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Does marijuana cause lung cancer?

Marijuana helps treat symptoms, and may have positive implications for cancer, but what about lung cancer?  Is smoking marijuana going to cause lung cancer? Could it actually help lung diseases?

Marijuana advocated do say that there is no comparison between smoking marijuana and smoking cigarettes, which is what we would expect, but what do the experts say?

We really don’t have the complete answers for these questions because of the lack of research, and the fact that many people who smoke marijuana also smoke cigarettes, so the separate effects are hard to determine, but there are some things we do know.

Many people believe the dangers of smoking marijuana would be similar to those of smoking cigarettes. What are the similarities and differences?

Burning plants produce a lot of harmful chemicals, regardless of which plant it is.  Tobacco smoke does contain over 7,000 chemicals, with around 70 of them being carcinogenic, and at least 50 of the carcinogens are also present in tobacco smoke are also present in marijuana smoke.

We do know smoking cigarettes is the leading cause of preventable death in the world, and in the U.S. kills about 480,000 people per year.  Smoking is also the cause of conditions such as lung cancer, coronary heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. "For tobacco, we know that it's inherently dangerous and that there is no safe amount of tobacco to use," says New York City Health Department drug policy analyst Rebecca Giglio. Whereas with marijuana, "we see this as an opportunity to address the harms of criminalization while also regulating cannabis.

What are the dangers of smoking marijuana when compared to smoking cigarettes.  Those who smoke marijuana inhale and leave the smoke in their lungs for a longer period of time than cigarette smokers so the harmful smoke is present for longer periods of time.  Cannabis smokers, however, smoke far less than cigarette smokers who are frequently smoking throughout the day so the daily intake of smoke is less with marijuana users.

Tobacco contains nicotine, which may cause hardened arteries leading to heart disease.  The nicotine may also be the cause of cancer because when it is smoked, it breaks down into a cancer-causing a chemical called “N Nitrosamine,”  Smoking marijuana, on the other hand, is somewhat beneficial as marijuana contains THC, and TCH is a bronchial dilator which helps to open up your lungs.  

The largest research on marijuana was a report in  2017 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  This report said the lung-health risks of smoking marijuana appear relatively small, and far lower than those of smoking tobacco.

Alternatives to smoking marijuana include edibles and vaping.  The effects of vaping - heating a solution into a vapor and inhaling it -  also are not well known, but it is generally considered to be safer than smoking.  Vaporizers for marijuana prevent (or limit) the formation of combustion products and are therefore likely to be safer than smoking.  The American Lung Association is concerned that vaping will ultimately prove damaging to lung health.

Connie Maxim-Sparrow