After decades of successful educational campaigns, everybody knows that smoking cigarettes is really, really bad for you. But, while cigarette use among young people has continued to drop in recent years, cannabis consumption has climbed. For some lawmakers and public health officials, this means that people have simply traded one bad health decision for another. But is smoking cannabis actually as bad for you as smoking tobacco?
That's a difficult question to tackle since federal cannabis prohibition makes researching the effects of marijuana unnecessarily difficult in America. But we do have some insights thanks to a recent study. In 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) conducted an analysis on nearly 20 years worth of cannabis research to find out what the health differences are between smoking cannabis and smoking tobacco.
We know that longterm tobacco use is a major contributor to serious illnesses such as lung cancer and heart disease. According the NASEM report, however, these particular conditions appear to be of relatively low concern for cannabis consumers. In fact, the report concluded that all lung-related health risks are pretty insignificant for people who smoke marijuana.
That's not to say there aren't any risks for cannabis smokers though. The report found that long-term cannabis use may contribute to more frequent contraction of bronchitis and could lead to chronic coughing. Additionally, people who smoke cannabis may be more at risk of getting hooked on tobacco products than non-consumers.
"One substance reinforces the use of the other, and vice versa, which can escalate a path to addiction," Dr. Sterling McPherson—a University of Washington medical professor studying marijuana and tobacco use among teens—told ABC News.
While there may be some minimal risks associated with smoking cannabis, there are also numerous benefits. Cannabis has several medical applications, such as treating chronic pain and reducing nausea associated with cancer treatments. The medical uses of tobacco, however, are pretty much non-existent.
Vaporizing cannabis may also prove to be a safer alternative to traditional smoking, say some healthcare professionals, though there is some indication that vaping is not without its own risks.
If you are concerned about the longterm effects of smoking or vaping cannabis, you should consider alternative options. Smokeless cannabis products have been gaining in popularity in states where the substance is now legal. Cannabis-infused foods foods are popular among people who don't like smoking, as are products like cannabis oil, sublinguals and balms.