New Study on Marijuana, Lung Problems

Apr 16, 2009 , ,

Earlier this week there was a smattering of press attention to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, dealing with a deadly lung condition known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. “Marijuana plus cigarettes boosts lung disease risk,” is how Reuters headlined the story.

The study suggested that the combination of marijuana and cigarettes may be worse than cigarettes alone. It did not find that marijuana by itself increased the risk of COPD, but Reuters went out of its way to say that the study had not proved there was no such increased risk.

As usual, the reality was a bit more complicated than the press reports.

While the study did find a suggestion of increased risk for those who smoked both marijuana and cigarettes, the risk for marijuana-only smokers was far from clear. Indeed, by some measures the COPD risk was actually less in the marijuana-only smokers than nonsmokers, but numbers were small enough that the differences were not statistically significant.

What most news accounts, including Reuters, failed to mention, is that there is a great deal of other data about marijuana and COPD, data that was summarized in an accompanying review by Dr. Donald Tashkin of UCLA, one of the world’s leading experts on the effects of marijuana on the lungs. Tashkin wrote, “Given the consistently reported absence of an association between use of marijuana and abnormal diffusing capacity or signs of macroscopic emphysema, we can be close to concluding that smoking marijuana by itself does not lead to COPD [emphasis added].”

Bottom line: Cigarettes are really bad for your lungs. Combining cigarettes and marijuana might be even worse. Marijuana alone is clearly far less harmful — but it’s still a good idea to vaporize rather than smoke.


27 responses to “New Study on Marijuana, Lung Problems”

  1. For those of us who don’t care for vaporized marijuana, Tashkin’s findings are welcome news from a credible source. He confirms my personal experience. After decades of mostly daily use, my lungs remain fully functional. Now in my 60s, I still enjoy zipping around on my bike with no sign of diminished capacity. I prefer the flavor of a joint or bowl. Vaped pot tastes wonky to the quality has been compromised… and I feel its not the best way to enjoy the herb.

  2. Right on Bradson- I am 56 years old and the best way to enjoy is to smoke.
    For me it’s just like Hendrix 6-9. Let me live my life the way I want.

  3. Very interesting slant, if this is someone’s idea of taking a cheap shot at pot smokers, well I seriously think we’ve won. This sort of mud slinging in words is far below my intelligence. The intellegent , higher number of educated pot smokers, far out weighs the little opponent groups. They don’t like us and nothing’s going to change that, but time.

  4. They can associate COPD with cigarettes or cannabis if they want. But what really is the point? Are they offering suggestions or advice about building lung strength through breathing exercises instead? Or through nutrition?

    Of course not. It is about demonizing what ever these people decide to demonize. It just happens to be about cannabis.

    These people are ignorant jerks living on the government dole.

    They should be fired and find real jobs that actually contribute to humankind’s real well being.

    Why Reuters finds this newsworthy, or is it they are just real lazy employees and managers at the Reuters News Service.

  5. Obama Sucks! he is flip floping like a fish out of water. all he talked about yesterday in Mexico was curbing drug use in America and using more force. Doesn’t he understand that prohabition is the problem. We should educate children with the truth about drugs and legalize for adults and use treatment for the crack heads. this is the only way not everyone wants to grow up and be a crack head. most adults are responsable and should not be treated like children by the Fed’s. why do you think Texas wants to succeed from the Union. Mr. Obama it’s time to reach your arm back and feel that you have a spine and it’s time to use it as you did before getting elected. Do the right thing and stop screwing up America!

  6. Sure, Sean, that was a Canadian journal. Problem is that the DEA doesnt really care about borders with its wish to use force. If they are given the extension to “do a good job” in Mexico with more force, they’ll have the support needed to push that ideal into Canada again.

    I’m sure most Canadian’s would really like to avoid the DEA’s continued approach to this problem.

    Again, regardless of the details, the headline is all that people will recall on this: Cannabis causes health problems. That’s all anyone will recall about it.

    “I recall back in that they showed it caused ”

    How many times do you have to hear that on anything from too much TV, loud music, foods, drugs, etc. before you just want to lose all hope in humanity.

    Similar problem in the long run for this study regardless of why it was run. Chances are it was someone’s pet project who will die of a heart attack after running a marathon from being a stress junkie 98% of the time.


  7. The pain of getting close to ending prohibtion and not getting there completely in a reasonable time is disheartening. It’s like looseing a ball game by one run, you always wish you had done just a litte better while you had the chance.

