Smoking weed can be extremely helpful when dealing with muscle pain, emotional stress and insomnia. But what does it do for your lungs? Read on to find out how weed affects your sensitive chest organs and what you can do to preserve the quality of your lungs (and your high).
Low Risk for Average Marijuana Smokers
According to a paper from the Journal of the American Medical Association, “low to moderate” cannabis users are not prone to long-term lung damage. The 2012 report is considered to be one of the most comprehensive studies about the drug, which started in 1985. Scientists monitored the lung function of 5,115 participants aged 18-30. Light use was set at 2-3 times per month, or roughly once a week. Though these days, the frequency of “low to moderate” is probably much closer to the 6-8 range. It’s important to consider that some of the participants also smoked cigarettes. This factor was taken into account, and actually caused individuals to smoke weed more often.
During the research, the group found that cannabis users displayed an increase in lung capacity (compared to non-smokers). In particular, the scientists tested for FEV1 and FVC, which gauges the amount of air during inhalation and exhalation. “FEV1 and FVC both actually increased with moderate and occasional use of marijuana,” explained Dr. Mark Pletcher, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.
The boost in lung capacity was linked to the way cannabis was traditionally smoked. When toking, it’s common for people to take a huge hit during inhalation, with a period of holding in the smoke to achieve a stronger high. This continuous practice contributed to above average lung capacity. On a side note, holding in smoke for long periods of time does not boost your high. According to Steve Liebke’s 2001 ‘A Cannabis User’s Harm Reduction Handbook,’ roughly 95 percent of THC in weed is absorbed during the first few seconds of inhalation. The “enhanced high” that people feel is from oxygen deprivation during the ordeal. Furthermore, holding in a hit leads to more tar deposit inside the lungs.
Going back to the study, the team highlighted that THC’s anti-tumoral and anti-inflammatory properties present in cannabis most likely countered the ill effects of procarcinogens during smoking. Over time, the positive attributes preserved the participants’ lungs. However, a longer study might be required to cover the highest risk ages for lung cancer to support the findings. The participants (even the oldest ones) did not reach the threshold for high-risk lung cancer (over 66 percent [2 out of 3] of people diagnosed with the disease were 65 or older).
Based on the results of the research, the scientists concluded the following:
Marijuana may have beneficial effects on pain control, appetite, mood, and management of other chronic symptoms. Our findings suggest that occasional use of marijuana for these or other purposes may not be associated with adverse consequences on pulmonary function.
But the team left a subtle warning for persistent marijuana users:
It is more difficult to estimate the potential effects of regular heavy use, because this pattern of use is relatively rare in our study sample; however, our findings do suggest an accelerated decline in pulmonary function with heavy use and a resulting need for caution and moderation when marijuana use is considered.
So the catch is that the positive effects are only for individuals who smoke cannabis within the “low to moderate” range. But what about habitual marijuana users? Can they still reap the healthy benefits of smoking weed?
Conflicting Results for Heavy Cannabis Smokers
This is when things start to get tricky. For heavy cannabis smokers, the positive effects aren’t as significant and may actually be harmful in some ways. A study conducted by a New Zealand institution suggests that there is an undeniable link between persistent cannabis use and lung cancer. The study only included participants over the age of 55 with positive lung cancer diagnosis. To qualify as a “heavy cannabis smoker” the scientists only selected individuals who smoked at least one joint everyday for a minimum of one year. Subjects who smoked cigarettes frequently were also excluded from the report.
The scientists failed to pinpoint exactly what was in marijuana that contributed to the patients’ illness. Shining some light on this controversial matter (in an attempt to avoid such elements), is a study from a recognized health organization in Canada. Scientists tested for the chemical composition of marijuana smoke, while making direct comparisons with tobacco. The results showed that cannabis contained above average amounts of ammonia and aromatic amines. The scientists admitted that the research was limited and more testing was needed to cover other elements, as well as testing for specific strains.
Those who are concerned about the negative effects of smoking marijuana (with emphasis on heavy usage) may want to consider other unconventional methods for getting high. Most medical dispensaries offer an assortment of edibles, ranging from traditional brownies and sweet candy to melting strips and cannabis oil. Such options eliminate issues related with smoking weed. Recently, parents have been relying on cannabis oil as a viable medium for THC when administering the drug to children suffering from uncontrollable seizures and epilepsy.
Then there’s the vaporizer. The method is for individuals who aren’t fans of edibles and want a more traditional way of partaking, but are worried about carcinogens present in marijuana smoke. Using a vaporizer may also boost the quality of the high due to the thorough THC extraction process. It also doesn’t hurt to use a pipe or bong once in awhile, as long as you’re within the “low to moderate” range of cannabis smoking.