Many people are seeking health remedies and wellness regimens through cannabis consumption, but there are questions regarding whether smoking marijuana could produce bigger problems down the road. Unfortunately, due to the suppression of research in the United States, there are few studies which contain the caliber of research necessary for a conclusive answer to the question, "Does smoking weed cause cancer?"
Let's review what the studies have shown, why they are skewed, and what we do know about cannabis and cancer.
Does Smoking Weed Cause Cancer?
Bad News or Bad Science?
Nearly everything in the world is bad for us these days. Tune into any late-night television channel to be educated about the myriad of lawsuits regarding various adverse effects caused by the use of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and surgical procedures. Various skin ointments and lotions contain parabens, a substance linked to causing cancer; and even the simple pleasures of childhood, like sugar, are linked to an increased likelihood of developing some form of the disease. Unfortunately, a few preliminary studies have emerged to cause concern for chronic cannabis smokers, too.
One study implicates smoking cannabis may expose the consumer to the same types of carcinogens and co-carcinogens found in cigarettes.
Smoking cannabis may cause pre-cancerous changes in lung cells according to one study in 2015, but showed little association with squamous cell carcinoma, or cancer.
Another study showed smoking cigarettes and consuming cannabis nearly doubled the risk of lung cancer in male consumers.
Yet another study suggests the risk for cancer increases each year in proportion to the amount smoked.
Lacking Accurate Data
However, a review published in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology earlier this year summarized the quality of the research they found.
"The data are limited by small studies, misclassification due to self-reporting of use, small numbers of heavy cannabis smokers, and confounding of the risk associated with known causative agents for lung cancer (such as parallel chronic tobacco use)," it stated.
Additionally, another study out of France, published in December of 2017 stated that cannabinoids may have anti-inflammatory and antifibrotic properties which could theoretically reduce the cancerous effects of inhaling cannabis. Even the New Zealand Drug Foundation called out the British Lung Foundation for their false claims against cannabis, calling it "disappointingly poor form" for an esteemed organization to make such claims.
As with all foreign substances humans consume, it's important to investigate the aftermath. The tobacco industry serves as an example of why it's important to consider the risks associated with smoking anything. We all know inhaling smoke can be damaging to the mouth, throat, and esophagus – essentially you are inhaling tiny, hot embers with each breath, after all. However, because of the legal status of cannabis, thorough research has yet to be conducted which conclusively says smoking weed causes cancer.
Cannabis Smoke DOES Contain Carcinogens
When smoking cannabis, the plant material is being burned and the smoke and vapors from that plant material are inhaled into the lungs. Typically, marijuana smokers will hold the smoke longer than cigarette smokers, as well. Besides the fine particulates of burning plant matter being introduced into the lungs, known carcinogens may be found in marijuana smoke, including:
- Acetaldehyde – a common air and water contaminant from multiple production facilities as well as automobile exhaust
- Ammonia arsenate – which is likely absorbed from pesticide or herbicide use
- Benzene – a toxic carcinogen also used in gasoline, pesticides, medications, and dyes
- Cadmium – an environmental hazard from fossil fuels and phosphate fertilizers
- Chromium – often found in soil and groundwater at abandoned industrial sites
- Hydrogen Cyanide – also found in pitted fruits like cherries, apple seeds, and apricot pits, also commonly found in pesticides
- Lead – commonly found in the soil, air, and water (even drinking water) and in many plants
- Mercury – commonly found in plants and vegetables grown near coal plants
See a common theme in all of these?
Cannabis is Only as Good as its Soil
When we burn plant material, we burn everything that plant has absorbed throughout its lifecycle. Cannabis sativa is a phytoremediator ? which essentially means it's considered a "clean up crop." As the plant grows, it absorbs the toxins, heavy metals and contaminants in the soil and water. In fact, the plant is such an excellent toxin-sponge, scientists used the plant to clean up radiation after the Chernobyl nuclear incident.
In the same manner, if cannabis cultivators or growers use chemicals during the growing process or even use untested, possibly contaminated soils, then your cannabis will likely contain higher levels of the cancer-causing substances shown in the list above. This is precisely why consumers should ask questions about how and where their cannabis and hemp supplements are grown.
A Vote for Cannabinoids
While smoking cannabis may expose the consumer to similar carcinogens as tobacco, many theorize there is a reason for the conflicting results in the research. Several studies suggest the therapeutic benefits of certain cannabinoids like cannabidiol, CBD, and tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, may play a role in causing this conflicting data. Cannabinoids may actually produce a protective effect against the carcinogens found in cannabis smoke.
Multiple, pre-clinical studies have indicated cannabinoids may cause apoptosis, or controlled cell death, in certain cancer cells. In other words, cannabinoids cause cancer cells to commit suicide. A study published in May of 2017 in the International Journal of Oncology showed cannabinoids, in conjunction with chemotherapy, improved the anti-cancer response in leukemia patients. Sadly, this wasn't the first study showing these results. Researcher in the U.S. published similar findings in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute over forty years ago.
Still, other studies also show cannabinoids can inhibit tumor growth in colon, breast, and brain cancers. Amazingly, cannabinoids also target the cancer cells while leaving healthy cells untouched. Chemotherapy and radiation, on the other hand, kill everything ? cancer cells and healthy cells alike.
The Final Score: Cannabinoids – 1, Smoking – 0
While inhaling smoke is probably not the best way to consume anything, the cannabinoids found in cannabis may help to fight off disease. The good news is, recent market research shows more and more cannabis consumers are looking for non-smokable cannabis products including edibles, tinctures, and beverages. Additionally, those who prefer the whole plant medicine of cannabis flower now have the ability to vaporize the cannabinoids and essential oils from cannabis rather than combust them. This method of cannabis consumption has proven to be far superior.
No one wants to intentionally increase their risk of developing cancer, and smoking can certainly contribute to increasing your chances. To preserve the integrity of your lungs, and quite possibly help your body fight off the dreaded disease, stop smoking your cannabinoids and opt for a healthier form of consumption.
Cancer is a word which should strike fear into the hearts of every person in the United States and around the world. In 2018 alone, more than 1.7 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed, while more than 600,000 will die from the disease. More than one in three people are diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime. If you haven't personally been touched by the dreaded c-word, you likely know someone who has.
With the studies available, every man, woman, and child should demand lawmakers lift the restrictions to allow for the caliber of research necessary to finally prove or disprove the anti-tumor, anti-prolific possibilities of cannabis.