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What Does Marijuana Do to Your Lungs?

What Does Marijuana Do to Your Lungs?


It’s sometimes said that the most dangerous thing about marijuana is getting caught with it. And as an ever-increasing number of Americans comes around to the benefits of (at least) decriminalizing the drug, that sentiment rings truer and truer.

Decriminalization would likely have robust effects on the criminal justice system, state economies, and business owners, among other things. But for a drug so heavily associated with the practical details of ingestion––namely, smoking––health concerns linger in the air.

As a number of media outlets noted this week, however, there is a surprising body of evidence about smoking pot that could be worth revisiting: marijuana has been found, in decades of pulmonary research, to be much safer to smoke than tobacco, and even has been linked to decreasing the risk of developing lung cancer.

Counter-intuitive? Perhaps. According to Dr. Donald Tashkin, professor emeritus of medicine at UCLA, who has studied the drug and its effects on lungs for over 30 years, the smoke content of pot is similar to that of tobacco, even when it comes to high concentrations of carcinogens in tar by-products. But despite that, he told LA Weekly, in an article published on Monday that logical health concerns could be misplaced. “Through my studies, we failed to find any positive association,” he said, saying that instead, “the association would be negative, between lung cancer and the use of marijuana. The likelihood is, that despite the fact that marijuana smoke contains carcinogens, we don’t see the same heightened risks of cancers that we see in tobacco.”

In fact, Tashkin said that marijuana’s anti-inflamatory and suppressant qualities significantly cut down the chances of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is the third leading cause of death in America, according to the American Lung Association. According to a 2013 study by Tashkin, “the accumulated weight of evidence implies far lower risks for pulmonary complications of even regular heavy use of marijuana compared with the grave pulmonary consequences of tobacco.”


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