Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Double Medical Risk?

If you smoke marijuana, according to one study, you can double the risk of having a stroke. This is based on the fact that 16% of young-ish admitted stroke patients had indications of cannabis use, versus a normal population indication of 8%. The researchers also admitted that all the users of cannabis also smoked tobacco which is known to increase the risk of stroke.

However, as devastating as it is to have a stroke any time in one's life, let's look at the risk. (Author's note: I'm not advocating cannabis use.) Other studies show that the rate of incidence for a person under 50 is 3 - 48/100,000. Over 50, the rate is 300-2500/100,000.

The risk of having a stroke at age 50 is approximately 1/300 or like drawing the one joker hidden among 6 decks of cards. Or 2 jokers among 12 decks. Imagine opening these boxes, leave just two jokers in the mix (discarding the others), shuffling all of the cards and then randomly selecting a card. What do you imagine it'll be?
You're more likely to not pull the joker. In fact, you have 299/300 chance of avoiding strokes even with the risk factors. If you smoke marijuana, you reduce your odds to 298/300. It's even more ridiculous to imagine an 18 year old with a risk of 1/30,000 or finding the joker in 600 decks of cards. Could you do it? What if the risk is doubled and there are two jokers in that 600 decks of cards?

Before we scare anyone, we need to be smart about the risks. With multiple risk factors of smoking (anything), high cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc. the chances of NOT having a stroke are still 29,998/30,000.

We scare ourselves similarly when it comes to flying on an air plane, being bitten by a spider or snake, breaking your mother's back when you step on a crack...

I guess the question is what constitutes drawing a card: a single person out of a group of 30,000 until they hit the age of 50-85, a single year, a single day, hour, minute...

I do appreciate these studies but let's get a little realistic and focus on some other major causes of death. Sure stroke is number 3 among older people, but it's not in the top 5, probably not in the top 10, for younger people. (In case you're interested the causes of teenage deaths are in ranked order: accidents, homicides, suicides, cancer and heart disease with the last being at a rate of 1-2/100,000 though it might be triple at the age of 19; strokes in young people don't often lead to death.)

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