Instead, a new study finds that marijuana can do greater damage to humans’ respiratory system than cigarette smoking — a nasty habit that research also has proven to be a major cause of cancer, heart and circulatory damage, and other health harms.
To be sure, the researchers’ observations about pot’s harms were based on a relatively small sample size of 56 Canadian patients who smoked both cigarettes and marijuana and had their chest scans scrutinized by at least two radiologists who were blinded to information about the patients whose images they were reviewing. As the Wall Street Journal reported of the study, published in the medical journal Radiology:
“[Researchers said they] demonstrated higher rates of conditions including emphysema and airway inflammation among people who smoke marijuana than among nonsmokers and people who smoked only tobacco. Nearly half of the 56 marijuana smokers whose chest scans were reviewed for the study had mucus plugging their airways, a condition that was less common among the other 90 participants who didn’t smoke marijuana. ‘There is a public perception that marijuana is safe and people think that it’s safer than cigarettes,’ said Giselle Revah, a radiologist who helped conduct the study at the Ottawa Hospital in Ontario. ‘This study raises concerns that might not be true.’”
The experts had a, perhaps, common sense explanation as to marijuana’s potential high respiratory harms: It’s the way users take their hits — long, slow drags that are kept in the lungs for as long as possible to speed and increase the cannabis high, the newspaper reported, noting:
“Previous studies have found that marijuana is more likely than tobacco to be smoked unfiltered and that smokers tend to inhale more smoke and hold it in their lungs longer. Bong smoke contains tiny pollutants that can linger indoors for up to 12 hours, a study published in March in JAMA Network Open showed.”
The newspaper, reflecting that the marijuana study was Canadian, offered perspective about pot use and attitudes up North and in this country, reporting:
“One-fifth of Canadians over 15 years old reported using marijuana in the past three months, according to a 2020 survey of some 16,000 people conducted by Canada’s national statistical office. About 18% of Americans reported using marijuana at least once in 2020 in the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey of Drug Use and Health, including about 1 in 3 young adults aged 18 to 25. The surveys didn’t ask how marijuana was consumed. About one-fourth of people over 12 years old believed there was great harm from smoking marijuana once or twice a week, according to the survey.”
The research publication occurred, too, as voters in multiple states considered on their midterm 2022 election ballots whether marijuana should be legalized, as 20 states and the District of Columbia already have allowed, the Axios news site reported, citing information from the Associated Press:
“Maryland: Voters legalized the possession and sharing of 1.5 ounces of recreational pot for people 21 or older as soon as July 2023 through a measure, per AP. The measure also allows people convicted of possession with the intent to distribute cannabis to file a petition to expunge the conviction three years after serving their sentence. Missouri: State voters approved an amendment to “remove state prohibitions on purchasing, possessing, consuming, using, delivering, manufacturing, and selling” cannabis for adults who are 21 and older, according to the AP. Voters previously legalized medical cannabis possession in 2018.
“North Dakota: Voters declined to pass a measure that would have allowed adults who are 21 and older to possess and purchase 1 ounce of recreational marijuana starting 30 days after the election, AP reports. Arkansas: Voters in Arkansas voted against an amendment to allow people who are 21 and older to possess up to 1 ounce of recreational cannabis and buy marijuana from licensed dispensaries for any reason, er AP. Arkansas voters first legalized medical marijuana in 2016, and dispensaries began opening in 2019. South Dakota: Voters rejected a measure to legalize the possession and use of a limited amount of recreational marijuana for people 21 and older, per AP. In 2020, the state’s voters approved an amendment that would have legalized recreational marijuana and required the state legislature to pass laws that would legalize the use of medical marijuana. The amendment was challenged by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem and ultimately overturned by the state Supreme Court.”
Regular folks from coast to coast, the election results and public opinion surveys say, have moderated their views about marijuana, turning away from blue nose notions about “devil weed.” At the same time, the nation may be heading to a reckoning about the health harms and their long-term costs of people sucking in heated materials into their bodies and doing so in what many might regard as excessive fashion. As the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on its website:
“Marijuana is the most commonly used federally illegal drug in the United States; 48.2 million people … used it at least once in 2019. Recent research estimated that approximately 3 in 10 people who use marijuana have marijuana use disorder. For people who begin using marijuana before age 18, the risk of developing marijuana use disorder is even greater. Marijuana use directly affects the brain, specifically the parts of the brain responsible for memory, learning, attention, decision-making, coordination, emotion, and reaction time. Infants, children, and teens (who still have developing brains) are especially susceptible to the adverse effects of marijuana. Long-term or frequent marijuana use has been linked to increased risk of psychosis or schizophrenia in some users. Using marijuana during pregnancy may increase the person’s risk for pregnancy complications. Pregnant and breastfeeding persons should avoid marijuana.”
In my practice, I not only see the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the clear benefits they may enjoy by staying healthy and far away from the U.S. health care system. It is, according to research conducted in pre-coronavirus pandemic times, fraught with medical error, preventable hospital acquired illnesses and deaths, and misdiagnoses.
If you don’t smoke, please don’t start. If you smoke, talk to your doctor, and make the challenging effort to stop. If you’re a marijuana smoker, consider that the long-term, sustained damage caused by inhaling grass is undetermined for now due to puritanical politicians blocking the money and resources needed for rigorous study of intoxicating drugs.
It is clear from the evidence available that users should know that when it comes to driving and being stoned, pot use is not an idea worth even discussing. As the Boston University School of Public Health has reported:
“Between 2000 and 2018, the percentage of car crash deaths in the United States involving cannabis have doubled—and the percentage of deaths involving both cannabis and alcohol have more than doubled, according to a new study by a School of Public Health researcher. Researchers from the School of Public Health, the School of Medicine, Boston Medical Center, and University of Victoria found that people who died in crashes involving cannabis had 50% greater odds of also having alcohol in their system. Published in the American Journal of Public Health, these findings suggest that as states have loosened cannabis policies, cannabis and alcohol have increasingly been used together when driving.
Although the proportion of crash deaths involving alcohol has remained relatively constant over the last two decades, the proportion of crash deaths involving other substances, particularly cannabis, has increased, and little attention has been given to the connection between alcohol and cannabis use.”
Not good. We have much work to do to fully understand the positives and negatives of intoxicants with real evidence, rather than arguing from opinions.