What to Know About Cannabis and Lung Health

cannabis and lung health - standing people form the shape of lungs from overhead

For many cannabis consumers, lung health isn't a looming concern. A good number of people are able to partake every now and then without feeling any ill-effects. But those who consume marijuana frequently – whether for medicinal or recreational purposes – may notice some unpleasant symptoms from regular use. If you're consuming cannabis on the regular, you may want to consider marijuana's effect on lung health.

Cannabis and Lung Health

Many people insist that cannabis is perfectly safe to smoke. While that's a lovely idea, it's not quite accurate. Some of the most recent data comes from a 2013 study by Dr. Donald Tashkin. Tashkin has spent decades examining the effects of both tobacco and cannabis smoke, and his conclusions present a mixed bag. According to Tashkin, "habitual use of marijuana alone does not appear to lead to significant abnormalities in lung function". He also found no clear, let alone causal, link between cannabis consumption and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Emory University conducted research in 2015 that supports Tashkin's. These results are a little more specific, and a lot more intriguing. The study's conclusion states that the average adult can consume up to one joint per day for 20 years before signs of declining lung health kick in. Of course, not everyone's lungs have the same level of initial health and resiliency. For some, smoking a joint a day is enough to produce annoying symptoms, while others may not notice discomfort even when consuming far more cannabis in a 24-hour stretch. Regular consumers should be on the lookout for symptoms like:

  • Coughing
  • A sore throat
  • Throat inflammation & swelling
  • Mucus production

Essentially, watch out for the start of a classic "smoker's cough". While not as pronounced as a tobacco-induced chronic cough, you can still get a nasty wet cough from smoking too much weed. If you're extra sensitive to smoke, you may develop chronic bronchitis symptoms including general fatigue, a chronic dry or wet cough, shortness of breath, a whistling sound when breathing, and difficulty sleeping due to these issues.

Alternate Methods of Cannabis Consumption

While cannabis does contain its fair share of damaging compounds, it's actually the smoke itself that causes most of the damage. Our bodies weren't built to run hot air and smoke through our incredibly sensitive respiratory systems and doing so harms your lungs no matter the substance combusted. So, how do you avoid the negative effects of long-term cannabis smoking on your lung health? Switch it up! There are multiple cannabis delivery systems easier on the lungs, or which bypass them entirely, while still getting you high or delivering the medical benefits you need.

  • Edibles: Cannabis-infused edibles are the most easily-accessible form of non-smokable marijuana. You can find edibles in almost every cannabis dispensary, and the legal market continues to introduce new forms of them. If you're watching your caloric intake or just don't feel like eating, you can purchase THC capsules, breath strips, or mints. Those who enjoy a good beverage can seek out infused soda, coffee, tea, and even soup in some markets. Marijuana edibles come on slow, but kick in strong, making them ideal for long-lasting medication and a recreational experience to remember. Just keep in mind that dosing cannabis-infused food and drinks can be difficult for new consumers, especially when making homemade edibles, so go slow and wait – sometimes for more than an hour – for the effects to kick in.
  • Vaporizers: While vaporizing cannabis does involve exposing your lungs to the vapor, it's considered much safer for your lungs than combusting the plant matter. Consumers can choose from products that vaporize dry herb or setups that use cannabis oil. The idea behind vaporization is to heat the desired compounds (namely THC and CBD) to their respective boiling points without actually combusting the material. By avoiding the combustion of flower, consumers avoid releasing the tar and other toxic compounds that result from burning any kind of material. Cannabis oil carries the additional benefit of being highly concentrated. With concentrates, you can use less but get greater effects while preserving your lung health.
  • Cannabis Inhalers: One of the newer inventions on the scene, cannabis inhalers are a significant advancement in discretion and safety of marijuana consumption. These inhalers are made from medical-grade components, and their delivery system mimics that of an actual inhaler. Precisely measured doses are another added benefit, especially for medical patients.

Consider a Tolerance Break

One of the best options is to give yourself a break from cannabis altogether. Developing a cough or other respiratory condition is a sign that cannabis use is affecting your lung health. It may also be a sign that you should re-evaluate your relationship to marijuana. Medical patients may not realistically have the option to stop cannabis consumption for even a short break, but recreational users may want to take a step back when negative symptoms emerge.

Cannabis certainly won't destroy your lung health as quickly as cigarettes do, but over time, a cumulative effect can build up for regular consumers. Lucky for us, Dr. Tashkin also discovered almost all the ill effects of cannabis on lung health disappear after a short period of abstinence.