Cannabis and Lung Health: What to Know

Cannabis and Lung Health: What to Know

Posted by Kaitlin Domangue on

As it stands, there’s conflicting research about cannabis and our lung health. Will smoking cannabis harm the lungs? Is it the same as tobacco? It’s a legitimate question, so let’s dive into what we know about cannabis and lung health. 

Comparing cannabis’ and cigarettes’ impact on the lungs

We all know smoking cigarettes damages our lungs, even cigarette smokers themselves. There are active campaigns, educational platforms, and other resources dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of cigarettes and how to quit smoking them. In 1970, President Richard Nixon even signed legislation banning cigarette ads on TV and radio after health experts sounded the alarm about their dangers. However, cannabis and cigarettes are very different from each other. 

According to the CDC, as it stands, smoking cigarettes is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, killing more than 480,000 Americans every single year. An estimated 14% of American adults, or 34.1 million, were cigarette smokers in 2019. The United States forks out an estimated $300 billion per year on smoking-related illnesses, including nearly $170 billion in direct medical care for adults and $156 billion in lost productivity. That’s a lot of lives lost and a lot of dollars spent. 

The scary statistics about smoking cigarettes are enough for us to wonder if cannabis is the same way. We’re commonly told, “any amount of smoke over time will cause damage, tobacco or not”, but is that really true for cannabis and lung health? 

Black and white photo of a girl smoking a cigarette to demonstrate the impact of nicotine on lung health

Studies show cannabis might not affect lung health like once believed

If you ask mainstream experts, cannabis smoke adversely affects our lung health, but existing research suggests that might not be the case. Carcinogens are often cited as a concern when it comes to smoking cannabis, but this study published in the European Respiratory Society says otherwise. The study admits they don’t know why cannabis smoke isn’t carcinogenic, but it appears it’s not. Researchers working on the study conclude the plant’s anti-inflammatory properties might play a role.

Another piece of research from the Harm Reduction Journal compares cannabis and cigarette smoke. The study arrives at the same conclusion as the one from the European Respiratory Society: cannabis and tobacco smoke are not equally carcinogenic. “In conclusion, while both tobacco and cannabis smoke have similar properties chemically, their pharmacological activities differ greatly. Components of cannabis smoke minimize some carcinogenic pathways whereas tobacco smoke enhances some.” 

Following this groundbreaking point comparing cigarettes and cannabis, the study actually states cannabis does have some carcinogenic properties, but the effects are mitigated because of cannabinoids. As you can see, the research is still mixed, but one thing we do know: cannabis and tobacco smoke are different and behave much differently in the body. 

Girl with a white tank top and dark hair smoking a bong filled with cannabis with yellow sunflowers surrounding her

Will vaping cannabis harm my lungs? 

If you’re still nervous about smoking, that’s okay. We recommend vaping flower. 

Let’s talk about vaping for a minute, though. You might remember the “vaping crisis of 2019”, as it’s sometimes referred to. Unfortunately, a lot of people were killed by vape cartridges in the summer of 2019 and as of January 2020, the CDC reported 2,602 confirmed and probable cases of death from vaping, with many more ending up sick and ultimately recovering. More specifically, these deaths were classified as severe acute respiratory distress syndrome. 

It’s natural to feel nervous when you hear something gut-wrenching like that. Should I stop smoking? Will vaping cannabis negatively affect my lung health? 

Before you panic, it’s important for us to make the distinction between vape cartridges and simply vaporizing cannabis flower. There’s no guarantee what’s inside a vape cartridge. It’s not whole flower, it’s usually a liquid, typically flavored with artificial ingredients. It’s manufactured somewhere but without proper labeling, there’s no telling where the products were made or the processes used. There might not even be any cannabis inside, despite what you’re told. 

The root issue isn’t even vape cartridges themselves. The problem was, a lot of illicit manufacturers were copying legitimate company’s packaging, fooling people into thinking they were the real deal. Instead of the safe practices used by real companies, black market products were unsafely thrown together in an attempt to reduce costs. 

Girl smoking weed on a grassy lawn

Vitamin E oil’s negative affect on our lungs

Each of these tragic deaths were linked to vape cartridges, but the exact ingredient or compound isn’t known. However, on November 8th, the CDC announced vitamin E oil as a “very strong culprit of concern.” A lung analysis of 29 victims in different states confirmed the presence of this substance, and states like New York and California confirmed vitamin E oil as the most likely cause soon after federal agencies gave their opinion. Another ingredient, called diacetyl, can cause a condition known as “popcorn lung”, or bronchiolitis obliterans. Diacetyl is a common ingredient in lots of e-liquids.

We say all of this to say: as long as you’re consuming cannabis flower from a source you trust, there should be no reason you experience anything like these unfortunate tragedies.

Girl preparing her VITAE glass to smoke cannabis

Vaporizing cannabis might be healthier for our lungs than smoking, according to some research

In fact, vaporizing cannabis flower might be even healthier than smoking, according to some experts. Vaporizing is different from smoking because the flower isn’t combusted. Instead, an electric vaporizer heats the plant material just enough to release the plant’s powerful cannabinoids!  Therefore, there’s not as much tar accumulating as there would be if you were to smoke. 

“The vapourizer raises cannabinoid levels in humans but does not raise exhaled CO levels. In short, vapourizers show promise for cannabis users who want to avoid pulmonary problems and prefer a more rapid onset than edibles provide,” reads a 2015 study published in the Canadian Journal of Respiratory Therapy, exploring vaporized cannabis’ impact on respiratory health. 

If you want to try vaporizing cannabis, pickup the G Pen vaporizer. It’s portable, discrete, and easier to handle than smoking. Note: the G Pen does have the option for concentrates. Don’t let what we said about the vape cartridges scare you. Like we mentioned, these incidents originated from illicit products on the black market. Licensed dispensaries are required to disclose and test their products, so as long as you purchase from a dispensary, you can take advantage of concentrates if you want to.

Keep in mind: just because vaporizing cannabis might not have a negative impact on your lungs, that doesn’t mean you won’t feel the effects. Some say the effects from vaporizing feel even stronger than smoking, but that’s primarily anecdotal. 

You’ll even notice the difference between flower that’s been smoked and flower vaporizing flower when you’re done. If you smoke, the flower is usually gray and dusty ash. After vaporizing cannabis, the flower will be slightly charred, but it won’t be ash. In theory, you could even put it in a pipe and smoke it after vaporizing. It won’t be as tasty or as strong, but it will work. 

Girl in a gray tshirt with a lighter

How do I safely smoke cannabis? 

All in all, if you want to smoke cannabis, keep additives to a minimum. Ideally, use glass to smoke. If you’re trying to avoid lung damage, especially avoid blunts as the wraps contain tobacco. 

Opt for organic, whole flower from the dispensary when possible. If you are a fan of concentrates, use caution and only purchase them from licensed retailers. There’s plenty of fake products on the black market, and as we mentioned earlier: not all of them are safe for consumption. 

Shop with VITAE Glass

Not sure what to smoke with? When you build a bong with VITAE Glass, you get exactly what you want and nothing you don’t. Choose a custom base, mouth piece, connecting pieces, and accessories that meet your needs. Our glass is easy to clean and our bongs are modular, meaning the pieces can be removed for easy cleaning, unlike traditional bongs in one piece. 

Every purchase made with us results in a donation to one of our favorite charities, like One Tree Planted, focusing on rebuilding forests in California and the Amazon. The goal is to plant one million trees before 2025, so buy a custom bong and chip in for change! 

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