When it comes to considering the many different methods of consuming cannabis, smoking is often seen as the unhealthiest option. While there are clear and often fatal consequences to smoking tobacco products, should we be just as worried about cannabis smoke? Recent research suggests that when it comes to the lungs and firsthand or secondhand cannabis smoke in particular, there may not be a significant health risk involved, contrary to written warnings of the past.
In an article entitled Marijuana and Lung Health, the American Lung Association conflates the known dangers of tobacco smoke with cannabis smoke, warning that “smoke from marijuana combustion has been shown to contain many of the same toxins, irritants and carcinogens as tobacco smoke.”
The report ominously notes that “secondhand marijuana smoke contains many of the same toxins and carcinogens found in directly inhaled marijuana smoke in similar amounts if not more.” The article concludes that “smoking marijuana clearly damages the human lung” and that “smoking marijuana leads to symptoms such as chronic cough, phlegm production, wheeze and acute bronchitis.”
It sounds extraordinarily gruesome and frightening, considering that it comes from a respectable American health organization. Unfortunately when it comes to cannabis, even the most respectable of organizations can succumb to 80 years of “Reefer Madness” prohibition.
Let’s take a look at a few facts and research
Over 400,000 Americans die every year from smoking tobacco, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Zero Americans die from smoking cannabis. If people are not dying from firsthand cannabis smoke, it would seem to be totally illogical to conclude that people are in danger from secondhand cannabis smoke.
In a study published in the January 2012 Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Donald Tashkin of University of California, Los Angeles’ Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine reported that although smoking tobacco results in decreased lung function over time, low to moderate consumers of cannabis actually showed increased lung capacity compared to non-smokers.
“Over 400,000 Americans die every year from smoking tobacco. Zero Americans die from smoking cannabis.”
In the abstract of his research published in the June 2015 Annals of the American Thoracic Society, Dr. Tashkin wrote “the accumulated weight of evidence implies far lower risks for pulmonary complications of even regular heavy use of marijuana compared with the grave pulmonary consequences of tobacco.”
Looking into the connection between lung cancer and cannabis smoking, Scientific American reported in May 2006 that Dr. Tashkin’s “study of more than 2,000 people found no increase in the risk of developing lung cancer for marijuana smokers.” While many tobacco smokers face lung cancer due to their habit, those exposed to cannabis smoke do not face the same risk. Researchers have also been able to dismantle the idea that many other lung-related side effects and health risks could be caused by exposure to cannabis smoke.
Dr. Tashkin’s pioneering research has been replicated by a virtual cornucopia of studies, including a January 2018 study published in the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases by researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health. Contrary to the assertions of the American Lung Association, this peer-reviewed evidentiary based study found “Neither current nor former marijuana use was associated with increased risk of cough, wheeze, or chronic bronchitis when compared to never marijuana users,” and that “In agreement with other published studies, we also did not find that marijuana use was associated with more obstructive lung disease.” Although there are fears that cannabis smoke is just as dangerous as tobacco smoke, this study did not show any correlation between exposure to cannabis and health risks to the lungs.
A study conducted by Evan Herrmann of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and published in the June 2015 Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that “Under extreme, unventilated conditions, secondhand cannabis smoke exposure can produce detectable levels of THC in blood and urine, minor physiological and subjective drug effects, and minor impairment on a task requiring psychomotor ability and working memory” and that “nonsmokers exposed under ventilated conditions reported no significant subjective effects and did not have impairment in cognitive performance.”
Like the misplaced concerns about the impact of second-hand smoke on lung function, concerns about the legendary “contact high” are totally overblown.