Ask the Doctor: Is Smoking Cannabis Safe?

Question: Is Smoking Cannabis Safe?

Answer

Now that smoking medical marijuana is allowed in Florida and flower is available at our local dispensaries, the question arises, “Is smoking marijuana safe?”

We all know the perils of smoking tobacco: increased rate of lung cancer, emphysema, and COPD. Does a similar risk profile face marijuana smokers?

The brief answer is no, albeit with some caveats. Dr. Donald Taskin, Professor Emeritus of Medicine at U.C.L.A. has been studying marijuana and its effects on the lungs for more than 30 years. He provided early evidence that smoking pot does not cause lung cancer or impair lung function. He is a Professor at my alma mater, so he must know what he is talking about. Right? All kidding aside, most medical marijuana users are health conscience and think twice about putting anything unnatural (pharmaceutical, preservatives, food dyes, pesticides, etc.) into their bodies. We are what we eat and we are what we inhale.

There are still concerns

There are some studies which raise concerns about the rosy picture painted by Dr. Taskin’s studies. Regular smoking of marijuana does cause microscopic injury to large airways that is associated with an increased likelihood of symptoms of chronic bronchitis, such as coughing, shortness of breath and increased mucous production. However, these symptoms subside after cessation of use. Spirometric measurements of marijuana users have been inconclusive.

Variables

Variables such as amount of marijuana used, like “joint years,” (one joint year is defined as 365 joints smoked in a year) – and the type of smoking can possibly skew the results. You can smoke a joint, use a bong with or without water filtration, etc. On the positive side, the bronchodilatory effects of Delta-9-THC are well known. Asthmatics do better with marijuana whether it is smoked or otherwise.

In sum

In sum, there is evidence that marijuana smoking is associated with some respiratory symptoms such as coughing, and increased sputum production but tests show an increase in FVC-forced vital capacity­ which is a good thing. The overall picture of no increase in lung cancer, emphysema or COPD with marijuana smokers is encouraging. The mechanisms for these effects and differences from inhaling tobacco are unclear. We can speculate about the anticancer and anti inflammatory effects of marijuana on lung function, but we do not really know. We need more studies to elucidate these differences.

So... is smoking marijuana safe?

The answer is probably. I would recommend a break from smoking if you develop a recurrent cough or an increase in mucous production. These symptoms should resolve in a few days to a week. If you like the almost immediate therapeutic effect of smoking, but have developed some symptoms of bronchitis, consider vaporizing the flower or using a vape pen.

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