There’s no disputing that any form of smoking is worse than not smoking at all. Whether it’s tobacco smoke, campfire smoke or any kind of smoke, the inhalation of particles is never going to be healthy and will increase your chances of getting lung cancer. However, there’s good reason to believe that, unlike all the others, marijuana smoke doesn’t have the same damaging effect on your lungs. Here’s why.
Marijuana smoke: the facts
New research has indicated that weed smokers are no more likely to get lung cancer than non-smokers. For cannabis advocates and smokers, this sounds too good to be true, and it is a crazy anomaly, but let’s look at the facts and find out how you can smoke weed and maintain healthy lungs.
To understand why cannabis smoke is not as harmful as other types of smoke, we must look at Atlanta Emory University’s analysis of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHNES) data. Incredibly, the study revealed that those who had smoked cannabis daily for up to two decades showed no indication of lung damage.
The NHNES data was formulated by conducting a spirometry test on participants. These measure airflow during exhalation, to help determine lung capacity.
Two additional studies, from 2006 and 2014, concluded that smoking marijuana does cause a build-up of tar in the lungs, although despite this, the chances of ending up with lung cancer are still much lower than for those who smoke tobacco.
Heavy smokers should still be concerned
Although smoking marijuana doesn’t cause lung cancer per se, heavy smokers should still be concerned about their habit as, like we mentioned, it’s still unhealthy. Those tested who smoked a daily joint for more than 20 years have experienced a reduction in lung capacity, and long-term smoking does cause lung inflammation, particularly in the smallest air pathways. Such inflammation can eventually lead to asthma-like symptoms over time.
The best way for smokers to reduce risks to their health and still get the enjoyment of inhaling their chosen herb is to stop smoking and start vaping. Vapor is much cooler than smoke, and vaping doesn’t burn the plant matter, therefore you’re not inhaling carcinogens. Vaping heats your bud just enough to activate the THC, CBD and other cannabinoids and terpenes that produce the effects we all know and love.
Furthermore, smoking marijuana generally involves rolling up a joint – this means you’re smoking the paper itself too. Depending on the manufacturer, nasty chemicals or bleach may be used in production which can be damaging to the lungs. Vaping removes these dangers.
Why do cannabis smokers not get lung cancer?
This is the $64 million dollar question, and something that scientists, experts and researchers are yet to come close to a definitive conclusion on. Research has shown that many of the cancer-causing toxins in tobacco are also present in cannabis, making the apparent safety of smoking weed even more bizarre.
The Complutense University of Madrid has suggested that the reason is down to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana. They have found that, in animal models, THC has shown an ability to make tumor cells kill themselves. However, so far, they are the only research team to reach this conclusion, and there is no scientific evidence to indicate that the same cancer-killing reactions would occur in humans. With marijuana more readily available in the U.S. now, hopefully more studies will be conducted to improve our knowledge in this vital area.
The potential of CBD in destroying lung cancer cells has been investigated by a German university. The results were encouraging, with researchers finding that CBD stops cancer cells from spreading throughout the body. Although once again, there is nothing conclusive to suggest that any of the compounds in marijuana cure cancer.
Types of smoking
Everyone has their preferred method of smoking weed. Joints, pipes, and blunts have always been crowd pleasers. However, now that concentrates are in the mix, there’s a little more you need to know if you want to be a health-conscious cannabis smoker.
The cannabis industry is forever innovative. The classic smoking methods of joints, blunts, pipes and bong continue to be loved by marijuana enthusiasts. But recent years have brought several new cannabis products, notably concentrates (wax, shatter, dabs).
To help you work out which method you’re most suited to, let’s go over the advantages and disadvantages of each.
There aren’t really any downsides to vaping marijuana, which is by far the healthiest consumption method. Even better, vaporizing still gives you a great high. The lack of combustion and cooler temperatures allows you to really immerse yourself in the unique flavors and viscosities of each strain.
Smoking marijuana in joints, blunts and pipes
Before we go any further, bear in mind that the average lighter can reach almost 3,600 degrees F. You then proceed to inhale smoke lit by that flame within a second, whether you’re smoking a joint or from a pipe. This unfiltered smoke can cause inflammation in the lungs and lead to an accumulation of tar. If you insist on smoking, at least consider using natural rolling papers.
Smoking marijuana with a water pipe or bong
Bongs, bubblers and water pipes are preferable to joints as the water helps to cool down the smoke before it’s inhaled. The water also prevents ash and plant particles from getting into your lungs and causing tar build-up.
Not that all of the nasties are caught by the water, but they do a pretty good job. The bigger the equipment, the higher the percentage of particles that are filtered out. Adding ice to the water also helps to cool the smoke and rid it of toxins before it reaches your lungs.
