Smoking Cannabis vs. Smoking Tobacco
Posted by Glenn Beierle on 01/30/2019 in Consumption
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
Many new and seasoned medical marijuana patients wonder if smoking marijuana has the same health risks as smoking tobacco. The short answer? Yes, and in many aspects. However, while smoking marijuana has its risks, it has a much lower impact on your health. This blog post will give you an overview of the health considerations you should keep in mind when smoking tobacco or marijuana.
Ingredients in Marijuana and Tobacco Cigarettes
Medical marijuana patients who smoke use either pre-rolled or hand-rolled cigarettes. The pre-rolls sold at dispensaries contain marijuana flower grown by either a certified grower or the dispensary’s facilities. A reputable dispensary will use quality marijuana with no additives. You can also buy marijuana flower from a dispensary and use it to roll your own cigarettes.
Tobacco cigarettes, on the other hand, have a much longer list of ingredients. According to the American Lung Association, tobacco cigarettes contain toxins such as:
- Carbon monoxide
Cigarette companies add hundreds of ingredients to their products that are meant to make them more addictive. Combined with the toxins already present in tobacco, you can find more than 600 chemicals in a cigarette. These compounds then produce more than 7000 chemicals when burned, and 69 of them are known to cause cancer.
Marijuana’s vs. Tobacco’s Impact on Lung Function
Thanks to research, we know tobacco smoke has an adverse effect on your lung health. Smoking tobacco causes or exacerbates lung problems like:
- Respiratory Infections: The cilia cells in the lungs protect them from pathogens and keep them functional. When you smoke tobacco cigarettes, the chemicals in them damage and kill cilia cells. This lack of protection leaves the lungs vulnerable to bacteria and viruses.
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): COPD consists of two main conditions — emphysema and bronchitis. Smokers develop emphysema when their lung air sacs get damaged. Then, they get chronic bronchitis when smoke inflames the air sacs. When you get COPD, you have no way to cure it.
- Asthma: When you have asthma, the tubes that carry air to your lungs become inflamed. Smoke travels through these tubes and makes symptoms worse for patients with asthma.
- Flu and Cold: Smoking tobacco prompts your immune system to go into overdrive and cause excess inflammation. If you get a cold or the flu, your body doesn’t have the correct response, increasing your cold and flu symptoms.
The research we have on marijuana smoke indicates it has much fewer risks for the lungs. In some cases, smoking marijuana could even enhance lung function. While we don’t have as much data on smoking cannabis as we do tobacco, the information we do have looks promising.
Carcinogenic Risks of Cannabis vs. Tobacco
The smoke that comes from tobacco or cannabis cigarettes can irritate the lungs, but they each have different compounds that alter their risk of causing lung cancer. You can find compounds in cannabis that reduce your chance of developing cancer. Meanwhile, tobacco smoke has components that aggravate its existing risk of promoting lung cancer. So, smoking marijuana has a lower risk of causing cancer than smoking tobacco.
Marijuana and Tobacco’s Effects on Oral Health
Cannabis smoke causes less harm to your mouth than tobacco smoke. Tobacco products can cause a wide range of oral health issues. These problems include stained teeth, dulled sense of taste, oral cancer and gum disease. Smoking tobacco also reduces your mouth’s ability to heal itself after surgery. Marijuana smoking makes your mouth dry, which increases your chance of oral health problems. However, you can avoid these issues by drinking water and using other strategies to combat dry mouth.
Is Secondhand Marijuana Smoke as Harmful as Secondhand Tobacco Smoke?
Breathing in smoke from any source can cause breathing problems. When that smoke comes from tobacco, the risks become greater.
Exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke causes lung and heart disease, triggering symptoms even in people who never smoke cigarettes themselves. We don’t have much information about marijuana smoke, aside from research on rats that suggests it could lead to cardiovascular issues — but this was a single study with rat subjects.
If secondhand smoke follows the same patterns as regular smoking, secondhand smoke from marijuana likely causes fewer problems than secondhand smoke from tobacco.
Which Substance Is More Addictive?
Tobacco addiction kills up to six million people each year in the United States. Nicotine triggers feelings of reward and pleasure in the brain, encouraging the user to smoke more cigarettes. Once an addiction develops, the smoker starts to have withdrawal symptoms when they don’t smoke for a while. As the addiction progresses, the smoker needs higher amounts of nicotine to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Marijuana also poses a risk of dependence, but it has a much smaller chance of causing addiction than tobacco. Studies suggest that about 10 percent of marijuana users become dependent on it. However, many pharmaceutical medications also have a chance of dependency. With a doctor’s supervision, you can manage your body’s increasing tolerance to address your symptoms with cannabis medicine.
What Alternate Methods of Using Tobacco and Marijuana Exist?
If you want to avoid the risks of smoking tobacco by using it differently, you can choose to vape or chew. However, since cured tobacco has dangerous chemicals in it, these methods still put you at risk of lung and heart problems. E-cigarettes contain aerosol, which also includes other toxins, and chew has added chemicals that raise your risk of oral health problems.
Meanwhile, switching your method of ingesting marijuana eliminates the small risks that come with smoking it. You can vape it to get a similar effect to smoking without the smoke. It can take longer to feel the effects of tinctures, oils and pills, but they also last longer. Edibles promote a pleasant medicating experience and have a discreet appearance. To learn more about the options available to you, visit a marijuana-trained doctor.
More Knowledge About Marijuana for Tobacco Use
Did you know you can use cannabis medicine to treat your tobacco addiction? Our guide to nicotine dependence and guide to tobacco dependence explain how the cannabinoid CBD can help. You can also find more information about marijuana as a medicine in our other condition guides.