February 2nd, 2009
03:34 PM ET

Phelps faces risks from firing up

Danielle Dellorto
CNN Medical Producer

“What was he thinking?” That seems to be the common reaction when fans hear the news that Olympic superstar Michael Phelps got caught smoking pot. What’s interesting is, as I dug deeper, I realized people weren’t too concerned that his behavior may harm his health, but more appalled that his getting caught could cost him millions of dollars in endorsement money.

This got me thinking that a lot people look at marijuana as having very limited impact on our health. One friend made his case to me with absolute certainty in his tone, “In the big scheme of things, smoking pot is not going to hurt me.” He added, “At least I don’t smoke cigarettes.”

But is that really true? Are cigarettes worse for your health than marijuana? An overwhelming amount of research says not so fast.

Smoking one marijuana cigarette sends the same amount of tar into the lungs as four tobacco cigarettes. Turns out pot contains about 400 chemicals and 50 percent more carcinogens than a tobacco cigarette. Carcinogens cause damage to the DNA in our cells, increasing your risk for lung infections, heart disease and even cancer.

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soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Steven


    these sponsor knew what they were getting into with a person diagnosed with ADD. Impulsivity is part of this diagnosed and a real effort must be made to manage it. To some, what Michael did was a big funny. But this is not a joke. Young men ADD diagnosed have been convicted of crimes but with a reduced sentence. IMPULSIVITY!!! There are mean people out here and will use it against a person with problems controling impuses. So, kudos to the sponsor for sticking with their guy and that jealous whoever has it coming. Just remember not to give that person any coverage when he/she comes forth.

    February 2, 2009 at 11:59 pm |
  2. William Steinberg

    So what? Can EVERYBODY just take a bong and relax? That's all HE was doing. Grow up and get over it everyone. Tens of millions of people do this as part of their lives. It's not going away anymore than Alcohol went away during its prohibition. If you choose not to do it great! Stop trying to live everyone's lives for them. And if you choose to reject people for smoking pot you can give up listening to music, watching TV, or going to the movies. Many of your favorites are OK with this.
    Phelps mistake was allow the photo to be taken, and not buying the device on which it was taken from the guy right there. Or just stomping on it and punching the guy out.

    February 2, 2009 at 11:53 pm |
  3. nova.d.l.

    I'm glad to hear the positive responses from some of his endorsers. It's pleasantly surprising to see that big business isn't being judgemental. The guy is human, he smoked a little weed at a college party. What else would he do there? It needs to be condemned for the sake of the children but it should not be punished.

    February 2, 2009 at 11:45 pm |
  4. Dallas

    Come on now...Black Olympic female runner served time in an Institution for her steroid use and K Bryant said the young lady consented. Regarding endorsements...Blacks never get their "just rewards" (remember Doug Williams the SuperBowl Champ?... NOTHING! Can't wait to see what happens with Mike Tomlin.

    No one can deny... Blacks are always treated differently. Michael should be treated just like we would be. How can his fan base think he's done nothing wrong and the Sponsors don't remove their names as they did with K B? MJ is illegal just like steroid. Really...it's amazing his lungs sustain his swimming ability and aren't damaged!


    February 2, 2009 at 11:34 pm |
  5. jpc

    I wonder how many politicians on cap hill are smoking the stuff?

    February 2, 2009 at 11:08 pm |
  6. Jordan Reagan

    The logic of the argument that marijuana is that much more harmful than cigarettes is flawed, to an extent. When compared one on one, a marijuana joint has many more of the dangerous carcinogens and whatnot than cigarettes. That's been proven. However, to consume the daily amount of harmful chemicals taken in by your average cigarette smoker (let's say a pack a day-20 cigarettes), a pot smoker would have to single-handedly smoke 5 huge joints. For your average recreational user, which I'm sure Phelps is, that's quite a bit much. I'm not going to get into the political issues with marijuana, but as far as a health issue, it's no more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. Less, in fact.

