As we continue to dispel myths and misinformation surrounding cannabis, today we’re tackling the risks of smoking. Smoking cannabis doesn’t carry the same risks as smoking tobacco or cigarettes, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely risk free either.
Studies on the long-term risks of smoking cannabis are few and far between due to the federal prohibition on the drug. Thus far, research has shown that the top health risks of smoking cannabis, including lung damage are “relatively small” and “far lower than those of smoking tobacco”. Here’s what we know for sure.
Smoking Comes with Risks
Smoke can be harmful to lung health, whether it’s from a fire, cigarette, or weed. Toxins and carcinogens are released when materials are combusted and this can have a negative impact on lung health. Weed is not an exception to this, as many of the same toxins and irritants are released when lit. Cannabis contains benzopyrene and benzanthracene, which are also found in cigarettes and may cause cancer.
Smoking cigarettes causes significant lung damage, and it’s estimated one in five deaths in the US are cigarette-related. In terms of tobacco use, there’s a direct correlation between loss of lung function and increased exposure. This is not the case in cannabis smokers but weed smokers tend to inhale deeply and hold the smoke in their lungs for longer than tobacco smokers. If there are long-term health risks associated with this, we simply don’t know yet.
The Science Behind Smoking Cannabis
So far, the consensus is low to moderate use of cannabis is less harmful than the same exposure to tobacco products. Cannabis smoke is not as carcinogenic as tobacco smoke, as found in a 2005 study.
A study published in 2012 looked at over 5,000 adults over the course of 20 years. They were surprised to find that cannabis users did not suffer from the same loss of air flow rate and lung volume as cigarette smokers but rather increased to a certain point of consumption. It’s important to note this study was published in 2012, before waves of legalization swept the country and, in the study, they defined cannabis use as a few times per month. Low or infrequent smoking of cannabis does not have adverse consequences on pulmonary function but the study did suggest accelerated lung decline with heavy use.
A 2017 federal report based on two decades of cannabis research found that there’s no link between cannabis smoking and lung cancer. This was contradicted by a study released in 2013 that studied cannabis smokers for 40 years and found that heavy cannabis smoking over a period of years may increase your risk for lung cancer. The differentiator in these studies seems to be their definition of heavy v. moderate smoking.
However, smoking cannabis can be definitively linked with worsening coughs and frequent bouts of bronchitis. Some studies have linked the drug to developing schizophrenia, but schizophrenia requires a genetic prerequisite and cannot be developed spontaneously. That being said, as cannabis becomes more mainstream, understanding your familiar medical history will become more important as well.
Smoking weed may also negatively affect the body’s immune system in immunocompromised people. Smoking kills cells that remove dust and germs, and lead to excessive mucus production. While cannabis can help the immune system, brain, and ECS, edibles or other forms of consumption are recommended over smoking for people who are sick.