There’s a lot of confusion about the effects of cannabis on health. Some research has suggested that marijuana is less harmful than tobacco. Other studies have shown that smoking pot may cause more harm than tobacco. The lung health effects of cannabis smoking are not well understood, but studies have found that heavy users suffer from chronic bronchitis and have more respiratory symptoms than nonusers or cigarette smokers. Learn more about the potential health consequences of marijuana use and whether it’s time for you to quit smoking weed.
Marijuana Causes Chronic Illnesses
You can develop chronic bronchitis if you smoke pot regularly. Chronic bronchitis is a disease of the airways in a person’s lungs. It causes coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath, as well as difficulty breathing when exercising or lying down. If you have chronic bronchitis, it means your airways are inflamed and narrowed for at least three months every year for two years or more. This is usually caused by a long-term obstruction of the airways from smoking cigarettes (or other tobacco products), or from infections like pneumonia or tuberculosis (TB).
It’s important to note that marijuana smoke contains 50% to 70% more cancer-causing substances than tobacco smoke. Tobacco is a legal drug that kills over 480,000 people per year in the U.S. alone. Cannabis smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals and many of these are toxic. Even if you aren’t inhaling the plant itself — which is recommended against because it can lead to respiratory complications — you’re still breathing in carcinogens like benzene and formaldehyde when you light up a joint or take a hit off of your bong.
Cannabis Could Be More Damaging Than Tobacco
Tobacco also causes lung cancer but not nearly as often as cannabis does; about 9 out of 10 cases are caused by tobacco use according to the American Lung Association (ALA). Marijuana smokers are at increased risk for developing various forms of cancers such as oral cavity cancer (mouth), pharynx (throat), esophagus (food pipe), and larynx (voice box). The ALA reports that those who consume over five joints daily have more than 20 times higher risk for head/neck cancers than non-smokers.
Cannabis smokers tend to inhale more deeply and hold the smoke in their lungs for a longer time than cigarette smokers. That’s because most marijuana cigarettes are unfiltered, which means you get more tar in your lungs.
It is also smoked using pipes or bongs. These devices can filter out some of the harmful chemicals in marijuana smoke, but they do not filter out all of them.
Known Risk Factors
Smoking marijuana is a known risk factor for lung problems later in life. This is because people who smoke marijuana tend to inhale more deeply and hold the smoke in their lungs for a longer time than tobacco smokers do, according to Dr. Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
“It’s not that they don’t know it’s bad for you; they just think it won’t happen to them,” said Dr. Armentano.
In addition, marijuana smoke contains substantially higher levels of cancer-causing substances than tobacco smoke (up to three times greater), according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Smoking and Health.
A recent study has found that cannabis smoking may increase damage to the respiratory system more than tobacco. “There’s a public perception that marijuana is safer than tobacco, and this study raises concern this may not be true,” stated lead study author Dr. Giselle Revah, an assistant professor in the department of radiology at the University of Ottawa in Ontario.
The new study was published in Radiology on Nov. 15, 2022. Radiology is a journal of the Radiological Society of North America.
They compared computed tomography (CT) chest scans of 56 people who smoked marijuana and tobacco with lung scans of 33 heavy cigarette smokers. The tobacco users smoked for over 25 years. They used the films of 57 nonsmokers with no preexisting lung disease, chemotherapy, or other histories of lung damage as control samples.
What They Found
Researchers discovered that there was a difference of 8% points between cannabis plus tobacco and tobacco-only smokers. That may not seem like a major difference, however, it was significant, Revah stated.
It suggests that marijuana has additional effects on the lungs than tobacco alone. Is it the combination of the marijuana and tobacco that makes more holes in the lungs and airway inflammation or just the marijuana itself?
In short, marijuana appears to be a more dangerous drug than tobacco. The effects of smoking marijuana are more harmful to your lungs, and it is now clear that this drug can lead to cancer, emphysema, and heart disease.
By Sheena Robertson
CNN: Marijuana smoke harms lungs in tobacco smokers, study finds
CPR: Smoking Marijuana Vs. Tobacco: What Science Says About Lighting Up
New York Post: San Diego ERs seeing up to 37 marijuana cases a day — mostly psychosis