Whether it’s sitting in the back of a classroom enthralled by a 9 a.m. lecture or taking advantage of office hours to discuss that paper of yours that doesn’t quite have a thesis yet, it’s clear that our professors are one of the best resources that Wes has to offer. However, while clearly they are experts in their respective fields, professors can also supply answers to questions that may not loom as large in the minds of academics as in the minds of your everyday student. Although Wesleyan houses some of the greatest scholars in the country, sometimes a student needs to ask a question that, well, isn’t so academically oriented. In this weekly column, professors will answer any non-academic question posed by a member of the Wesleyan student body, from sex to drugs to rock ‘n’ roll.
Question: It’s a common practice in the marijuana-smoking community to smoke out of homemade bongs made out of plastic containers. Protruding out of the plastic bottle, it is common to place an aluminum foil in a bowl shape on top of a hollowed-out pen exterior. The marijuana is placed in the aluminum bowl and, when it is burned, inevitably some of the aluminum foil burns as well. A number of rumors swirl around this issue, and the most widespread is that the vapors from the heated foil can cause Alzheimer’s later on in life. Does this seem plausible? How would such a reaction work?
Answer: Perhaps you’re worried that the short-term memory loss, confusion and paranoia are due to the aluminum? It’s not likely. Aluminum is a fairly reactive metal and on exposure to the atmosphere it quickly forms a surface layer of aluminum oxide, which protects the underlying metal from further reaction. Any aluminum that winds up in the smoke would be in the form of this oxide. There is little data on aluminum oxide toxicity, but it appears to be about as toxic as other fine particulates. Additionally, a number of recent studies have indicated that the proposed link between Alzheimer’s disease and aluminum is weak or nonexistent. There are, of course, more serious short- and long-term health effects linked to smoking in general, and marijuana smoking in particular, that have been reported (see, for example, http://www.drugabuse.gov/ResearchReports/marijuana/Marijuana3.html#physicalhealth).
Need to ask a professor? Send submissions to email@example.com.