    February 2, 2009 at 10:41 pm |
  7. JQQ -Brea California

    Who cares?

    February 2, 2009 at 10:02 pm |
  8. Annie Kate

    Honestly, right now with the economic world crashing down around our ears does anyone really care that Phelps smoked marijuana? I don't. And if this is the only stupid thing he ever does then he's way ahead of the rest of us – its just that the rest of us don't have Olympic fame.

    February 2, 2009 at 9:51 pm |
  9. Nanette Witt

    I think Phelps SHOULD be held accountable for his actions. What kind of message is he sending our children, especially young atheletes? Our community schools have been teaching our kids to be drug-free since third grade. My kids are well-aware of the consequences and the stigma of drug use. My ten year old saw the photo on the news and asked why Phelps wasn't arrested. Why does it matter? Because this kid is making millions of dollars off of his strong athleticism, hard work and determination to do his best. My kids now think he's a LOSER. Those companies should drop him immediately–I would NEVER buy from them as long as he represents them. Come on, the kid's been around an environment his entire career which condemns drug-use. What he packs in muscles, he lacks in his brain –stupid kid!

    February 2, 2009 at 9:47 pm |
  10. jarrod

    I think he has had enough chances and should lose all his endorsements. He should be barred from ever entering the olympics and his record tarnished for life. Join the rest of us that has made mistakes suspend his driver,s license place him on probation for 1 year . HEY fair is fair.

    February 2, 2009 at 8:54 pm |
  11. jim Fallbrook CA

    I can't understand why Phelps would take a chance and ruin his rather lucrative career. If he is dropped from all his lucrative contracts, he might have to go and work at Mc Donalds. It is just like the movie and TV stars who have a hit movie or TV Show. Instead of being grateful for striking gold, they ruin their career trying to be a diversemovie icon. Very few succeed in that. Like John Belushi was very good at comedy but a failure in drama's. They get big heads and ego. .

    February 2, 2009 at 8:09 pm |
  12. yvette

    I'm really tired of people saying that he's young. So what. Many of us were and discovered a natural high on life... not drugs. Not a good role model for children of today.

    But then again, how can we slam him and not television, movies, music, etc. that display violence and sex everyday. That's no better than drugs.

    Perhaps this is the pot calling the kettle black. I wonder what kind of shows his endorsersees sponsor.

    February 2, 2009 at 8:04 pm |
  13. Michelle

    Does anyone take pot smoking seriously these days?
    people make mistakes. Nobody is perfect.

    February 2, 2009 at 7:58 pm |
  14. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    Marijuana is a gateway to other harder drug use. It is addictive. Its abuse and dependence warrant their own diagnoses in the counseling and psychiatric fields. If people think it isn't potentially dangerous, they are fooling themselves as much as they do by thinking cigarette smoking isn't dangerous.

    Here's the deal. Michael Phelps isn't the average 23-year old. He's a famous person kids idolize. He is called to better because of what he has done. If he can't handle the fame, he needs to figure it out or get out of the limelight. Not all professional athletes do moronic things like this. Most don't. It's time Phelps realizes he can't if he wants to stay in the fame game of his life. But with that drinking incident years ago, he might even more than that want to figure out why he needs booze and drugs to make himself feel better, see if he has a real problem with their use, and deal with it before something even more catastrophic than embarrassing photos happen in his life.

    February 2, 2009 at 7:37 pm |
  15. Mary V., Salt Lake City, UT

    I hope Michael Phelps or someone close to him will read this comment.

    Michael: you need some therapy. Get help, first drunk driving, now this. Shows that you are a hurting unit. Get some help, son.

    February 2, 2009 at 7:29 pm |
  16. Janine from PA.

    I'm surprised he would want to suck anything down into his lungs which are very necessary to do what he does.

