essentially impossible to die from an overdose of marijuana, but you can die from an overdose of alcohol. But then, alcohol does not irritate the lungs as marijuana smoke does, and tobacco, for that matter."But Room does believe the WHO should have released the findings and allowed the public to weigh the comparative risks, likening the process to consumers comparing prescription drugs. "I would have made a different choice, but it is a matter of opinion," he said.However, David Concar, the New Scientist journalist who broke the story, says in an interview that the report's suppression was more a matter of cold feet than scientific caution. He says sources close to the WHO say the report was delayed for two years because of intense conflict over whether the conclusion should be included.Authors' ViewsHe also points out that the censored report that was released states on its cover that it expresses the views of its authors alone and is not an official WHO report. "It's almost like the WHO has a problem with this report and wanted to distance itself from it but couldn't figure out the proper way to do it."Even the WHO's formal statement issued after Concar's article hit the stands does not deny that the organization was under heat to cover up the findings. It just claims that their decision had nothing to do with that pressure. Concar says it's difficult for the WHO to wield a free hand since it is a UN organization."Of course, they are going to deny bowing to political pressure. They always deny bowing to political pressure," he says. "But they have never said it was not applied, just that they didn't bow to it. They are backing away from the analysis even though it was done by reputable scientists."

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