This is What We Know About Cannabis and Lung Health

Physicians know that cannabis research hasn't shown a connection between smoking marijuana and lung cancer, but some still believe there is reason to be concerned about it.

It's no secret that smoking cigarettes has detrimental effects for the health of your lungs. However, the research on smoking cannabis seems to show a much different picture. Marijuana consumers do not appear to be at an elevated risk for lung cancer, but that doesn't mean joints are okay for your lungs.

A review conducted by Colorado scientists in 2016 found an association between daily or near-daily cannabis smoking and chronic bronchitis. And while coming down with a case of bronchitis every now and then isn't nearly as concerning as developing something like lung cancer, these findings show that smoking marijuana comes with health risks.

"There are respiratory effects to using smoked marijuana for long periods of time," Dr. Russell Bowler - Director of the COPD clinic at National Jewish Health in Denver and part of the committee who commissioned the study - told NBC News.

His research also suggests that frequent cannabis smoking could cause more serious lung conditions such as bullous lung (which causes the formation of air pockets that disrupt the functionality of the lungs) and pneumothorax (which can lead to collapsed lungs).

These conditions don't appear to be caused by cannabis itself so much as the act of exposing the lungs to smoke. 

"The smoke of marijuana contains many of the same volatile chemicals found in tobacco smoke that are injurious to lung tissue," said Dr. Donald Tashkin. "As a pulmonologist, I advise all my patients not to smoke anything."

That said, Tashkin noted that he has worked on numerous cannabis studies over the years, but he hasn't seen a link between cannabis and lung cancer. That might be on account of the fact that most cannabis consumers don't inhale joints at the same daily rate that smokers burn through packs of cigarettes. And less smoking means less risk.

However, cannabis researchers still need to pursue more studies before the scientific community can offer any solid conclusions about cannabis' effects on the lungs, according to Dr. Bowler. But, for folks who are concerned about potential impacts on their lung health, Bowler suggest cannabis edibles are perhaps the way to go.

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