As more states approve marijuana for medical use, its benefits – possible and proven – seem to grow like, well, weeds. The medicine, which comes from the cannabis plant, is used to alleviate nerve pain, calm nausea during chemotherapy, to treat glaucoma, and even manage Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“We know that there is an enlargement of the airways when people inhale cannabis,” says Albert Rizzo, Ph.D. pulmonologist and chief physician at the American Lung Association. “However, when you inhale smoke, you become active inflammation in your airways. ”
You need to weigh the dangers and possible long-term effects of this swelling with the possible benefits of marijuana.
It’s still smoking
When new benefits emerge that link marijuana to alleviating symptoms or improving certain conditions, “people somehow accept it,” says David Mannino, pulmonologist and medical director and co-founder COPD Foundation. But, he says, “our lungs are designed to breathe air and nothing else. “Because something is ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s safe.”
If you are both a tobacco and a marijuana smoker, you are more likely to have breathing problems and COPD. “The two practices of smoking tobacco and smoking marijuana are related,” says Mannino. “Many people who smoke marijuana also smoke cigarettes.”
A Canadian study showed that smoking marijuana alone does not increase the risk breathing problems. But heavy, long-term marijuana smoking can lead to a condition called “marijuana lungs”. Younger marijuana smokers have developed especially emphysema along with large bullae, air pockets that take up the space your lungs need for healthy breathing.
American Lung Association and other professional lung associations stress damage from inhalation of any product that is flammable or intended for combustion. They talk to people with breathing problems like asthma and COPD stick to “tried and true” respiratory medications prescribed by their doctor. These drugs have passed Clinical trials to show they are safe and effective, Rizzo says.
More studies are needed
Changes to federal laws that open access to cannabis from many sources will help spur much-needed research on how it affects the lungs, Rizzo says. Researchers must use cannabis products that are available throughout the community or are similar to those medical marijuana clinics provide. This will more reflect the effects they have on users, he says.
So far, 36 US states have approved cannabis for medical use. Fifteen states allow marijuana for general adult use.
People also inhale cannabis in different ways. “This includes different devices, different breathing patterns, different intensity and frequency of smoking that are difficult to distinguish in Clinical trials. ” says Rizzo. “We need more research.”
Vaping also brings toxins
There is so much difference between vaping devices, the way they are used, the ingredients and possible toxins in what you inhale. None of this has been well studied, Rizzo says. “Again, more research is needed.”
As for food, they do not smoke, so there is no evidence that they harm the lungs. But there is also no evidence that they are safe, Mannino says. One study found cause for concern over the largely untested, growing market for edible cannabis products. Variable or mixed strengths of edible foods have led to reports of mental pain, belly and heart-related side effects and an increase in ambulance visits.
“You may be treating one thing, but you are causing another constellation of problems,” he says.
Talk to your doctor
If you want to try marijuana because of a medical problem, consult your doctor first. Be sure to be honest and direct.
“The benefits and risks should always be discussed between patients and them health care a service provider, ”says Rizzo.