    February 2, 2009 at 7:14 pm |
  17. Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX

    Whoa! Obviously Michael Phelps is not a "pot" head nor an alcoholic if he spent his time, all of it in 2 workouts a day 7 days a week for 4 years including Holidays.
    There are a lot of positive and medicinal qualities to marijuana and Plelps is in perfect health so leave him alone and gimme a break!
    Is anyone who is criticizing Plelps as disiplined or as healthy and fit?
    Geerz~ Marijuana should be legal anyway. It has proven benefits.
    It is the choice o champions!

    February 2, 2009 at 7:10 pm |
  18. Lloyd

    Everyone needs to get over it! Times are changing, we have presidents that have smoked pot. Tobacco has been the worser poison, it's been legal and giving government revenue for decades. Alcohol prohibition didn't work either. In this economy, we need whatever cash cows that are available. It's time to repeal marijuana laws instead of burning up this billion dollar commodity . Legalization will impede on the blackmarket value and take power from drug cartels.

    February 2, 2009 at 7:10 pm |
  19. R Holder

    I think we should just accept the apology. I dont know any young person who has not pushed the limits be it drinking, speeding etc. Its a dum thing to do knowing that any dirt on him could end up in a big payoff to a so called friend. Im sure he will loose endorsements but as I have made errors in my youth he will learn. We need to focus on people loosing jobs and the nations problems..

    February 2, 2009 at 7:06 pm |
  20. Teresa, OH

    @JC: yes ( cough cough) it is very refreshing to see that.

    Who cares if Mike toked a bit? It's his business. I HOPE they do not stop his endorsements. Phelps' money is some of the last money paying into taxes at this point and we laid off people need someone paying into the pot. ( no pun intended) Think of the big picture, folks.

    Let the kid be a kid, leave him alone. And for those parents out there who are DISAPPOINTED in Mike: it's not YOURS to feel so. He is a person, a flawed individual, like ALL of us. Parents, quit putting anyone up on a pedastal! You make fools of yourselves.
    pass the bong, Mike.

    February 2, 2009 at 6:37 pm |
  21. Tod Billings

    We are asking the wrong questions here. Sure, marijuana is illegal, but doesn't the fact that a record-breaking Olympian succeeds so magnificently despite being a marijuana smoker raise the question of whether marijuana is only for "losers" as one poster he put it (a perception held by many): killing ambition, drive, and talent?

    Now Phelps can join the ranks of Barrack Obama, Francis Crick (codiscoverer of the structure of DNA and noble laureate), Carl Sagan (one of the greatest science writers of the 20th century and astronomer), and Lester Grinspoon M.D. (associate professor emeritus of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who served for 40 years as senior psychiatrist at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Boston). All admitted in writing to experimenting with marijuana, with Sagan and Grinspoon claiming frequent and regular use (Sagan said use of marijuana inspired many of his essays). A simple google search of any of the aforementioned individuals coupled with the word "marijuana" will substantiate these claims a dozen times over.

    Give the guy a break. He never claimed to be a role-model anyway; he only claimed to a darn good swimmer, and he delivered on that! It's amazing we live in a society that virtually glorifies alcohol use but looks down so harshly at a drug that has caused zero overdoses, isn't physically addictive, and inclines people to be more inhibited, paranoid, and less violent as opposed to the reckless and disinhibited condition alcohol creates.

    February 2, 2009 at 6:28 pm |
  22. Beth

    Michael Phelps is a very talented YOUNG man. It is unfortunate in this media age that he is not safe to be himself anywhere. The one who should apologize is the person who took the picture. It was wrong, he said he was sorry – let's move on to more important subjects. This incident has no bearing on whether or not I will purchase a product that Michael endorses.

    February 2, 2009 at 6:13 pm |
  23. Isabel Abreu

    The measurement of Wada (World Anti-Doping Agency) has not increased the consumption of marijuana by athletes around the world, but revealed a less glamorous picture of the sport.