    I know the desire to change MJ laws is being hidden, politicians are turning their backs to us to ignore pot smoking in any form. Dig a fox hole, it’s going to be a long fight and I’m tired of forking out money with no progress in sight for MJ law reform.

  8. I might add the silly laws on those books have directly changed and effected my family and our life,.,. I think Obama would shoot from ending prohabition only when it effected his immediate family as it has ours.. and countless others ! I just hope I live long enough to see this stupidity END !

  9. I agree that cigarettes are FAR more dangerous than marijuana is to your lungs. i smoked cigarettes for 1-2 years when i was in my teens and i still regret it because sometime i am still short of breath.

  10. There’s so much bait, smoke and mirrors, and lack of information here.

    Yeah we already know smoking cigarettes is bad. So is smoking cigarettes and drinking milk.

    Oh but just drinking milk.. uh we’re not sure.

    Take out word for it, there’s a correlation; we all know correlation equals causation!

  11. I have had asthma for years. I started smoking about 2 years ago and have not used my inhaler once. After the first spring and then fall, I realized I hadn’t been sick at all… Interesting hu??

  12. I am a 63 year old Retired Police Officer. I suffered a serious line of duty injuries. 27 operations latter, I now find myself with operations that are failing and I am in chronic pain. I have rods in my back and neck. Along dealing with the pain, there is depression. I have been using for the last 15 years. I am also an artist and there are times that I cannot focus due to the pain, even while using prescription medication. Smoking or eating it, helps me focus on my art work. It helps keeping the depression under control. All of my doctors are informed about my usage and they have no problem with it. The American people must rent “Americas’ Drug war”. You will see there just how our Government has lied to us and are responsible for the importation of the REAL BAD drugs for making their way into this country, through the CIA and their Black Ops. Prohibition NEVER works. Control, ie. Tobacco and Alcohol are prime examples. Think about it for a moment. Hundreds of users of Heroin, Cocaine and Crystal Meth( the next plague) die every and no one can point to any death occurring from the use of cannabis. One more fact, There has been no arrests of major drug dealers who are flying and bringing that poison into our Country. Those drugs cannot be grown in this country. No money launders or banks that launder the massive amounts of drug money are being brought to trial. But in Texas, they will lock you up for being possession of a single joint and they will wind up doing time that is unreal. Obama has smoked , by his own admission and he managed to become, The President of the United States! We The People, must get off of our asses and let our voices heard about this issue. It is California’s’ largest cash crop of the State. If they would just decriminalize it and then tax it, would bring MILLIONS into the coffers of the State. Then take all of the manpower from chopping down plants in the woods, then burning it while they stand downwind. It would make less accessible to our children. Drug dealers do not ask for ID. If you had to buy it as we buy Liquor, we now control its’ sales. All other laws that apply to giving alcohol to under age individuals would apply. Driving laws are already in place as to driving under the influence. All we are doing now is supporting the private prison system . Wake up America. This is only one issue. They are chipping away at our Bill Of Rights, a little at a time.

  13. I would love to see you parsing these details, along with comments about the Mexican visit on Maddow.

    It seems clear that no matter how you look at it, tobacco is deadly, yet tolerated. Marijuana is sometimes pallative, sometimes relatively less dangerous, and banned.

    I look forward to your next media appearance.

  14. Thanks! We didn’t have time to announce it in advance, but I was on CNBC last night, debating former ONDCP apparatchik John Carnevale. We now have a link to the video at the top of our home page

  15. I always love how these politicians admit to doing drugs but the rest of us still have to go to jail for it.

  16. It seems to me that any health study which is conducted on people who smoke street marijuana is full of holes. Such un-controlled marijuana might easily contain chemical fertilizers or other substances which are not accounted for in the study.

  17. If you could travel to the early 1900’s and walk into any pharmacy or Homeopathy Shoppe, you would find dozens of Cannabis tinctures on the shelves. These tinctures(made by Pharma), both Sativa and Indica, had 100 specific AMA approved medical indications. It was easy to medicate and few smoked cannabis.

    After prohibition and the Stamp Act in 1937, these tincture bottles became old but beautiful and dry antique bottles. I have photos of these on the wall in my office.

    So, as these tinctures went away, everyone smoked more and more, until smoking was felt to be the only way to medicate. Yes, there is vaporization and I always do encourage it as one of many options.

    Tinctures are returning and on the shelves, at least in Venice, Ca, of most dispensaries. They work great, are available in both Sativa and Indica formulations, are subtle and particularly great during the daytime.

