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Is All Smoke Bad for My Lungs?

Emily Robertson
woman with difficulty breathing

Some patients need the ritual and immediacy of cannabis smoke, but is this the best way to go?

Cannabis consumption is constantly evolving: new tech, new strains, new medibles, new ways to consume. It’s actually tough, at the moment, to keep up with this ever-evolving market! But what we should always keep at the forefront of our minds is the cleanest possible consumption. What does this mean? Smoking brings to mind the dangers of the carcinogens found in cigarettes, but, do these dangers exist when inhaling cannabis smoke?

Cannabis is an important healing medicine, but doctors caution inhaling any hot smoke.  Cannabis and tobacco smoke are not equally carcinogenic by any stretch of any data set, but bathing your delicate lung tissues in super-heated smoke is a risk factor for lung damage. The culprits for potential damage are oxidized hydrocarbons, which come about no matter which organic material you are combusting.

child coughing from cigarette smoke

Cannabis and Lung Health 

But, hold up! This is where it gets interesting. A long-term study, released in 2012, followed 5,115 adults over 20 years to determine that not only is cannabis smoke less harmful than tobacco, cannabis users actually have an average of 1.6% improvement in lung function over non-users.

Other studies have found that THC is a powerful bronchodilator for the treatment of asthma and cystic fibrosis; it also reduces the symptoms associated with COPD.  THC is also incredibly adept at killing lung cancer cells.

Woman with Asthma at Doctor's Office

Still, hot smoke inhalation is not the cleanest cannabis consumption technique. It can lead to irritation too. So, while smoking bud (or flower) is the most commonly visible method of consuming cannabis, we can’t recommend it. There are alternatives when you need to kill pain quick and don’t want to wait for oil or medibles.

Vaping is a better way to go because the plant material is not heated to the point of combustion, therefore you won’t find these carcinogenic hydrocarbons milling about your lungs looking for an opportunity to take up residence. If you are vaping with a cartridge (instead of dry bud), you need to be very careful about the source. Some unscrupulous companies use cheap thinning agents that contain toxins and carcinogens that can make your vaping experience less than clean and healthy.

So, does cannabis help or harm the lungs?

The 2012 study, mentioned above, also cited individuals who experienced bronchitis and bronchitis-like symptoms from long term (read: chronic) consumption of cannabis via smoking. It’s hard to know. Certainly the anecdotal reports are that all is well in smoking land. The science says that this holds true for moderate smokers.

So, if you have high levels of pain requiring high volumes of cannabis, consider switching things up here and there. Cannabis oil, whether straight up or baked into medibles, is a perfect all day medicine. Smoking or vaping can help for breakthrough pain.

Which method works the best for your condition?

Emily Robertson

Emily Robertson has been writing freelance and contract work since 2011. She has written on a variety of topics, including travel writing of North America and the growing legalized cannabis industry across the globe. Robertson has a master’s degree in literature and gender studies, and brings this through in her writing by always trying to explore different perspectives. Born and raised in southwestern Ontario, Robertson moved to Glasgow, Scotland in 2016 to undergo her doctorate in Scottish Literature. She lives in the West End with her dog, Henley.

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