New study suggests smoking cannabis has minimal impact on lung health

Published Feb 8, 2023 02:00 p.m. ET
Unsplash / National Cancer Institute

Cannabis is generally a really safe substance choice for adults, but there are still some concerns surrounding the potential risks it may pose to the health of consumers, in particular those who choose to smoke it. Inhaling smoke of any sort is generally viewed as a bad idea no matter what you’re burning, but as it turns out, according to the latest research smoking cannabis may actually not be as big of a health problem as so many had initially anticipated.

The study

According to a new longitudinal study conducted by researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia and published in the journal Respiratory Medicine, smoking cannabis was not found to cause emphysema, reduce airflow to the lungs, or have adverse effects on overall lung health. The purpose of this research was to determine whether or not frequent cannabis use damaged the lungs of young adults.

However, these latest results seem to imply there really isn’t much for consumers to be worried about, even after years of chronic inhalation, which is the opposite conclusion to the results of another recent study published in the Journal of Radiology. In that research CT scans of the chest showed higher rates of emphysema in cannabis smokers than tobacco smokers.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we can completely eliminate cannabis as a potential contributor or cause of emphysema. It simply shows that far more research is needed before we draw any definitive conclusions on the subject. There may still be some adverse effects on lung health caused by combing the two, something the emphysema study didn’t account for at all.

The results of the University of Queensland study


The results from this study showed an already proven connection between smoking tobacco and reduced airflow to the lungs, as all participants who smoked cigarettes alone or with cannabis experienced reductions in oxygen intake over the course of 9 years. They also suggest cannabis does not measurably or significantly add to those reductions seen in tobacco smokers. What was however most surprising and in contrast to the emphysema study, is that after almost ten years of smoking pot regularly, participants didn’t seem to experience any ill effects in terms of lung health.

How researchers came to this conclusion

To uncover this powerful information, researchers from the University of Queensland study investigated by monitoring a group of 1173 adults aged 21 to 30, testing things like lung function using a spirometry assessment over the course of nine years. These assessments are often used to help doctors to diagnose certain medical conditions impacting the lungs including COPD and asthma by calculating the amount of air an individual can breathe through a mouthpiece in one single breath.

The UOQ researchers also looked at participants who smoked tobacco, cannabis, or both combined analyzing and comparing the data to see if there were any notable differences between the three cohorts. Ultimately they concluded that cannabis use either alone or paired with tobacco, isn’t likely to increase the risk to the lungs.

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