    Treated as stars or relegated to ostracism, athletes are subject to the same problems that ordinary people. They are depress, have family problems, financial difficulties, marital crisis and still need to bear the pressures and recoveries from sponsors, fans and press. Like much of society, athletes seek calls in social drugs (such as recreation and not used to improve sports performance) a relief for their afflictions.

    Marijuana is as bad as cigarettes, but that does not mean it is acceptable.
    Cigarette and marijuana are bad for health. Users should have more love for their bodies.

    February 2, 2009 at 5:59 pm |
  24. JC- Los Angeles

    It's somewhat refreshing to learn that our economy isn't the only thing going up in smoke.

    February 2, 2009 at 5:25 pm |
  25. c,ca

    My first reactions to the Michael Phelps pictures were, a) who cares? and, b) who took the pictures? Obviously someone took this picture intending to sell it and make a lot of money. Phelps needs to realize that he is a public figure and he needs to be more careful about who he trusts.

    As far as the endorsements go.... why do companies pay these huge sums for endorsements anyway? Does it really affect their sales? Paying Tiger Woods an arm and a leg to push Buicks doesn't seem to be helping General Motors. If Michael Phelps' picture is on a cereal box, it wouldn't persuade me to buy it or not to buy it. I don't care if he eats Wheaties or wears Nikes or drives a Buick. So what? Maybe, in this poor economy, advertisers should re-think these endorsement deals.

    February 2, 2009 at 5:11 pm |
  26. Marie

    Have people completely lost their minds? Michael Phelps didn't smoke pot because he is young(a lot of young people do not), he did it because he thought he could. We have yet another example of how fame distorts reality. This has nothing to do with youth, it's all about arrogance. Should his achievements be tarnished because of this? YES! I am so tired of athletes and celebrities getting a free ride and not having to be held responsible for their actions. Makes me wonder what else he's done. Just curious-is there a cut-off age for making stupid choices? I know plenty of people older than Phelps who do dumb things all the time. Guess they haven't gotten the memo yet. Even my six year old knows drugs are bad for you...maybe he could learn a thing or two from her!!!

    February 2, 2009 at 5:04 pm |
  27. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Phelps is a human being with human behaviors, leave this kid alone and let him grow from his experiences whether they be good or bad. Tearing him down sends the wrong message to our youth that if they make one mistake their whole life is destroyed. Don't do this to Phelps.

    February 2, 2009 at 5:03 pm |
  28. Marvin

    I'm sittn back waitn to see how many endorsements he lose.

    February 2, 2009 at 5:02 pm |
  29. Jennifer - Michigan

    I am totally disappointed in Phelps smoking pot – also very disappointed in the blasé attitude regarding it as well. It's an illegal drug – people who smoke pot are losers in my eyes. Although I try not to them know that, but It saddens me deeply. Too many people are using it!

    February 2, 2009 at 4:11 pm |
  30. Bret

    Oh, my Lord. Who the hell cares?

    February 2, 2009 at 3:50 pm |
  31. Cindy

    Oh..I doubt this will hurt Phelps at all. If these celebs like Lohan, 50 Cent, Amy Winehouse, Kate Moss and others can be caught and even filmed doing coke and other drugs and it not effect their popularity with fans and their sponsorship deals then it won't hurt Phelps either. Besides pot is nothing compared to other drugs! Not that it's a great thing to be doing but...


    February 2, 2009 at 3:45 pm |
  32. Jenn/Monrovia, CA

    Personally, the kid is 23 and bound to do something stupid. At 23 I did far worse! And yes, I know he's a role model and should be smarter about these things, but the media making such a hoopla about what is essentially a kid making a silly mistake is much more upsetting to me than him toking a joint.

    I think he did the right thing, he apologized and cautioned against such things. It isn't good for his health or for swimming, and isn't good to encourage. But it is again one of those situations where the media makes a mountain over a molehill till it grows out of any and all such proportions.

    February 2, 2009 at 3:40 pm |