The use of Marijuana is becoming legal in more countries, and that makes some of us ponder – what about the risks?
Whether you or someone in your vicinity smokes, you need to be aware about the the health effects. For one, does smoking marijuana lead to the development of lung cancer?
Most people know about the connection between tobacco smoking and lung cancer but the effects of marijuana smoke are still a topic of concern. Research is still being done and new information is being discovered about the risks that come with marijuana smoking. We will talke a look at potential repurcissions from smoking weed.
1. What is Marijuana?
Marijuana is a more common name for the psychoactive or mind-altering drug cannabis. It is extracted from the Cannabis sativa plant and is popularly known as weed, dope, or pot.
For the last few centuries, it has been used as a traditional medicine in various countries. And over time, it is also being used for recreational purposes.
1.1 Components That May Cause Lung Cancer
Typically, weed encompasses the leaves, stems, seeds, and dried blossoms of the cannabis plant. It has a very complex mixture of various chemical compounds, with over 100 cannabinoids known to this date. While none of them are proven to cause cancer, the four major compounds found in the cannabis sativa are listed below:
- Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
- Cannabidiol (CBD)
When present in the plant, they are accumulated as cannabinoid acids. But they decarboxylize and form d-9-THC or CBD when it is dried and heated.
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol: This is the primary psychoactive compound responsible for inducing the sensation of being “high”. If taken in high doses, it may cause hypothermia, hypoactivity, and even short-term memory impairment.
Cannabidiol: CBD will not give you the high feeling and is not impairing.
1.2 How is Marijuana Taken?
Marijuana is used in different ways. Some of the most prevalent methods include:
- Joints: Smoked like cigarettes
- Blunts: Smoked in cigars or filled in cigar wrappers
- Bongs: Taken via a pipe or water pipe
- Vape: Electronic devices that vaporize the ingredients
- Edibles: Mixed into food items such as brownies, cakes, tea or cookies
- Dabbing: Inhaling oil extracts and concentrates (this can be dangerous as other harmful contaminants are often mixed)
1.2.1 Risks Associated with Edibles
Mixing weed with foods and drinks has become one of the most popular forms of taking cannabis. It is considered safe for the lungs as there is no smoke involved. But there are some negatives with the use of edibles rather than marijuana smoking. Some problems are:
- It takes longer to feel the effects of weed than smoking a joint
- There is no correct measurement of the amount taken, which often leads to overdosing and related complications.
- It also lasts longer in your system as it is not immediately exhaled like smoke.
Ingesting a large quantity of marijuana can lead to significant impacts on your body such as:
- Panic attacks
- High blood pressure
1.3 Factors Affecting the Effects of Marijuana
Some factors which decide how much effect marijuana can have on a person are:
- Amount: The quantity of weed you take can make the effects vary. Higher doses will make you more intoxicated
- Other Substances: If alcohol or other forms of drugs are taken along with marijuana, it could increase the chances of harm
- Mode: Smoking marijuana and eating edibles have different effects. Edibles have a stronger effect on the body.
- Sex: Women have a higher chance of experiencing dizziness as compared to men.
- Previous experience with other drugs
- Biology: Being addicted to marijuana is hereditary. Some gene variants increase cannabis dependence.
2. What do Studies Say?
- Epidemiological studies: Some studies like the one published in 2013 by the International Journal of Cancer have data analyzed from over 2100 lung cancer cases. It was concluded that habitual use of marijuana doesn’t have an association with an increased risk of lung cancer. However, some studies do show that heavy usage of marijuana can affect lung health and lead to bronchitis or other respiratory symptoms.
- Preclinical Studies: There is some evidence based on laboratory and animal studies that confirm the potential carcinogenic properties of weed. Research indicates that both marijuana and tobacco smoke have the potential to inflict cellular harm, potentially culminating in cancer. However, human bodies are complex and the same cannot be translated directly.
3. Smoke and Cancer
Any smoke is harmful to the lungs, whether is it released because of burning wood, plastic, tobacco, or marijuana, it needs to be avoided. The smoke emitted from burning these substances contains toxins and carcinogenic compounds.
