Lung Health: Smoking Marijuana
Many people tend to smoke marijuana because they think that it’s safer than smoking cigarettes. It’s an herb and it’s natural, but how safe is it?
On April 20 of this year (the unofficial day celebrating all things cannabis), local doctor Eric Presser, MD, was invited to KATU-TV in Portland, Oregon, to discuss marijuana and the effects it has on the lungs. Following are comments he shared:
KATU: Is smoking marijuana safer than smoking cigarettes?
EP: As a minimally invasive chest surgeon, the only thing that anyone should be breathing in is clean air. I tell my patients who smoke cigarettes that there’s a one-in-six chance that they will get lung cancer and will live about 14 years less than nonsmokers. When it comes to marijuana, not a day goes by that I’m not asked about the health effects of marijuana. Unfortunately, we need more research on the topic.
The problem with marijuana is that most of the time when people smoke it, they’re inhaling it very deeply and holding their breath. Just like in cigarettes, there are toxins in marijuana. Even though it’s natural, the combustion is still creating these toxic chemicals that are detrimental to long-term health. I’m not advocating marijuana, but if you’re going to consume, maybe consider edibles.
KATU: What about vaping? Is that a safer option?
EP: Again, I say, the only thing you should be breathing into your lungs is clean air. When you light up a marijuana joint or a pipe, you’re actually causing combustion. Combustion means that you’re creating a flame and lighting everything on fire. When you use an e-cigarette or if you’re vaping, you’re heating the substance that’s inside of the container. What that means is that when you look at micrographs of the THC, or the resin on the flower that you’re smoking, because it’s not being completely combusted, you actually get a cleaner hit. So you are not necessarily inhaling all of the toxic chemicals. It doesn’t mean that it’s safer or better, and there’s no one who is going to tell you that it’s better than breathing clean air, but it definitely has its benefits over smoking cigarettes.
KATU: How does marijuana affect the lungs?
EP: Anytime you breathe in any toxic chemicals, it’s going to cause inflammation, which leads to a mucus producing cough. It’s common sense; smoking anything and putting it into your lungs is going to be bad for you. Right now, we just don’t have all the data available on the harmful effects of marijuana as compared to all the statistics we have on the dangers of smoking cigarettes.
Dr. Presser is a minimally invasive thoracic surgeon at First California Physician Partners and an associate professor at the University of California Riverside School of Medicine. He is also the author of An Empowering Guide to Lung Cancer, 6 Steps to Take Charge of Your Care and Your Life available at Amazon.com.