Marijuana smoke harms the lungs of tobacco smokers, study finds

Marijuana smoke harms the lungs of tobacco smokers, study finds

Smoking weed while being a tobacco smoker can increase damage to the respiratory system, according to a new study.

“There is a public perception that marijuana is safer than tobacco, and this study raises concerns that this may not be true,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Giselle Revah, an assistant professor at the Department of Radiology at the University of Ottawa in Ontario.

“The American Lung Association says the only thing that should get into your lungs is clean air, so if you inhale anything it could be toxic to your lungs,” she said.

Small preliminary study

The preliminary study, published Tuesday in Radiology, a journal of the Radiological Society of North America, compared computed tomography (CT) chest scans of 56 people who smoked marijuana and tobacco with lung scans of 33 people who had been heavy cigarette smokers for over 25 years. years.

Scans of 57 additional non-smokers with no pre-existing lung disease, chemotherapy or other history of lung damage were used as controls.

About 75% of the people in the study who smoked marijuana and tobacco suffered from emphysema, a disease of the small airways that damages the alveoli of the lungs. About 67% of tobacco-only smokers had emphysema, while only 5% of non-smokers had the disease, she said.

An 8 percentage point difference between cannabis and tobacco smokers and tobacco only smokers might not seem like a huge difference, but it was significant, Revah said.

“This suggests that marijuana has additional effects on the lungs than tobacco alone,” Revah said. “Is it the combination of marijuana and tobacco that causes more holes in the lungs and inflammation of the airways or just the marijuana itself?”

Another concern was the age of marijuana smokers — many were under 50, she said.

“These patients presumably had less exposure to smoke over their lifetime, except they are even sicker than those who are heavy tobacco smokers and have been smoking for longer,” Revah said. “We just don’t know if it’s a synergistic effect between marijuana and tobacco versus marijuana alone.”

Irreversible damage?

Damage to the airways caused by smoking can quickly become permanent, she said.

“The early airway inflammation is reversible,” she said. “When I see mucus and thickening of the airways, if you stop the exposure it should get better. But sometimes it can cause the airways to become dilated and when it’s dilated then it’s irreversible. “

The study had some limitations, Revah noted. It was small. There was little information on how much marijuana was smoked or how it was inhaled – bong, blunt or joint.

However, there are several differences in how weed and tobacco are consumed that could provide clues for further investigation, Revah said. For example, tobacco is usually smoked with a filter, while weed is not.

“If you smoke an unfiltered joint, say, more particles will reach the airways and settle and become irritating, which is why you see mucus and inflammation,” she said.

Additionally, tobacco smokers exhale quickly, while marijuana smokers often inhale and hold their breath to maximize the high, she said.

“People generally have a longer breath and a higher puff volume, so they retain the greater volume of smoke for a longer period of time,” she said. “This could lead to microtrauma to these airspaces. These are all questions for future research.”

Emerging research

This isn’t the first study to find lung damage from marijuana inhalation. A June study found that cannabis users were 22% more likely than non-users to visit the emergency room or be hospitalized. The main reason was a physical injury, but respiratory problems were a close second.

A 2021 study found that teens are about twice as likely to report “wheezing or wheezing” in the chest after vaping marijuana than after smoking cigarettes or using e-cigarettes.

“I’m often approached by parents and teens who think vaping cannabis is ‘OK’ and better than smoking (a joint, a blunt, a doobie, etc.),” ​​Carol Boyd, Founding Director of the Study Center on Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking & Health at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor told CNN in a previous interview.

“And so they ask, ‘Vaping is safe, isn’t it? My reaction: “You are wrong. We know that inhaling hot tobacco/cannabis smoke into your lungs is unhealthy and can cause life-threatening bronchitis or respiratory problems,” said Boyd, who is also a professor emeritus at the department. health behavior and health. biological sciences at the University of Michigan School of Nursing.

“And yet you seem to believe that heating chemicals (including carcinogens) in a vapor and inhaling them is healthy? My answer is, ‘No, that’s not healthy behavior,'” she said. declared.


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