Smoking tobacco has long been associated with lung cancer. When it comes to smoking marijuana, the evidence is more complex.
Smoking has always been linked to lung cancer, but scientists have never found a precise answer when it comes to the risk that comes with marijuana use. As marijuana slowly earns legal status and respect across the nation, it’s becoming more and more important for health experts to determine some of the risks.
One of the biggest questions people have regarding marijuana use is whether or not smoking it poses the same risks as smoking tobacco, which is one of the main causes of lung cancer. Discover Magazine spoke with several experts in order to paint a clearer picture on the relationship between the two.
“The unfortunate short answer is that we just don’t really know that much,” said Deborah Korenstein, chief of General Medicine Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Korenstein and some researchers analyzed existing data on lung cancer and marijuana and only found 25 studies on the matter. “There were problems with almost all of them that really limited our ability to draw conclusions,” she said.
Depending on the study, marijuana use has been shown to decrease, increase and have no effect when it comes to cancer risk. These results are difficult to obtain and studies are difficult to conduct, primarily because the drug is illegal on a federal level. Making matters worse is the fact that until a couple of years ago, marijuana use was seen as something bad, making people much more reticent when sharing their marijuana use with health experts.
While there were no definite conclusions, some links were found between marijuana smoke and chronic bronchitis. Still, there was no evidence that suggests that marijuana use increases the risk of lung cancer, which might be explained because of the marijuana itself or because marijuana is smoked with less regularity than tobacco is.
“If somebody smokes one joint a day, every day, that’s a pretty heavy [marijuana] user. But if somebody smokes one cigarette every day, that’s a really light user,” said Korestein. “Like a two-pack-a-day smoker — you can’t function in life if you smoke that much marijuana.”
More research is necessary in order to get a clearer picture when it comes to the risks and benefits of marijuana use. The more that legalization proceeds and develops, the better