According to a new study, smoking marijuana in combination with cigarettes can cause more lung damage than cigarettes alone.
A study published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Radiology showed that marijuana use may be linked to an increased risk of emphysema compared to smoking only tobacco. The trend is made more worrying by the fact that cannabis users were on average younger — most were under 50 — than cigarette smokers.
Emphysema develops over time when lung tissue is damaged and causes the air sacs to rupture and trap air in the damaged tissue and prevent oxygen from moving through the bloodstream. It can cause shortness of breath, cough with mucus, wheezing, and chest tightness, and is irreversible once it develops.
According to the American Lung Association, more than 3 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with this life-threatening disease, despite it being one of the most preventable respiratory diseases.
Researchers from the Department of Radiology at The Ottawa Hospital found that 75% of people in the study who smoked marijuana, potentially at the same time as tobacco, developed emphysema, while only 67% of smokers of tobacco only showed signs of the disease. Only 5% of complete non-smokers have been diagnosed.
Additionally, they found that paraseptal emphysema, a specific subtype of the disease that affects the outermost parts of the lungs, was more common in marijuana smokers than in tobacco-only smokers.
The study looked at chest scans of 56 marijuana smokers – 50 of whom were also current or former tobacco users – 33 tobacco-only smokers and 57 non-smokers, taken between 2005 and 2020.
But the small-scale study of 150 Canada-based participants had limitations. The researchers did not collect enough data on how the subjects used cannabis, how often they smoked it, or how long they maintained the habit. The method by which cannabis consumers inhale the substance makes a difference: Blunts, for example, contain tobacco in the packaging.
It was noted that the tobacco-only smokers in the study had consumed at least one pack – 20 cigarettes – per day for the past 25 years.
The researchers also did not take into account other previous health conditions.
“The public is under the impression that marijuana is harmless or safer than cigarettes. But this study raises concerns that this might not be true,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Giselle Revah, assistant professor of radiology at the University of Ottawa, in a statement to Agence France-Presse.
“The American Lung Association says the only thing that should get into your lungs is clean air, so if you inhale anything, it could potentially be toxic to your lungs,” Revah said in a report by CNN.
“There’s definitely a concern that we’re going to see another generation of lung disease linked to these behaviors,” Dr. Albert Rizzo, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association, told USA Today.
The researchers point out that marijuana and tobacco are smoked differently, with marijuana smokers generally inhaling deeper and longer, while tobacco is generally smoked with quick exhalations. Conventionally made cigarettes also have a filter, which can retain some harmful toxins.
Due to limitations, experts admit the study cannot fully compare the safety of marijuana and tobacco, but agreed the results suggest more research should be done as use of the drug is on the rise. . E-cigarettes, too, are increasingly popular and should be considered in future research.
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