Smoking Pot May Not Be as Safe as You Think

Marijuana users had higher rates of emphysema than tobacco-only smokers
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 15, 2022 12:00 PM CST
Smoking Pot May Not Be as Safe as You Think
A doctor looks at a lung scan.   (Getty Images/utah778)

A new study is countering the "public perception that marijuana is safe" or at least "safer than cigarettes," says author Giselle Revah, a radiologist at the Ottawa Hospital General in Canada's capital. As ABC News reports, rates of emphysema, airway inflammation, and enlarged breast tissue were higher among marijuana users than those who smoked strictly tobacco. It's important to note that this study looked at 56 marijuana users, 50 of whom also smoked tobacco. A review of lung scans carried out from 2005 to 2020 showed 75% of these users had emphysema—a condition marked by damage to the inner walls of the lungs' air sacs—compared to 67% of 33 tobacco-only users and 5% of 57 nonsmokers.

When matched by age and sex, marijuana smokers had a 93% rate of emphysema compared to 67% for tobacco-only smokers. The scans also showed bronchial thickening in 64% of marijuana smokers compared to 42% of tobacco-only smokers, per the Wall Street Journal. The study notes "concomitant cigarette smoking among the marijuana-smoking cohort limits our ability to draw strong conclusions." Still, Revah says the results raise concerns as these conditions "can lead to more congestive symptoms" and make one "predisposed to infections," per Medical News Today.

In explaining the differences, Dr. Albert Rizzo, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association, notes marijuana smokers tend to "breathe in more deeply" and "hold their breath longer, before they exhale," compared to tobacco smokers, resulting in "longer exposure and deeper inhalation" of toxins, per ABC. The study, published Tuesday in the journal Radiology, also confirmed what it said was "the well-known relationship between regular long-term marijuana use and gynecomastia," a condition marked by the swelling of breast tissue in males, commonly known as "man boobs." It appeared in 38% of marijuana smokers compared to 11% of tobacco-only smokers and 16% of nonsmokers. (More marijuana stories.)

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