Last updated: January 23, 2023
With marijuana legalization sweeping our nation, the question of how pot smoke affects the lungs is one that is being asked more frequently these days. More specifically, is there a link to smoking marijuana and lung cancer?
The answer is a resounding “we don’t know.”
If you’ve ever seen a pot smoker portrayed on TV or in the movies, you know the correct way to smoke a joint. First, they draw as much smoke as possible into their lungs. Then, they hold it for as long as they can.
That’s how you get high.
But how does that affect your lungs?
Spoiler alert. Inhaling smoke into your lungs can only lead to one thing. That is an explosive round of coughing accompanied by a cloud of smoke billowing into the air. At some point, don’t you think everyone wonders if that could be a bad thing? If not immediately, then perhaps somewhere down the road?
Are your lungs baked?
Marijuana smoke is an irritant to the throat. But, is it also damaging to the lungs?
The short answer is yes
It is a known fact that those who smoke marijuana inhale more deeply than cigarette smokers. On top of that, holding the smoke as long as possible is an attempt to achieve the ultimate high. It is increasingly apparent that prolonged use of the drug results in cases of chronic bronchitis. While there is no evidence showing marijuana smoke is a contributor to emphysema, the truth is it hasn’t been studied yet.
Pot smoke contains volatile chemicals likened to cigarette smoke. It also deposits tar in the lungs. Because users hold the smoke for more extended periods than cigarette smokers, nearly four times the targets lodged in their lungs.
Also, according to information gathered by the National Institute of Drug Abuse from various studies, marijuana smoke contains around 50% more benzopyrene and 75% more benzanthracene than tobacco smoke does. Both of these chemicals are known carcinogens.
Add other known cancer-causing agents to the mix, such as vinyl chlorides and phenols and one has to wonder if lung cancer is in the future of a pot smoker over the long term.
Is the flip side a bit flippant?
However, many marijuana smokers are quick to profess that the risk, if any, regarding lung cancer is minimal. The marijuana revolution isn’t something new; it’s been going on for decades.
The thinking here is that on a global scale a vast number of people smoke marijuana. So, the statistics regarding people who have lung cancer because they have smoked pot long-term should have come to light by now.
Another argument is that even if there are cancer-causing agents deposited in the lungs, no one smokes anywhere near the amount of marijuana that cigarette smokers consume. This is generally accurate. They have a good argument, but to-date there is just no evidence to support the “less is better for you” theory. There may be a ticking time bomb lurking just under the surface that will blow that argument right out of the water one day.
Hopefully, that day never arrives, but until then, old news is good news.
The evidence isn’t good…
The American Cancer Society reports that studies beginning as early as 2005 show positive results of THC and CBD delaying the growth of some types of cancer cells. Also, other studies report that tumors related to some kinds of cancer shrank by as much as 50%.
In perhaps the most extensive study to date on the subject, UCLA professor, Donald Tashkin revealed that he could find no link between marijuana and lung cancer. That was over a decade ago. He published these results on May 23, 2006 during a meeting of the American Thoracic Society in San Diego, California. Since then, there hasn’t been anything found to the contrary.
His study did not reveal how marijuana avoids causing cancer. However, Professor Tashkin speculated that it could be due to THC prompting aging cells to die before they have a chance to become cancerous.
Data shows that people who smoke marijuana are at a higher risk of chronic bronchitis.
However, the cancer risk is still up in the air.
Time keeps on ticking
As more and more states seek to legalize marijuana, its use both medically and recreationally is not a trend that will go away after a time. It will only increase.
The federal government hasn’t yet determined if the medicinal benefits from marijuana and CBD reclassifying it from a Schedule 1 drug. However, it seems as if it’s beginning to look in that direction.
In June 2018, the FDA approved the first drug containing CBD derived from the marijuana plant to treat two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. The disease usually becomes evident in very young children, aged three to five years old. They begin to experience traumatic and frequent seizures. The drug, Epidiolex, reduces the frequency of seizures dramatically.
Medical marijuana is also known to help relieve nausea that accompanies chemotherapy. Also, the effect of THC is proven to relax the extremely tight muscles associated with MS patients.
Too much of a good thing?
Many experts are calling for continued research regarding the positive effects of marijuana in the world of medicine. They are also calling for research to determine the detrimental effects smoking the drug has on the lungs.
For the moment, there is no direct link between cancer and smoking marijuana. We may never find one. However, keep in mind that chronic bronchitis leads to COPD Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a severe lung condition that makes it harder and harder to breathe.
Breathing is of the utmost importance. Struggling to get a breath is not something anyone wants to live with on a day to day basis. Seriously.
Living a long and happy drug-free life is the win-win, here. Don’t you agree?