Cannabis may harm lungs more than tobacco, small study finds

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The debate surrounding the health effects of cannabis compared to tobacco has gained momentum over the years.

A recent Canadian study suggests that cannabis smoking may be more harmful to the lungs than tobacco smoking, contradicting the popular perception that cannabis is safer.

Researchers from the University of Ottawa and The Ottawa Hospital examined chest X-ray scans from three different groups: 56 cannabis smokers, 57 non-smokers, and 33 tobacco-only smokers.

The study, carried out between 2005 and 2020, revealed higher rates of airway inflammation and emphysema—a chronic lung disease—in cannabis smokers compared to tobacco-only smokers and non-smokers.

“Marijuana smoking is on the rise and there’s a public perception that it’s safe, or at least safer than tobacco,” says Giselle Revah, a radiologist at The Ottawa Hospital. “This study challenges that notion.”

Revah suggests that the increased rates of lung issues among cannabis smokers could be due to the differences in consumption methods. Cannabis is usually smoked unfiltered, allowing more particulates to reach and irritate the airways.

Additionally, cannabis smokers often take larger puffs and hold the smoke in their lungs for longer periods, possibly causing more damage.

Despite these concerning findings, the study has its limitations. Some of the cannabis smokers in the study also smoked tobacco, which could confound the results.

Additionally, some of the lung scans produced inconclusive outcomes, indicating that further research is needed to substantiate these preliminary findings.

“As of now, there is very little research on the health effects of cannabis, largely because it remains illegal in many countries,” Revah points out.

However, Canada legalized recreational cannabis use in 2018, joining a growing list of countries and U.S. states that have relaxed their cannabis laws, either decriminalizing possession or approving it for medical use.

As more jurisdictions are moving toward legalization or decriminalization, the study underscores the need for more comprehensive research on the long-term health effects of cannabis use, especially concerning its impact on lung health.

While this small study raises important questions, its limited scope means that more extensive studies are required for conclusive evidence.

Nonetheless, the initial findings provide a cautionary note against the commonly held belief that cannabis is a “safer” smoking option compared to tobacco.

If you care about lung health, please read studies about marijuana’s effects on lung health, and why some non-smokers get lung disease and some heavy smokers do not.

For more information about lung health, please see recent studies about how to minimize lung damage in COVID patients, and results showing this existing drug can save damaged lungs in COVID-19.

The research findings can be found in Radiology.

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