The traditional, and most popular form of cannabis consumption is smoking dried, cured, cannabis buds. Smoke, whether from burning wood, tobacco, or cannabis, contains carcinogens that can have a negative impact on lung health. However, scientific evidence is mixed when it comes to the carcinogenic properties of heavy, long-term cannabis use. Is smoking cannabis harmful to lung and respiratory health?
- Cannabis smoke exerts a protective effect against pro-carcinogens
- Cannabis smoke is not known to cause tobacco-related cancers
- Those who smoked a joint a day had no sign of impaired lung function
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Carcinogens: Cannabis vs. Tobacco Smoke
Cannabis and tobacco smoke are not equally carcinogenic. The cannabinoids inhaled in cannabis smoke physiologically reduce and provide a protective effect against smoking-related carcinogens, and it is not known to cause tobacco-related cancers.
According to an NCBI study by Robert Melamede, the debate circles around the fact that the THC present in cannabis smoke exerts a protective effect against pro-carcinogens that require activation. “Thus, cannabinoids inhaled in cannabis smoke physiologically reduce the potential amplification of carcinogens in smoke that results from biologically produced free radicals.” This response is not induced by tobacco smoke, which contains many of the same carcinogens and tumor promoters. Furthermore, a connection between smoking cannabis and tobacco-related cancers (lung, colon, rectal) has not been observed, despite clearly demonstrating cannabis smoke-induced cellular damage. In fact, various cannabinoids have been shown to kill numerous cancer types.
Lung Function and Smoking Cannabis
National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys have also found that those who smoked a joint a day were still able to forcibly exhale the same volume of air (known as forced expiratory volume, or FEV1) as someone who didn’t smoke cannabis. Measuring spirometry, a person’s ability to exhale, is the primary method for diagnosing respiratory diseases and impaired lung function. The minor bronchitis-like symptoms (cough and sore throat) experienced by some joint smokers are likely a result of the rolling paper or smoking technique as opposed to the cannabis itself.
Despite the natural protection provided by cannabinoids, some users do experience lung and respiratory irritation when smoking cannabis regularly. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to use cannabis that don’t involve smoking it.
Healthy Consumption Methods
For those looking to mitigate the risk of lung and respiratory irritation when smoking cannabis, we recommend the following:
- Use a more potent strain—less inhalation for the same effective dose
- Do not hold the smoke in! Smooth inhale and a steady exhale
- Glass pipes and bongs aren’t better. The discomfort experienced by some joint smokers is often the result of an inferior rolling paper
If you enjoy the effects of smoking cannabis but can’t handle the respiratory irritation from joints, try a one hitter. These compact pipes are great for providing a very effective hit while only burning a small amount of ground cannabis–great for conserving your flower and your lungs!
Vaporization is the only other consumption method that provides the instant relief associated with smoking. Many athletes actually vaporize non-psychoactive strains of cannabis for recovery because they can protect their lungs and heal without getting high. Most people find vaporization to be more therapeutic, less irritating, and easier to manage when traveling.