Marijuana Smoke Has a Surprising Impact on Lung Health

Marijuana Smoke Has a Surprising Impact on Lung Health

The medicinal benefits of cannabis have been coming to light more and more in recent years with astounding results. Some of the facts that are surfacing are surprising to say the least. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association exemplifies this. When we think of smoking, the increase of health doesn’t generally come to mind. We think of tar filled lungs, coughing and wheezing to name a few. We certainly don’t think of it as a treatment for breathing problems. Yet this new study suggests that marijuana smoke may actually increase lung capacity and may even be beneficial in protecting the lungs.

The CARDIA Study

research has actually shown small amounts of cannabis to improve lung capacity
Research has actually shown small amounts of cannabis to improve lung capacity.

The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (or CARDIA study) looked at the effects of marijuana smoke over an extended period of time to evaluate the long term effects of cannabis. Researchers evaluated the lung function in 5115 found adults over the course of many years, starting when they were 18 up until they were 30. Those who smoked cannabis tended to do so 2 to 3 times a month on average. Those who smoked tobacco had an expected drop in lung function over time but those who smoked cannabis had quite a different result.

Improved Lung Capacity in Marijuana Smokers

There was an increase in lung capacity in those who were low to moderate users compared to nonsmokers. 2 different tests were used to accumulate the results. The first, FEV1, is a test used to determine the amount of air a person releases in the first second after they’ve taken a deep breath. The second, FVC, measures the volume of air released after taking the deepest possible breath. For those who smoked heavily, however, the FEV1 results were similar to those who were nonsmokers while the FVC remained high, even in the heaviest of smokers.

“Marijuana may have beneficial effects on pain control, appetite, mood, and management of other chronic symptoms,” states the report. “Our findings suggest that occasional use of marijuana for these or other purposes may not be associated with adverse consequences on pulmonary function. It is more difficult to estimate the potential effects of regular heavy use because this pattern of use is relatively rare in our study sample; however, our findings do suggest an accelerated decline in pulmonary function with heavy use and a resulting need for caution and moderation when marijuana use is considered.”

Why the Difference Between Tobacco and Marijuana Smoke?

tobacco and marijuana smoke turned up differing results in the research
Tobacco and marijuana smoke turned up differing results in the research.

Researchers weren’t able to determine exactly why there is such a vast difference in the effects of tobacco and marijuana smoke on the lungs. Some researchers hypothesize that it has something to do with dose. Those who smoke tobacco generally smoke a lot more than those who smoke cannabis. Still this does not explain the increase in lung capacity compared to nonsmokers.

Dr. Donald Tashkin, professor of medicine at UCLA is a leading scientist in this field. He suggests that it’s the THC in cannabis that may be responsible for the benefits of marijuana smoke on the lungs. He explains that THC has anti-inflammatory and immune suppressing properties that may have an advantageous effect on the lungs. These aspects may stop lung irritation from turning into chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is a disorder that often develops in tobacco smokers. THC is also known to have anti-tumoral effects.

Analyzing Cannabinoids

Another study published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics measured the ability of cannabinoids to inhibit bronchoconstriction induced by inflammatory proteins. The study evaluated the cannabinoids THC, CBD, CBG, CBC, CBD-A, and THC-V. Of these, only THC and THC-V were able to inhibit the contractions with THC being the stronger of the 2. Even adding CBD to the THC made no difference. It was therefore concluded that THC is the cannabinoid that has anti-inflammatory and antitussive activity. This is considered to be due to its effects on the CB1 and CB2 receptors.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is made up of CB1 and CB2 receptors located all through the body and organs. These are considered to be responsible for creating homeostasis in the body, regulating mood, sleep, appetite and the functions of the organs and systems of the body. THC and CBD in particular activate the ECS, regulating and healing body functions, in particular when illness or age impair the body’s ability to activate these receptors on their own. While these days the positive effects of CBD have been well documented, it’s interesting to note the importance and benefits of THC on the body.

A Study Showing the Benefits of Vaping

vaping is shown to be less harmful to the lungs than marijuana smoke
Vaping cannabis is shown to be less harmful to the lungs than smoking it.

Another interesting study conducted in 2015, done by Emory University, looked at cannabis smokers and nonsmokers between the ages of 18 and 59. Once again, the exhalation was studied to determine the health of the lungs. The cannabis users reported smoking a joint a day for 20 years. The results showed no difference between the cannabis smokers and the nonsmokers. Researchers concluded that; “Lifetime marijuana use up to 20 joint-years is not associated with adverse changes in spirometric (exhalation strength) measures of lung health.”

Despite the study’s conclusion, those who smoked reported some personal adverse effects on the body, such as sore throats and coughing. Those who used vaporizers had no adverse effects to report. Tashkin agreed that regular marijuana smoking “causes visible and microscopic injury to the large airways”, but the damage subsides and “does not appear to lead to significant abnormalities in lung function.” He agrees that these injuries can be avoided altogether by using a vaporizer.

Research seems to indicate that, at minimum, smoking marijuana in moderation doesn’t appear to have any negative effects on the lungs though much more research on the subject is necessary. Inhaling smoke caused by combustion is never going to be as smooth or effective as consuming the vapor released through a vaporizer. For those who consume marijuana smoke and are concerned about its effects on the lungs, using a vaporizer is the healthiest and most effective way to consume cannabis. As for its effects on the lungs, much more research is necessary to understand exactly how the effects of marijuana smoke on the lungs work. Nonetheless, we are closer to understanding more with every study done.


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