Scientists at the University Of California have found cannabis smokers less susceptible to COPD than tobacco users.
Titled Impact of Marijuana Smoking on COPD Progression in a Cohort of Middle-Aged and Older Persons, the study compared active marijuana smokers, one-time cannabis smokers, and those who never smoked weed.
After over four years of observation, the researchers found no traces of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)—a condition commonly associated with tobacco smoking, characterized by coughing and shortness of breath—whether in developmental or advanced stages.
Reviewing data collected during the longitudinal study, the authors conclude that cannabis smoking may pose fewer lung troubles than cigarettes.
Earlier Research Blames Tobacco for COPD
Among several causatives, including exposure to industrial emissions, history of asthma, and bacterial infection, earlier studies point to tobacco as a chief culprit of COPD.
Although non-tobacco users may also risk COPD, tobacco smoke contributes to up to 90 percent of all reported COPD cases in the US. Research shows burning tobacco releases over 7000 chemicals, significantly increasing users’ risk of lung diseases, including COPD.
Tobacco smoke also deposits carbon monoxide in the body, which reduces oxygen levels in the blood and leaves users’ organs lacking oxygen.
Cigarettes also contain acrolein, a chemical that causes irreversible lung damage even in small amounts.
Bronchodilators are also abundant in cigarettes. These chemicals encourage users’ lungs to absorb more harmful chemicals.
Besides these chemicals released when tobacco users light up, cigarette smoke can burn off tiny hair (cilia) that mount the airway to prevent unwanted bodies from entering the lungs, leaving it clean. Without these protective hairs, individuals experience regular coughs (smokers’ cough), and continuous heavy tobacco smoking can lead to COPD and, in worse cases, death.
While these and many related data from decades of research hold tobacco smoking liable for COPD, there are inadequate research-backed connections between cannabis smoking and COPD.
Proponents of cannabis legalization, including the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, have applauded these findings, reiterating their correlation with earlier studies that dissociate cannabis smoke from COPD and lung cancer.
If anything, research suggests certain compounds in weed may counteract some adverse effects of tobacco smoking. For instance, THC’s anti-inflammatory properties may reduce the risk of COPD caused by irritations from frequent tobacco smoking.
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THC is also a potential anti-tumoral compound that inhibits cancerous growth, warring against the effects of any possible procarcinogens in marijuana smoke
These findings leave tokers and health experts better informed and, hopefully, will guide authorities to develop evidence-based public health warnings and regulations.
Limitation of Research Analysis
It’s been tough for researchers to analyze marijuana’s effects on lung health accurately.
For instance, many smokers co-administer tobacco and cannabis, making it tricky to tell their individual effects.
Measuring the amount of substances used is another research challenge, particularly cannabis, with no predefined quantifiable sizes.
Even worse, most of the data collected are self-reported by participants, creating room for some inaccuracies in reporting.
Also, weed can be smoked through different methods, affecting the net amount consumed and the effect. For instance, water bongs may reduce the concentration of certain compounds, including potential carcinogenic compounds.
Exploring Healthier Ways to Use Marijuana
While this new finding comes off as good news to the cannabis community, particularly those who puff weed for one of its potential benefits, the research authors cautioned that there are healthier ways to enjoy weed besides inhalation.
So, whereas existing evidence suggests tobacco skyrockets COPD risks, smoke from marijuana may not be completely blameless.
Of course, smoking is a fun way and the fastest-acting method to consume weed; smokers may consider minimizing respiratory health risks by exploring other options, particularly for medical purposes.
For instance, infusing marijuana herbs or extracts into recipes is an increasingly popular and arguably the safest way to enjoy cannabis benefits. Being smokeless, this method completely rules out any lung-related risks and other concerns associated with smoking.
Also, small evidence says vaporizers may reduce the risks of lung-related diseases. Vaping proponents say vapor may be more gentle on the lungs and respiratory tract since it strikes out combustion. But recent EVALI complication linked to vaping is a fresh concern within the medical community.
That said, the authors of Impact of Marijuana Smoking on COPD Progression in a Cohort of Middle-Aged and Older Persons admit some limitations to their data since, among other factors, the participants self-reported. They warned that more extensive studies are required to establish a possible link between the long-term use of Cannabis and COPD.
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