Carcinogens are substances or agents that are capable of causing cancer. When smoke containing carcinogens is inhaled, it affects the nose and esophagus along with the lungs. These carcinogens change and damage the DNA of a cell leading to the formation of a tumour or cancer.
Tobacco is connected to majority of the people with lung cancer. There is no proof of whether cannabis smoke can cause lung cancer or not. However, there are a lot of toxins and carcinogens in weed and tobacco smoke.
Some carcinogens like benzopyrene, benzanthracene, phenols, and vinyl chlorides are present in larger quantities in cannabis than in cigarettes. Also, tar deposits are 4 times more due to cannabis smoking than cigarette smoking.
Some reasons why the effect of cannabis on lung health cannot be determined easily are:
- People use both products differently which impacts the effects.
- As a result, cannabis smoke lasts longer than nicotine, people smoke weed less frequently than tobacco.
- Oftentimes, tobacco and cannabis are used together so it’s difficult to differentiate if lung cancer is caused by marijuana or not.
More studies need to be done to have a clear idea about the effects of marijuana smoke on the lungs.
4. How are Lungs Affected?
Smoking marijuana has many adverse effects on lung health. The National Institute on Drug Abuse outlines several ways in which cannabis impacts the lungs:
- Increased inflammation of the airway
- Damage to cell linings of the large airway
- Increased airway resistance leads to complex movement of air
- Damage to the immune system
- Causes hyperinflation, a condition where air is trapped inside the lungs leading to difficulties in getting fresh air.
5. Temporary Effects on Lungs
Apart from lung cancer, there are some immediate side effects of smoking marijuana regularly. Some respiratory problems users experience are:
- Chronic coughing
- Increased phlegm production
- Shortness of breath
- Acute bronchitis
Smoking cannabis also affects the immune system along with the lungs. People with already weakened immune systems like those with immunosuppressive diseases or drugs, for instance, HIV infection are more at risk.
When marijuana is contaminated with the mold Aspergillus and subsequently smoked, it can lead to respiratory disorders. People with a weak immune system have more chances of being harmed.
Although there is no actual data making connections between cannabis and lung infections, it is still possible. Marijuana smokers have an increased number of visits to the hospital for respiratory issues than nonsmokers.
6. Major Issues
There are various lung health conditions caused by smoking marijuana apart from lung cancer. Some major ones are:
It is a medical condition that happens when bronchial tubes or the airways get inflamed. This can cause coughing along with mucus production.
Bronchitis can manifest as either an acute or chronic condition, with cigarette smoking being the primary cause. Individuals who use cannabis, especially through smoking, are at an elevated risk of developing acute bronchitis. And if they continue using weed it may lead to chronic bronchitis.
6.2 Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease:
COPD or simply chronic bronchitis, is a lung and respiratory disease that causes breathing problems. The main cause of this chronic condition is smoking tobacco or cigarettes. COPD is a progressive, incurable lifelong ailment that exacerbates over time. It presents with symptoms including:
- Persistent cough accompanied by mucus
- Difficulty breathing
- Tightness in the chest
This is a respiratory infection brought about by viruses, fungi, or bacteria. Pneumonia leads to inflammation in your lungs’ air sacs, which can become filled with fluid. THC released when smoking marijuana is an immunosuppressant and increases the risk of pulmonary hazards.
Some symptoms related to pneumonia are:
- Coughing and producing green or bloody mucus
- Pain while breathing
- Shortness of breath
Infants, children, and elderly people are more at risk of being affected by this condition. Antibiotics can be used to treat some pneumonia forms. Vaccines are also available to prevent it from happening.
7. Pregnancy & Smoking
There are a lot of food and drink items not allowed and recommended to be consumed during pregnancy. Some items such as sushi, alcohol, and smoking are strictly prohibited. These can lead to problems in the development of the fetus.
Smoking marijuana is also not allowed during pregnancy. It can have severe effects on the baby. Some issues such as miscarriage, developmental and learning disabilities, and congenital defects are common with cannabis smoking.
For the safety and proper development of the baby expectant mothers are advised to avoid using cannabis. Secondhand cannabis smoke can be equally harmful and it should be avoided as well.
