Review: Cannabis Smoke Exposure “Distinctly Different” From Tobacco

Little Rock, AR: Cannabis smoke is “distinctly different from tobacco” and its exposure is not linked to an elevated risk of either lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to a literature review published in the journal Medical Clinics of North America. 

Researchers affiliated with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences reviewed data assessing the potential impact of cannabis smoke exposure on pulmonary health. They reported that marijuana smoking is associated with an increased risk of bronchitis, but that it is likely not responsible for lung disease, small airway injury, COPD, or lung cancer.

“[T]he data on marijuana contrast starkly with the consistent demonstration of injury from tobacco,” authors concluded. “Any possible toxicity of marijuana pales in comparison.”

The review’s findings are consistent with those of numerous other studies determining that the long-term respiratory effects of cannabis differ from those associated with traditional smoking, and that those who exclusively smoke cannabis possess a reduced level of exposure to harmful toxicants and carcinogens than do those who smoke tobacco cigarettes. Moreover, the use of vaporization technology, which heats herbal cannabis to a set temperature below the point of combustion, is associated with even further reductions in exposure to toxic gasses and has been identified as a “safe and effective” cannabis delivery device in clinical trial settings.

Full text of the study, “Marijuana and the lung: Evolving Understandings,” appears in Medical Clinics of North America. Additional information is available from the NORML Fact Sheet, ‘Cannabis Exposure and Lung Health.’