    So, now back to the question at hand – smoking cannabis and lung cancer. If you read Dr. Tashkin’s latest review of cannabis and lung cancer or COPD, he believes that cancer from cannabis alone probably does not cause lung disease. However, in large part he relates this to the amount of smoking one does. If a person is smoking 20 joints every day, I would advise them they ARE at increased risk. There is plenty of tar in cannabis. So, what to do? This is what I tell my patients:

    1. Use all forms of the medication so that smoking can be more limited.
    2. Whether or not smoking cannabis causes lung disease, smoking less and using tinctures gives the cannabis patient more freedom.
    3. Try keep smoking to less than 5 joints daily. If more medication is needed, try, as possible to use edibles, tinctures, sub-lingual preps, vaporizing, etc. The reason I choose 5 joints is based upon Dr. Tashkin’s comments. He believes that on average 1 joint = 2 cigs. This is a guess. Anyway, that would be 1/2 pack of tobacco/day, which is below the toxic level for MOST patients.
    4. If the patient develops a cough, they should cut back on smoking and try harder to switch to alternate forms.
    5. Finally, as we study cannabis strains in the community, let’s add “tar” to the list. Perhaps we can begin to grow strains with less and less tar?

  18. I always laugh at any study involving the smoking of marijuana or anything else. It is usually bad to inhale smoke… of any kind!
    As the story suggests, it is wonderful to VAPORIZE! And further, what is always so funny about marijuana prohibition is the focus on smoking (and how bad it is) when there exists numerous alternative ways of consuming this wonderful plant, specifically the VAPORIZER!

  19. How do you view the politicians that govern your life in your area? “Politicians are afraid of taking on controversial issues,” as stated by MPP’s Dan Bernath. Blogs like this one on lung problems are what I’d call, “Filling in dead time, periods of slow advancement for MJ issues to us interested in activism for MJ.” This results in long, very long waiting periods to get the approval of legalizing marijuana. At age 50, I’d rather have a short war between MJ advocates and opponents. Don’t laugh, I’ll bet we’d win! The only reason there hasn’t been a retaliation of a real war from MJ advocates is, “you’ve all been lead to believe a peaceful war is a smarter approach.” Contact me when your tired of being laughed at over and over again. Let’s at least come up with alternatives where politicians can’t turn their backs to us and ignore the will of so many respectable citizens. If we can continue to live as cowards, pleading with those who degrade us to the core of our existance, marijuana advocates will loose every chance we have to change MJ laws in the near future. Fight now or forever hide your pot.

  20. This has got to be one of the most idiotic statements I’ve seen in a while.

    Calvina Fay, executive director of Drug Free America Foundation, strong disagrees. “I can’t understand how anyone thinks that legalizing drugs is going to stop the violence,” she said. “To think that drug traffickers in Mexico are going to fall in line and pay their taxes if marijuana is legalized is just flawed thinking.”

    Yes Calvina Fay ,It will stop violence. People wont fight over it if they cant make the money ,and NO the cartels wont pay taxes,thats cause with legalization Americans can get it right here from a nieghbor or grow it him self. The cartels wont be getting American cash for Marijuana there for wouldnt have the money to pay taxes on anyway. Besides I wouldn’t pay an AMerican tax if I was living in another country anyway, How would you think they would. How stupid is that?

  21. Growing up in a household with a cigarette smoker, I suffered terrible childhood asthma into my late teens. I never again had asthma after taking up smoking marijuana. It seems counter-intuitive, but the correlation is just too strong to ignore for me. Despite having 3 chronic diseases, I have no problem with my lung capacity nor expending energies during exercise. Just the smell of cigarettes makes me feel ill, and I have no issues with marijuana smoke. But, it hasn’t been “doctored up” with Lord only knows like the cigarettes. Marijuana is a blessing from above in its natural glory.

  22. I just dont get are theses people, these drug free nazis, such idiots. Name one person ever that has died from marijuana overdose…ill wait….thats right no one. These type of people that fight against issues such as this, legalizing marijuana, gay marriage, etc…they just want to bitch. I guess thats just how some people are. LEGALIZING MARIJUANA can only bring about GREAT CHANGE. Its nothing to be scared of, I just wish everyone could see that…..

  23. I have Emphysema & COPD. I Vap, my Doctor told me too, and now my breathing is WAY, 80% better. I do believe you will die if you smoke cigs. I smoked, 48 yrs. of my life. I will die soon enough. I am advocating for folks to stop smoking cigarettes, and SMOKE- VAPORIZE MORE POT!!!!!!

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