Pot Smoking Not So Harmful To Lungs, Study Finds

Jan 11, 2012

Smok­ing a joint from time to time won’t dam­age the lungs, even after years of drug use, accord­ing to a study led by UCSF researchers that dis­proves one of the major con­cerns about mar­i­juana – that smok­ing it must be just as risky as light­ing up a cig­a­rette. The study, results of which were pub­lished Tues­day in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion, found that the lung capac­ity of peo­ple who smoked mar­i­juana was not dimin­ished by reg­u­lar tok­ing, even among those who smoked once or twice a week. Only heavy mar­i­juana users – those who smoked 20 or more joints a month – saw a neg­a­tive impact on the pul­monary sys­tem, but that level of mar­i­juana use is unusual, researchers said. In fact, they said, it may be that mar­i­juana smoke doesn’t affect lung func­tion the way tobacco does sim­ply because peo­ple don’t smoke as many joints as they do cig­a­rettes. The results should reas­sure doc­tors and patients who are con­sid­er­ing using mar­i­juana for med­ical care, pri­mar­ily to ease pain and nau­sea, said Dr. Mark Pletcher, a UCSF epi­demi­ol­o­gist and lead author of the study. But that’s not to say that Pletcher or his col­leagues are ready to give the all clear to any­one who wants to smoke pot. ‘Issue with Mar­i­juana’ “This study shouldn’t be inter­preted as mar­i­juana is totally harm­less,” said Dr. Stephen Sid­ney, a study author with Kaiser North­ern California’s divi­sion of research in Oak­land. “We don’t see mar­i­juana hav­ing a big impact on lung func­tion or lung dis­ease. But it doesn’t mit­i­gate the fact that we have an issue with mar­i­juana, at least in terms of depen­dence on it.” Smok­ing cig­a­rettes has such dra­matic, long-term health con­se­quences – includ­ing emphy­sema and lung can­cer – that doc­tors have long assumed that mar­i­juana smok­ing, too, must be detri­men­tal. Heavy mar­i­juana use may indeed turn out to be just as risky as cig­a­rette smok­ing, but that will be tough to prove because so few peo­ple smoke as much pot as they do tobacco. And not all sci­en­tists are con­vinced that mar­i­juana smoke is actu­ally as deadly as cig­a­rette smoke. “No one would ever claim that drink­ing water has the same effect as drink­ing vodka, even though they’re both liq­uids and you’re ingest­ing them the same way,” said Amanda Reiman, a UC Berke­ley lec­turer and direc­tor of research at the Berke­ley Patients Group, a med­ical mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary. “But for some rea­son we have assumed that because we know the neg­a­tive out­comes with cig­a­rettes, inhal­ing any plant mate­r­ial is going to have the same out­comes. “This study is chal­leng­ing the pre­con­ceived notions we’ve had for some time about the dan­gers of smok­ing cannabis and the sim­i­lar­i­ties to smok­ing tobacco,” she said. Occa­sional users For occa­sional users, smok­ing mar­i­juana was actu­ally asso­ci­ated with a small but sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant increase in lung capac­ity, accord­ing to the UCSF study. That increase wouldn’t be notice­able to the indi­vid­ual – and cer­tainly shouldn’t be inter­preted as a ben­e­fi­cial effect of smok­ing mar­i­juana, sci­en­tists added – but it may be related to the deep breath­ing pot smok­ers use to draw the drug into their lungs. The study looked at 5,115 men and women over a 20-year period, start­ing in 1985, who were part of a national clin­i­cal trial meant to look at heart dis­ease risk in young adults. The smok­ing researchers used data col­lected on tobacco and mar­i­juana use, along with reg­u­lar tests of pul­monary func­tion. Pot and cig­a­rettes Study par­tic­i­pants were just about as likely to smoke mar­i­juana as cig­a­rettes, and many par­tic­i­pants smoked both. Peo­ple who smoked cig­a­rettes, how­ever, were more likely to be heavy users – on aver­age about eight cig­a­rettes a day – than mar­i­juana smok­ers, who lit up on aver­age two or three times a month. The study lumped together all types of inhaled mar­i­juana use, mean­ing researchers did not dif­fer­en­ti­ate among those who smoked joints or pipes or any other imple­ment. The researchers noted that while most mar­i­juana smok­ers may not expe­ri­ence long-term lung prob­lems, they may still suf­fer from coughs and other tem­po­rary, rel­a­tively minor irri­ta­tions to the throat and lungs. Dr. Stephen Ruoss, a Stan­ford pul­mo­nolo­gist who was not involved with the study, was quick to note that while the results may show that smok­ing pot isn’t ter­ri­ble for the lungs, that’s hardly a robust endorse­ment for get­ting stoned. “If you inhale the smoke of a com­bustible organic mate­r­ial – either tobacco leaf or mar­i­juana leaf – is that a good thing for your lungs? The safe answer is no,” Ruoss said. “The hunch is that the more you smoke, the greater the detri­men­tal effect on your lung func­tion. Even with mar­i­juana.” Long­time pot smoker But Oak­land res­i­dent La Wanda Mar­tin, 44, said she’s always assumed that smok­ing mar­i­juana was safer than smok­ing tobacco. She’s been smok­ing pot for more than 30 years, in part to treat back pain and anx­i­ety. She is cur­rently light­ing up sev­eral joints a day, which she buys from Oak­s­ter­dam Uni­ver­sity, a cannabis indus­try train­ing school. “Cig­a­rettes are worse to use,” Mar­tin said. “When you buy from a cannabis club, you know what you’re get­ting. I don’t know what they put in those cig­a­rettes.” Source: San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle (CA) Author: Erin All­day, Chron­i­cle Staff Writer Pub­lished: Wednes­day, Jan­u­ary 11, 2012 Copy­right: 2012 San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle Con­tact: letters@​sfchronicle.​com Web­site: http://​www​.sfgate​.com/​c​h​r​o​n​i​c​le/

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Pot Smok­ing Not So Harm­ful To Lungs, Study Finds

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