Lung Inflammation Smoking Cannabis vs. Cocaine vs. Tobacco

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There is unequivocal evidence that regular cannabis smoking causes acute lung inflammation, but what are the long-term consequences?

“There is unequivocal evidence that habitual or regular marijuana smoking is not harmless and causes respiratory symptoms and airway inflammation.” As you can see below and at 0:24 in my video Effects of Smoking Marijuana on the Lungs, if you take biopsies from the airways of those who smoke “cocaine, cannabis, and/or tobacco,” compared to nonsmokers, there is significantly more damage in the lungs of people who smoke, whether cocaine, marijuana, or tobacco. What’s more, the levels of damage seemed comparable, especially between the marijuana smokers and tobacco smokers. This is remarkable since the tobacco smokers were smoking about a pack a day, whereas the marijuana smokers were only smoking about 20 joints a week, rather than 25 cigarettes a day, and those smoking cocaine were just doing a gram or two a week. So, to see similar rates of damage between marijuana smokers and cigarette smokers suggests each joint is way worse than each cigarette.

Indeed, we’ve known for 30 years that smoking three or four joints is the equivalent of smoking about a pack a day of cigarettes, in terms of bronchitis symptoms and acute lung damage. How is that possible? Well, it may be the way they’re smoked. Pot smokers inhale more deeply and then hold in that smoke four times longer, resulting in more tar deposition in the lungs. And, joints are more loosely packed and unfiltered, resulting in both hotter smoke and smokier smoke. So, even though in many ways smoke is smoke, the different method of smoking may explain how a few joints a day appear to cause as much inflammation as an entire pack of cigarettes a day.

Researchers found that the “visual evidence of airway injury was at times striking.” At 1:58 in my video and below, you can see what your airways, that is the tubes inside your lungs, look like with and without tobacco. On tobacco, the airways get inflamed. What about with cannabis? You get the same kind of inflammation in your lungs on pot as you do with tobacco. But, what’s crazy, is that is inflammation is with just 5 joints a day, compared to 26 cigarettes a day.

What happens when you compare the respiratory symptoms associated with marijuana versus tobacco, compared to nonsmokers? As you can see below and at 2:31 in my video, both marijuana smokers and tobacco smokers have elevated rates of chronic cough and excess sputum production, as well as acute episodes of bronchitis and wheezing, compared with nonsmokers. Now, when you quit tobacco, these respiratory symptoms eventually go away. Does the same happen with marijuana? What are the effects of quitting cannabis on respiratory symptoms?

As you can see below and at 2:56 in my video, about 30 to 40 percent of regular cannabis users suffer from cough, excess sputum, wheezing, and shortness of breath. A thousand young adults were followed for years. In those who kept smoking, their respiratory symptoms got worse or remained the same, but those who quit tended to get better.

If we don’t quit, what are the long-term lung consequences? What about chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), like emphysema? Even if smoking a single joint compromises lung function as much as up to five cigarettes, you’re still smoking 15 times less overall. So, shouldn’t you end up with less long-term lung damage? That is, indeed, what’s been found. Even long-term pot smokers don’t appear to suffer lasting lung damage. When people were followed for 20 years, researchers found that an occasional joint didn’t appear to have any discernable effect on long-term lung function, though there may be some “accelerated decline in pulmonary function” among those smoking joints every day for decades, so marijuana “moderation” is suggested.

In other words, “[a] caution against regular heavy marijuana usage is prudent,” but “even regular heavy use of marijuana” is nothing compared with “the grave pulmonary consequences of tobacco.” “Any toxicity of marijuana pales when compared with the greatest legalized killer in the world today—tobacco.” In fact, the greatest risk to our lungs from marijuana may be that it can be a “gateway” drug to cigarettes.

What about using a vaporizer? Find out in my video Smoking Marijuana vs. Using a Cannabis Vaporizer.

I have a whole treasure chest of cannabis videos. If you want to see them all, I put the whole collection on a digital DVD you can download or stream.

Key Takeaways

  • Smoking cocaine, tobacco, and/or cannabis causes comparable damage to the lungs, which is remarkable since tobacco users smoked about 20 cigarettes (a pack) a day, while cannabis users smoked about 20 joints a week. (Cocaine users smoked less than one to two grams a week.) This suggests that each joint is much more damaging than each cigarette.
  • In terms of bronchitis symptoms and acute lung damage, smoking three or four joints is equivalent to smoking about a pack of cigarettes a day, possibly due to smoking techniques; cannabis smokers inhale more deeply and hold in the smoke four times longer, which results in more tar depositing into the lungs. As well, joints are packed more loosely and unfiltered, resulting in hotter and smokier smoke.
  • Researchers found that 5 joints versus 26 cigarettes a day caused the same inflammation in the airways of the lungs.
  • When comparing respiratory symptoms, both cannabis and tobacco smokers have elevated rates of chronic cough, excess sputum production, and acute bronchial and wheezing episodes, compared with nonsmokers. The respiratory symptoms eventually go away after quitting tobacco and tend to improve after quitting cannabis.
  • Researchers found that smoking an occasional joint didn’t seem to have any discernable effect on long-term lung function, but there may be “accelerated decline in pulmonary function” in those smoking joints every day for decades, so moderation is suggested.
  • Regular heavy use of cannabis does not compare with “the grave pulmonary consequences of tobacco,” which has been called “the greatest legalized killer in the world today.”


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