The number of people using marijuana continues is steadily rising — more than 52 percent of Americans over 18 admit to using it at least once, legally or not — while the popularity of smoking continues to tumble.
The reasons for weed’s popularity from person-to-person: Some use it recreationally, while others use it to amp up their workouts or alleviate chronic pain and depression. Smoking, on the other hand, offers no tangible benefits and increases a user’s risk for lung cancer. Marijuana doesn’t carry that same cancer risk — or does it?
“People are under the illusion it is safe to smoke cannabis,” Dame Helena Shovelton, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said in 2014. A report conducted by the foundation found that the dangers of smoking marijuana are on par with tobacco smoke.
The similarities between tobacco smoke and marijuana smoke
Any smoke has the potential to damage your lungs, no matter where it comes from.
“Heavy marijuana smokers also are likely to develop lung damage because marijuana smoke contains many of the same harmful chemicals as tobacco smoke,” The American Thoracic Foundation wrote on its website. Of the 70 cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco, 30 of those are also found in marijuana, according to the American Cancer Society.
Weed is more dangerous, according to Shovelton, because you inhale deeper than you do with regular cigarette smoke, leading to “more poisonous carbon monoxide and tar entering into the lungs,” she told the Daily Mail.
And, like with tobacco, secondhand marijuana smoke can be dangerous because it contains “many poisons including cyanide and ammonia,” according to the ATS.
So does smoking weed cause cancer? Is there a true connection between marijuana and lung cancer?
There’s no one definitive answer.
Scientific studies into the connection between lung cancer and marijuana smoke often contradict each other. One study found that long-term marijuana use increased the risk of lung cancer in people under 55 with the risk increasing proportionately to the amount smoked, but another large study released in 2015 found little connection between long-term cannabis use and cancer.
Another variable is the strength of the main ingredient found in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC. A 2016 study concluded that the THC found in pot is much stronger than it was 20 years ago, while the amount of beneficial CBD, or cannabidiol, has dropped. This change — along with a lack of quality control in marijuana production — can lead to other potential health issues.
We can’t say there’s a definitive link between marijuana and lung cancer until researchers conduct long-term studies into the subject. What can marijuana lovers do in the interim? Skip the smoking and enjoy your weed another way, like by eating it.