Let’s face it: if you want to keep your lungs healthy, smoke is bad. Yet, when it comes to the effect of cannabis on your lungs, that simple fact comes with a huge and complicated “BUT…” The number one risk of inhaling smoke into your lungs is lung cancer. Be it smoke from tobacco or from a campfire, ashen plant particles in your lungs are never good.
Yet, somehow, this fact fails to hold true for weed smokers. Is this a natural anomaly? Well, kind of. Recent studies show that regular cannabis users are as likely to get lung cancer as the average person.
Earlier this year, researchers at Atlanta’s Emory University analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Their study found that marijuana users who smoked one joint a day for up to 20 years did not show signs of lung damage.
These results were found by studying data from a type of breathing test that measures airflow as you exhale. This test is called a spirometry test in the medical world.
A 2014 and a 2006 study both found that smoking cannabis DID leave tar behind in our lungs. BUT, somehow, lung cancer risk remains relatively low despite that fact.
While cannabis and lung cancer don’t go hand-in-hand, heavy smokers still have some risks to worry about
These risks are reduced when you vaporize instead of smoke herb. While it may seem obvious, it’s easy to forget that when you smoke weed, you’re breathing hot, smoldering plant materials into your body.
Vapes use just enough heat to activate the cannabinoids in your flower or wax. At the same time, they avoid the itchy, inflaming burn associated with weed that’s been roasted a little too hot.
Rolling papers and the products you use to smoke may also be to blame for some of the lung irritation. Rolling papers may be processed with bleach or other chemicals, damaging your lung tissue. Switching to a vape would avoid all of these risks as well.
Doctors, researchers, and scientists are still puzzled about why marijuana smoke is not linked to cancer. It’s been recorded for some time now that marijuana smoke contains many of the same cancer-causing toxins as tobacco.
The odd absence of tumors might be explained by THC, the primary psychoactive in weed. Research coming out of Spain’s oldest university, the Complutense University of Madrid, has shown that THC causes tumor cells to destroy themselves in animals.
No official studies have yet been approved to test THC’s power as a true tumor-killer in humans. Though, fortunately, there’s hope in animal testing. In animal models, THC both slowed and helped prevent the growth and progression of tumor growth.
Another study from a German University tested the effects of cannabidiol CBD on lung cancer cells. The results were quite exciting: CBD may help prevent cancers from moving around the body. That is to say, it prevents cancer cells from infecting other cells.
Findings like these may point to why weed smoke doesn’t cause lung cancer. Can a substance cause cancer and also prevent it at the same time? Only time and research will tell.
Everyone has their preferred method of smoking weed. Joints, pipes, and blunts have always been crowd pleasers. However, now that concentrates are in the mix, there’s a little more you need to know if you want to be a health-conscious cannabis smoker.
Protecting your lungs starts with knowing the pros and cons of different smoking methods.
Using a vape is the healthiest way of consuming cannabis by smoking. Because vaporizers don’t put direct fire onto the herb, you’re able to get a nice inhale of vapors while mitigating many of the harmful impacts of inhaling hot plant material.
There’s one thing you need to remember before you light up: your standard Bic Lighter can reach a temperature of 3,590.6 degrees F (1,977 C). That. Is. Hot. Smoking a joint, pre-roll, or a pipe means taking a very hot flame directly to your weed. You inhale the remaining hot, ashey particles in less than a second after lighting the herb.
That hot, unfiltered smoke is what causes irritation and tar build-up. Looking to play it safe? Try natural rolling papers or consider a screen for your pipe.
Water pipes, bubblers, and bongs all use water to cool down smoke before you breathe it into your throat and lungs. Not only does this cool down your herb, but the water also catches unnecessary ash and weed particles that would later turn into tar inside your lungs.
These water-based methods are far from perfect. Water and ice don’t catch all of the plant resin floating around in smoke. Look for larger pieces that increase the distance between the flame and you, and supplement with ice if you’d like to play it safe.
Dabbing concentrates like Butane Hash Oil (BHO) is now more popular than ever.
‘ There is no standardized quality control for marijuana. Without testing data, there’s no way to tell if what you’re smoking is free of contaminants. Those contaminants may be leftover pesticide, fertilizer, miticide, fungus, or something else that happened to hitch a ride on what you just picked up.’
More and more, growers and dispensary owners are having products tested. This ensures that the plants are healthy and safe for consumption. This testing data is available online. If you’re lucky enough to live with access to legal medical or recreational cannabis, ask your dispensary for local testing data.
You might be wondering: If smoking leaves all this extra stuff behind, is there a way to clean out my lungs?
The answer? Yes! A little exercise can help reduce the effects of marijuana on your lungs. The best exercise for your lungs? Deep breathing.
As we breathe, we take in vital oxygen that keeps us alive. There are two primary types of breathing: deep breathing and shallow breathing.
As we inhale, we either take air into the tops of our lungs, or we breathe deeply and fully throughout the organs. The more fully we breathe, the more fresh oxygen can travel deeply into the lung tissue. The shallower the breath, the more toxins, stale air, pollutants, and allergens stay trapped.
All this trapped bad air and extra gunk in our lungs has direct impacts on our health. It causes us to feel tired and leads to a loss of tissue function.
Lungs need exercise and movement every single day. When we’re sitting and resting, our lungs only operate at 50% capacity.
“Your lungs need at the very least 20 minutes of consistent, moderately intense movement daily, like a brisk walk,” explains Jennifer Ryan, PT. Jennifer is a specialist in cardiovascular and pulmonary physical therapy at Rush University Medical Center.
“To help counteract the build-up of toxins and tar in the lungs caused by environmental pollutants,” Ryan continues, “allergens, dust, and cigarette some, you need to help your lungs cleanse themselves.”
As with most marijuana research, we’re left wanton for more detailed information and firm final conclusions. It’s safe to say that long-term cannabis smoking does come with its own share of health concerns.
But, an increased risk of lung cancer, one of the most primary arguments against weed legalization?
Nope. Sorry. The evidence just isn’t there yet.
To view the original article written by Delilah Butterfield and photo credits