8. Second-Hand Smoking
When a person smokes cannabis some of the smoke is also released in the nearby environment. Anyone coming in contact with that smoke will also inhale marijuana smoke indirectly. This is called secondhand marijuana smoke.
Secondhand weed smoke also contains THC, the agent that causes the ”high” feeling. Everyone in general, especially young children should stay away from such smoke.
As children still have developing brains cannabis smoke can cause development problems. It may affect the proper development of memory and attention skills.
Tobacco smoke can also damage the blood vessels, in turn increasing the risk of heart attacks and other vascular diseases. The smoke from Second hand marijuana smoke can inflict similar harm to blood vessels as tobacco smoke.
Other than children and old people, dogs, and other pets are also affected by marijuana smoke.
If you are in a household where people can be vulnerable to secondhand cannabis smoke, try a different method of taking recreational or medical marijuana. One of the ways could be through edibles. But ensure that all food or drink items containing marijuana are kept out of reach of young children.
9. Cancer Patients Helped
Medical marijuana is frequently employed as a treatment for cancer patients, offering them a means to better manage their condition.
Weed gives you the feeling of relaxation and can be beneficial in treating various cancer side effects. Major improvement can be seen in side effects such as:
- Sleep problems
- No appetite
Cancer patients can develop cancer cachexia. Cachexia is a medical term used for a syndrome that is common in people dealing with chronic illnesses. It occurs in almost 80% of people suffering from cancer.
Some common results of cachexia are weight loss (unintentional), anorexia, loss of appetite, skeletal muscle wasting, and overall bad quality of life. Due to limited research, there is not a lot of evidence available to show the benefits of marijuana on cancer side effects.
If you are using cannabis for these reasons then you should consult with your doctor to know about the risks and benefits.
Now marijuana is becoming more legalised in various countries around the world. This will benefit many researchers and give us a clearer idea about the benefits and risks.
10. Health Issues Other than Lung Cancer
10.1 Marijuana Use Disorder
Marijuana use disorder is simply dependence and addiction to cannabis. Around 10% of weed users will become addicted and more than 30% of the total users fulfill the criterion for addiction.
Most marijuana users are young adults and heavy usage of cannabis during the development stage of your brain can cause dependence. Cannabis smoking during adolescence can also increase the risk of schizophrenia.
This addiction can be treated by behavioral therapy. Addiction can also be helped by cognitive behavioral theory, which helps identify and modify damaging behavior.
10.2 Heart Health
Smoking cannabis can increase your blood pressure and also make your heart beat faster. This can cause various heart and vascular diseases including an increased risk of stroke.
10.3 Brain Health
Marijuana directly affects the brain functioning. It affects coordination, memory, emotions, and decision-making skills. Teenagers and children have developing brains, and being exposed to marijuana smoke can highly affect the development of their brains.
10.4 Mental Health
Cannabis smoking surely gives you the feeling of being high and you feel good. However long-term usage of cannabis can lead to many mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Smoking at a younger age can also cause schizophrenia.
Scientists have not discovered the exact connection between mental health and marijuana but the effects are visible.
Smoking cannabis can be monitored to a limit, but edibles are difficult to keep track of. Food and drinks mixed with marijuana have a higher risk of poisoning. They should be kept out of reach from children as they can be mistaken for regular food and consumed.
In conclusion, the conversation about the use of medical and recreational cannabis is becoming more relevant as it is becoming legal in many countries around the world. While more research needs to be done, it is clear that smoking marijuana can have serious negative effects on the lungs similar to tobacco.
The smoke produced from cigarette smoke, weed, and tobacco smoke has the same toxins and carcinogens, potentially increasing the risk of lung cancer.
Moreover, consuming marijuana in other forms rather than smoking, such as edibles comes with its own set of complications. One of the most common and harmful effects is overdosing.
Individuals should use marijuana with caution while being aware of their surroundings. Some vulnerable groups like pregnant people, children, and the elderly are at risk of damage through secondhand smoking.
With changing times and the global shift towards acceptance of marijuana, further research is needed to understand the benefits and risks associated with marijuana use.
Advanced research and information will have an important role in forming policies and regulating practices of cannabis consumption.