With rapid changes in marijuana laws across various states, the usage of this widely prevalent substance has surged by approximately 20%. In 2019, an estimated 49 million people aged 12 and older in the U.S. reported marijuana use in the previous 12 months, making it the most commonly used federally illegal drug. As more individuals turn to marijuana, particularly through smoking, questions about its impact on lung health and potential links to lung cancer arise. This article aims to explore the existing research and shed light on the complex relationship between marijuana use and lung cancer.
Studies on Marijuana and Lung Cancer
While the association between cigarette smoking and lung cancer is well-established, a clear link between marijuana and lung cancer remains elusive. Early studies suggested an increased risk, especially when combined with tobacco use. However, an international study in 2015 found little connection between habitual and long-term cannabis use (weed smokers lungs after 5 years) and lung cancer. Challenges in reaching conclusive findings include the small size of studies, self-reported marijuana use, low numbers of heavy users in research, and the simultaneous use of tobacco.
Effects of Marijuana on the Lungs
Pot’s effect on lungs include visible and microscopic damage to the airways, leading to symptoms like wheezing, weed smokers lung disease, shortness of breath, and a persistent cough. Despite these effects, lung function doesn’t seem significantly altered, and there’s no apparent increase in the risk of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which is an independent risk factor for lung cancer in stoner lungs.
Marijuana and Cancer Risk Controversy
The illegality of marijuana at the federal level in the U.S. hinders controlled studies, making it challenging to draw conclusions similar to those with tobacco. However, shared carcinogens between marijuana and tobacco smoke, inflammation and cell damage caused by marijuana, and its potential to induce immune system dysfunction raise concerns about its role in increasing lung cancer risk. Although the risk might be lower than that associated with cigarette smoking, exercising caution is advisable.
Marijuana in Cancer Patients: Treatment or Risk?
Beyond the potential risk, marijuana has been considered for its therapeutic effects in cancer patients. The National Cancer Institute acknowledges the potential benefits of cannabinoids in alleviating cancer-related side effects such as nausea, loss of appetite, pain, and sleep disturbances. However, the illegal status of marijuana limits new and extensive research, and the true extent of its benefits remains to be fully understood.
Secondhand Marijuana Smoke
Secondhand marijuana smoke may pose risks similar to tobacco smoke, warranting caution until comprehensive studies are conducted. To mitigate potential health concerns and preserve lung health, alternative delivery methods like edibles should be considered, especially in states where marijuana usage is legal.
Vaping Marijuana: A Trend with Risks
Vaping, often touted as a safer alternative to smoking, has gained popularity among marijuana users. However, research reveals potential health hazards, notably highlighted by the 2019 outbreak of e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) linked to vaping marijuana. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautioned against using marijuana-infused vaping products, especially from informal sources, due to EVALI outbreaks.
Additionally, the association between vaping and high-potency concentrates of marijuana raises concerns about increased risks of mental problems and deteriorating lung tissues.
In conclusion, the latest research suggests insufficient evidence to establish a strong link between marijuana and lung cancer. However, individuals using marijuana, especially through smoking, should be mindful of potential respiratory symptoms and consider alternative modes of delivery. Also, the therapeutic potential of marijuana in cancer treatment underscores the need for further research to understand its effects on lung health and cancer risk.