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Is Smoking Marijuana Damaging Your Lungs?

We often hear about the health benefits of marijuana. But you are smoking, after all. Is marijuana damaging your lungs?

Every day, it seems like there is another story about the things that marijuana can help with. People suffering from chronic pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and a variety of other illnesses have had their lives changed by smoking weed, and more users join their ranks every day. You may be convinced by all the news of the health benefits, but you might also be wondering, is smoking marijuana damaging your lungs? 

The Research

In the past, it was actually difficult to know the impact of smoking on our health. Because it was widely illegal worldwide, most countries would not fund public research, so it is not until the past few years that research has really gotten started to full effect. While the benefits of marijuana are now top of the list for scientists, you’ll be glad to know that a few teams have researched if and how smoking marijuana can impact your lungs.

Researchers at UCLA conducted a large and long study on weed smokers, and were able to make some conclusions on the impact on our lung health. The study is praised as extremely reliable because of its very large sample size and length of time users are being studied. The results were fairly positive: for smokers who reported low to moderate use of weed (measured at a very low frequency of two to three times per month), you’ll be happy to know that there was no pulmonary impact on users, and an overwhelming benefit for users in terms of pain control, appetite management, and mood.

Interestingly, researchers also noted an increased average lung capacity for users in their study, which is particularly interesting because this measure is markedly decreased in cigarette smokers. Those who worked on the study noted that the anti-tumor and anti-inflammatory properties in marijuana actually had beneficial effects on users, and might mitigate the impact of any inhaled smoke. So the news is good! If you smoke very occasionally, you can know that your lungs are pretty safe.

Image by Samuel Zeller

For moderate to heavy smokers, the team warned that it was not possible to note the long-term impacts for heavy and persistent weed smoking. There were two reasons for this caution: first, the study sample didn’t include many people that exhibited a very heavy and consistent habit. Second, though the researchers were viewing a group over a long period of time, they were uncomfortable concluding that very heavy smoking would not impact your lungs long-term. Some studies have made links between lung cancer and marijuana smoking, and have found adverse effects on mood and impact of weed for very heavy users. But experts in both studies have noted that more research is done to truly know if and what risk exists.

There are some risk factors that researchers theorize can contribute to increased risk. For example, mixing marijuana with tobacco or breathing in butane released from a lighter. Avoiding these things might help to mitigate risk associated with heavy use. Some scientists also believe that the risks of smoking might be completely strain-specific, with different levels of ammonia and aromatic amines present depending on the variety. These trace chemicals might also have an impact on the health of smoking, and need to be studied further.

If you are a very heavy and persistent smoker, you might want to consider some alternatives to use at least part of the time. More research into the impact of weed smoking on your lungs is certainly coming in the next few years, but you might want to give your lungs a break every now and then until the findings are final. 

Alternatives to Smoking

For very heavy users, it will be a few years until we can truly know how smoking might impact your lungs. If you enjoy smoking weed more than occasionally and are worried about your lungs, you might consider other ways of enjoying your green. Doing this to replace even part of your regular use can help cut down on the impact on your lungs. Conveniently, the rise in marijuana use means there are more ways to enjoy than ever.

Edibles are an excellent option for anyone worried about their lung health. If you have access to a local dispensary or mail-order service, you’ll be able to order a variety of candy, baked goods, and drinks that contain plenty of THC to get the job done. But, if you’re not in an area with access to these extravagant edibles, remember that there are plenty of online recipes and weed cookbooks you can reference to make your own to enjoy. Keep in mind that sweet treats aren’t your only option. There are plenty of reductions, oils, and salad dressings you can bring into even the most gourmet meal.

If you use weed to control your anxiety, depression, or pain, you might consider contacting a dispensary to learn about the different extracts and oils they offer. If you’re more after the benefit than the high, you might consider using CBD oils or substitutes part of the time.

You can also replace your smoking partially or completely with the use of a vaporizer. There are many set ups you can use portably, or keep on a table at home, and steam is much less likely to impact your lungs than smoke.

What is clear in each study that comes out on marijuana smoking is that there is an overwhelming benefit for many regular users. Pain, mood issues, anxiety, depression, and even many seizure disorders can be helped by regular use. That said, it can be natural to wonder if smoking marijuana is damaging your lungs and if you are a very heavy user and smoker, you might want to keep an eye on the research to be sure you aren’t damaging your lung health long-term. With increasing support for the medical benefits of weed, there is more research done each day, and more products available to try as alternatives.

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