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Does Marijuana Cause Lung Damage?

By on January 27, 2013

Summary (click to view)

• Marijuana smoke contains similar cancer-causing compounds as tobacco smoke
• Marijuana smoke also contains anti-cancer and anti-tumor compounds known as cannabinoids (eg. THC and CBD)
• Studies show that regular marijuana use does not impair lung function or increase the risk of lung cancer
• Dr. Tashkin believes that THC may have a “protective effect” on the lungs
• Studies show that marijuana smokers are still at risk of chronic bronchitis
• Using a vaporizer may eliminate this risk – Most people are aware that alcohol and tobacco subject their users to numerous health risks, including cancers of the throat, mouth and lungs.

Many also believe that the smoke from marijuana poses similar health risks as tobacco smoke, but is this a myth or reality?

Marijuana Vs. Tobacco

The smoke from burning marijuana leaves contains several known carcinogens, similar to those found in tobacco smoke. Worse, cannabis smoke also deposits a hefty amount of carcinogen-containing tar into the lungs – 4 times as much tar as an equivalent cigarette would due to the way marijuana joints are usually rolled (loosely packed and unfiltered).

On the other hand, the smoke from marijuana contains a set of very unique chemicals known as cannabinoids (eg. THC and CBD), which are not found in cigarette smoke. Numerous studies have found cannabinoids to possess potent anti-cancer and anti-tumor effects.

This key difference in the smoke produced by marijuana and that of cigarettes is suspected to play a major role in the different outcomes that marijuana and cigarettes have on the lungs.

What The Studies Show

Over the past decade, two large-scale studies have set out to identify the impact of heavy, sustained marijuana use on the lungs.

The first of these studies was led by Dr. Tashkin – a federal researcher and pulmonary specialist who has conducted over 30 years worth of research on marijuana and the lungs through generous grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). In 2006, Tashkin co-authored a study involving over 2000 people which showed that, unlike tobacco, marijuana use did not increase the risk of lung cancer, even in subjects who reported smoking over 20,000 marijuana joints in their lifetime.

The second study was published in 2012 by a separate team of researchers from the University of California. It was the largest study ever to be conducted on marijuana smokers and involved a sample of over 5,000 adults. The researchers followed their subjects over a 20-year period and found that regular marijuana smoking – defined as a joint a day for 7 years or a joint a week for 20 years – had no impact on lung function. On the contrary, the results suggested a slight improvement in lung function for regular smokers of marijuana.

Both studies also included a sample of tobacco smokers for comparison and both were able to confirm what we already know – cigarette smoking is directly correlated with lung disease and impaired lung function.

What’s The Explanation?

So what is it about marijuana smoke that makes its impact on lungs so drastically different from cigarettes that even professional athletes are willing to partake in the occasional puff?

Although many experts seem baffled at the results of the two studies mentioned above, Dr. Tashkin believes he may have an explanation. He speculates that the THC molecules in marijuana may be protective of lung cancer by influencing aged cells to die before they can become cancerous.

“We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use. What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect.” – Dr. Tashkin

This theory is well supported by the abundance of evidence that demonstrates THC’s strong anti-tumoral and other anti-cancer effects, even specifically in the case of lung cancer.

Other Risks of Marijuana Smoke

Although marijuana smokers may have little to worry about lung cancer or decreased lung function, studies show that marijuana users are still at risk of a disease known as chronic bronchitis.

Chronic bronchitis is characterized by inflammation of the airway, resulting in the following 2 symptoms:

Persistent cough (a cough that won’t go away)
Extra mucus (phlegm) production

Studies show that patients without noticeable impairment of lung function can still be suffering from symptoms of chronic bronchitis.

Unfortunately, there is no method of effective treatment for chronic bronchitis caused by smoking. The best method of prevention and treatment is to simply stop smoking – even just for a temporary period of time.

Vaporizing: Is It Safer?

If you suspect you may be suffering from chronic bronchitis but stopping marijuana use is not an option, investing in a vaporizer may be your best bet. A study published in 2010 showed that marijuana smokers who switched to using a vaporizer experienced benefits in lung health that were comparable to quitting cigarettes.

Health professionals recommend the use of vaporizers for all patients who use medical marijuana. Vaporizers allow the plant matter to be heated to a temperature high enough for cannabinoids to be released as a vapor but low enough to avoid the combustion and release of the harmful by-products normally found in marijuana smoke.

By using a vaporizer, the risk of airway inflammation associated with marijuana smoke may be avoided.

  • BillyBoy80


  • xlxTrinityxlx

    Thank God for this article. I just used all of this info to shit on my parents in the argument that marijuana was unhealthy for me and my asthma. They now respect me more after realizing I’m not throwing my life down the drain.

    • dbspambox

      As a regular user myself, I think you need to be aware that it has a detrimental effect on short term memory, and I personally would never recommend regular use for anyone under the age of 18 (or maybe even 21). Brains never stop developing, but adolescence is especially important. I wasn’t using daily until I was well into my 20s. It’s been over 10 years now and I’m still very smart and excel at my high functioning job (in IT). My memory has always been bad, but weed has made it a little worse. I’ve also recently switched to vaporising and my lungs feel better than ever. And I’m also a mild asthmatic.
      The other thing is that smoking anything still puts tar and carbon monoxide into your blood, so if recovering from surgery, or have cuts and stuff, your risk of infection is increased, and you won’t heal as fast. There are some very good and fun and portable vaporisers out there. They do take some practice to use though.