Can You Get Lung Cancer From Smoking Weed?

It has to be better than cigarettes, right?

Claire Gillespie |

So, listen: Smoking cigarettes is clearly bad for your health.

According to the , smoking causes 480,000 deaths each year in the United States and 20 000 in South Africa, and 90 percent of all lung cancers are smoking-related. Basically, cigarettes are some bad sh*t.

But…what about smoking marijuana? Sure, it’s not exactly the same thing, but you’re still literally inhaling smoke—it’s got to have some health risks attached to it, right? Is it possible to get lung cancer from smoking marijuana as well?

Well, can you get lung cancer from smoking pot?

Right now, the only answer to that is…maybe. That’s because there’s been little research to either support or disprove a link between marijuana and cancer.

What little research there is about pot’s link to lung cancer, is pretty inconclusive. A 2018 study published in the  found that marijuana has not been proved to be a risk factor in the development of lung cancer. Still, the study had a few limitations, including a small study size, problems quantifying the amount of marijuana used by individuals, and the fact that many pot smokers also smoke cigarettes.

Dr. Osita Onugha, thoracic surgeon and assistant professor of thoracic surgery at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, believes that marijuana has similar effects on the lungs as the tobacco in cigarettes, but acknowledges that there isn’t definitive proof of marijuana causing lung cancer.

Marijuana does, however, contain some of the same toxins, irritants, and carcinogens as cigarette smoke, , which might also result in an increased risk of lung cancer, says Dr. Anna Selvaggio, a pulmonary specialist from Chest and Critical Care Consultants in Orange County, California.

Selvaggio also points out that beyond the exposure to smoke and its toxins, which in itself is harmful to the lungs, marijuana smokers typically inhale deeper and hold that breath longer than cigarette smokers. Also, marijuana is also often smoked at higher temperatures which results in increased exposure to tar and carbon monoxide.

Watch: Weed Is Decriminalised — But Are There Legit Health Benefits?

So…are there any other health risks associated with marijuana?

While it’s not known how, specifically, marijuana affects the lungs, experts know it does still carry some health risks. “We know that it damages the lungs by causing decreased lung function and can create secretions that block the airways,” says Onugha.

According to Onugha, it’s also known that marijuana use may cause chronic bronchitis and other respiratory symptoms like cough, shortness of breath, and wheezing.

And aside from lung cancer, Onugha says smoking pot has also been linked to inflammation, cell damage, pre-cancerous changes in lung tissue, immune system dysfunction, an increased risk of testicular cancer, prostate cancer, and cervical cancer, and exacerbation of underlying conditions, such as asthma—though research is still inconclusive in those areas too.

But doesn’t marijuana have health benefits, too?

Compounds in marijuana—delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD)—have been found to have different affects on the human body. According to the , THC can help relieve pain and nausea (often from cancer chemotherapy), while CBD can help treat seizures and reduce anxiety.

But again, because marijuana is still largely illegal, studies to find the health benefits (and risks) are pretty inconclusive or nonexistent—and marijuana’s health risks may still outweigh the potential benefits, says Onugha.

The bottom line: While it’s unclear whether smoking marijuana leads to lung cancer, pot doesn’t come without potential health risks. So whatever you’re smoking, you should practice caution before you light up.

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