Updated on January 30, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
One of the major concerns with using marijuana is that it can cause respiratory issues. Research on the effects of marijuana and the lungs is limited because of the substance’s status as a Schedule 1 drug, banned by the federal government. However, as many states legalize cannabis for medicinal purposes, more medical studies are emerging.
There are several ways to use marijuana, yet, smoking remains the most common. Smoking anything involves burning it and inhaling the smoke produced. There are conflicting findings on whether the long-term use of cannabis can cause respiratory issues, including lung cancer.
The consensus seems to be that smoking marijuana presents the only risk for respiratory concerns. Smoking is not a healthy way to consume anything. When you smoke cannabis, the smoke from hot, ashy plant particles and embers are released into your air pathways. The respiratory system is made from delicate tissues, so marijuana smoke can irritate your lungs and throat.
Short-term side effects of smoking marijuana include bronchitis-like symptoms that typically fade after smoking is discontinued. These include:
There are multiple studies underway investigating the long-term consequences of smoking marijuana. Thus far, however, no concrete evidence has emerged to prove that cannabis is responsible for any respiratory issues, including lung cancer.
Researchers and medical professionals are primarily concerned about the risks associated with smoking marijuana as opposed to other methods of ingestion. The smoke inhaled when using a joint, pipe or blunt contains chemicals that can be harmful. Since these encounter your airways before being absorbed into the bloodstream, they can cause visible or microscopic damage. However, there doesn’t seem to be any significant abnormalities in lung function.
There’s no known association between smoking marijuana and lung cancer. However, you should re-consider smoking cannabis as your main method of consumption, as there are alternatives that are safer for your lungs.
The main way to prevent or stop respiratory issues caused by cannabis is to find a different method of using the plant. Smoking joints or inhaling weed from a pipe are convenient methods, but the burning embers and chemicals are the primary concern when discussing the possibility of respiratory issues.
Since the legalization of medicinal marijuana in many states across the U.S., there are many different methods of consumption that you can consider. Each has its benefits, so you should discuss the pros and cons with your doctor. Some of the most common ingestion methods, other than smoking, include:
You should never consume any medication without being aware of its potential side effects. There is the possibility of short-term respiratory issues associated with smoking marijuana. However, the long-term effects are still debatable. Research studies show cannabis aids patients with many different medical conditions such as inflammation, glaucoma, psychological issues and seizures. It’s even been shown to be an anti-tumoral, shrinking the tumors of cancer patients, which may be the reason smoking cannabis hasn’t been tied to lung cancer.
In general, the benefits of medical marijuana outweigh the side effect produced by it. If you’d like to pursue cannabis treatments, your first step is to speak with a medical professional. Our advice shouldn’t replace there’s, so set up an appointment with a marijuana certified doctor to discuss your options. You can also direct any strain-related questions to a dispensary near you.