The chronic cough known as ‘Bong Lung’ might actually be persistent bronchitis.
After years of inconclusive data, science is beginning to show that heavy cannabis smokers may greatly increase their chances of lung issues. Researchers investigating “bong lung,” found an increased risk of bronchitis even at low exposure rates.
Cannabis is one of the world’s most widely used recreational substances, and the second most widely smoked, behind tobacco. While the evidence for lung damage associated with excessive cannabis consumption has always paled in comparison to studies done with tobacco, it’s not risk free.
Science is beginning to cast more light on the associated dangers as they pertain to lung health and cannabis use. Bong lung, as some call it, is actually a form of lung damage that may have severe consequences for heavy smokers.
Bong users often represent the hardcore segment of cannabis consumers. The heavy-hitting action of a bong can leave even the most experienced consumers in a coughing fit that lasts for a minute or more. While many are willing to pay the price to have their preferred method of medicating, a new study says that might be a good trade off.
What the Science Says About Bong Lung
In a new study published in the Journal Addiction (2020), New Zealand researchers from the University of Otago investigated the lung condition termed “bong lung.” It’s a study that involved thousands of subjects from around the globe. Researchers examined lung health in an effort to correlate any effects of heavy rates of cannabis smoking.
Findings include evidence indicating that smoking cannabis causes bronchitis, and may even lead to changes in lung function. Researchers uncovered that smoking cannabis appears to, “increase the risk of severe bronchitis even at low exposure rates.”1)Gracie, Kathryn & Hancox, Robert. (2020). Cannabis use disorder and the lungs. Addiction. 10.1111/add.15075.
Fortunately, they were unable to find convincing evidence that it leads to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. They did, however, uncover some additional alarming findings. According to the researchers, “cannabis use is associated with increased central airway resistance, lung hyperinflation and higher vital capacity with little evidence of airflow obstruction or impairment of gas transfer.”
No Lung Cancer Link
For years, many wondered whether smoking cannabis could leave the lungs susceptible to the development of lung cancer as with prolonged tobacco use. Thankfully, the researchers found no link between cannabis consumption and lung cancer. They say that it remains, “unproven at this time.” Although smoking any substance is not without risk, the pattern effects of cannabis are “surprisingly different from that of tobacco.”
The Extent of Lung Damage in Bong Lung
Bob Hancox, who headed the study, claimed that the condition known as bong lung may cause lifelong lung damage. Given the severity of the bronchitis that heavy smokers incur, Hancox claimed that these users might end up with badly damaged lungs for life. And that damage wouldn’t improve measurably, even when subjects stop consuming.
The findings that cannabis smoke may be damaging to the lungs is nothing new. A study published in Primary Care Respiratory Medicine (2016), also investigated the effects of cannabis smoke on the lungs. Researchers found evidence that, “chronic marijuana smoking is associated with respiratory symptoms.”
They went on to comment that there is also, “clear evidence that marijuana causes similar symptoms to tobacco smoking (chronic bronchitis) and produces similar large airway pathological features.”2)Ribeiro, L. I., & Ind, P. W. (2016). Effect of cannabis smoking on lung function and respiratory symptoms: a structured literature review. NPJ primary care respiratory medicine, 26, 16071. https://doi.org/10.1038/npjpcrm.2016.71
The Challenges in Studying the Effects of Smoking Cannabis
The effects of cannabis smoke on the lungs are hard to quantify for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it still remains illegal and unregulated in many jurisdictions. In such places, subjects commonly fear prosecution if they come forward. Basically, the science lags far behind its popularity, due to the years of prohibition.
Then there’s the fact that many cannabis consumers also smoke tobacco. While others, most notably Europeans, tend to mix their cannabis with tobacco. There are so many variables at play. Therefore, distinguishing what actually causes any observable illness makes the study of cannabis’ effect on the lungs extremely difficult.
Is There a Link to Vape-Related Illnesses?
Researchers at the University of Otago study claim that it’s not yet clear if there is a direct link between these new findings and the many cases of vape-related illness at the end of 2019.
Over two thousand people died in the U.S. alone. CDC investigators finally identified the likely cause as exposure to chemicals in poorly manufactured vaping products. Accordingly, the vitamin E acetate present in many THC-based vaping products was the chief suspect. Those affected showed signs of acute lung injury, including acute fibrinous pneumonitis, diffuse alveolar damage, and bronchiolitis.
An Alternative to Smoking?
Luckily for cannabis consumers, bong smoking is only one viable method of administration. Patients and rec consumers can use other, healthier, methods of consumption. Between tinctures, edibles, dry herb vaporizers, and topical creams, there are a myriad of ways to avoid the compounds that may provoke lung issues.
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|1.||↑||Gracie, Kathryn & Hancox, Robert. (2020). Cannabis use disorder and the lungs. Addiction. 10.1111/add.15075.|
|2.||↑||Ribeiro, L. I., & Ind, P. W. (2016). Effect of cannabis smoking on lung function and respiratory symptoms: a structured literature review. NPJ primary care respiratory medicine, 26, 16071. https://doi.org/10.1038/npjpcrm.2016.71|