Over the past few years, dabbing concentrates has become fervently popular as the greater potencies deliver an enhanced high. Many choose to dab butane hash oil (BHO). Thinking of trying dabbing? Here are a few tips.
Standard nails must be heated with a blowtorch. If you don’t want to buy an e-nail that heats up automatically, consider investing in a water-based rig and using crushed ice to cool down the smoke before you inhale it.
There are risks associated with inhaling butane, even in tiny amounts. Typically, the butane evaporates very quickly once it burns, but headaches and irritation of the mucous membranes can occur if you inhale too much. Should you not get on with BHO, try CO2 extractions instead.
Use high quality products
Avoid smoking low-quality herb if you can. Not just because mediocre flower or concentrates offer a disappointing high, it can actually be unhealthy to smoke low-grade product.
The onus is largely on you when it comes to choosing the right strains to smoke. The industry is largely unregulated and without good quality control, so unless your flower is being lab tested, there’s no way of telling whether your herb is contaminated.
What contaminants are often found in bad marijuana? Pesticides, fungus, miticide, fertilizer and even mold – if you find mold on your ganja, either return it to the dispensary you purchased it from or throw it away. Don’t smoke moldy weed – it could make you ill. Inhaling too much smoke from contaminated weed can cause irritation in the throat and lungs, allergic reactions and coughing.
Progress is being made
With cannabis now legal medically and recreationally in many states, consumers are demanding an improvement in the quality of marijuana available to them, and rightly so.
Many cultivators and dispensaries now conduct and publish lab tests. Preferably these will be carried out by a third-party, but in-house testing from quality brands tends to be pretty reliable.
How to keep your lungs in healthy condition
Just because you smoke doesn’t mean that you cannot keep your lungs in healthy condition. In fact, you can even “clean” your lungs.
How? Regular exercise, even if it’s only a few minutes a day helps limit the negative effects of smoking cannabis. Deep breathing is also considered very beneficial.
The importance of good breathing
When we breathe, our lungs take in oxygen. There are a few types of breathing, but the main two are shallow breathing and deep breathing. With practice, we can train ourselves to improve our breathing patterns.
Lungs require a constant replenishment of fresh oxygen to stay healthy. Shallow breathing, or when we take short breaths, only brings a small amount of oxygen into the lungs, leaving pollutants, allergens, toxins and stale air stuck in our organs. Fuller, deeper breaths allow for the entire organ to be consumed with fresh oxygen, removing the old air.
Stale, toxin-filled air can be damaging to our health if it isn’t taken out. In addition to harming lung tissue, bad air may also cause tiredness.
Give your lungs a daily workout
Lungs need exercise and movement every single day. When we’re sitting and resting, our lungs only operate at 50% capacity.
At rest, our lungs only operate at half the capacity they do when we’re up and moving. Therefore, it’s imperative we give our lungs a good workout through either light or intense exercise.
Cardiovascular and pulmonary physical therapy expert, Jennifer Ryan, PT, says that “20 minutes of consistent, moderately intense movement daily” is the minimum we should be doing for our lungs every day. If you’d rather not get in the gym, a brisk walk will suffice.
Cleansing your lungs from general particle build-up and harmful toxins caused by smoking is vital. Nobody expects you to go on a run after blazing up, but maybe carry out some breathing exercises after your smoke to freshen up your lungs. We clean our teeth after eating, so why not our lungs after smoking?
Great breathing exercises to keep your lungs healthy
Let’s go over a few common breathing exercises to try after smoking. These will help keep your lungs fresh, clear out any toxins and they may even reduce stress levels too.
Maintaining a good posture for these exercises is very important. louching on the couch isn’t going to cut it, as such positions prevent you from breathing deeply and utilizing your entire lung capacity. If you choose to sit down, keep your feet on the ground, your back upright and your chest open.
Lying flat on your back, with your arms relaxed and palms open is another good position for destressing and to carry out your breathing exercises.
Deep Belly Breath Breathing: to do this exercise, breathe as deeply as possible into your belly. When inhaling, raise your chest and navel – try inhaling and exhaling for five seconds at a time.
4-7-8 Breathing: the 4-7-8 method involves breathing in for four seconds, holding it for seven and then exhaling for eight. A technique used by those who suffer from anxiety and insomnia, 4-7-8 helps to calm you down and clean your lungs at the same time.
Diaphragmatic Breathing: Picture expanding your diaphragm when you inhale slowly and deeply with the diaphragmatic breathing technique. Exercising your diaphragm, a muscle situated at the base of your lungs, helps to increase lung capacity.
The Cleansing Breath Pranayama: You’ll need to stand for this technique. Position your feet a hip-width apart, and after breathing in, exhale using the power of your abdominal muscles. Keep your mouth open for the Cleansing Breath Pranayama exercise.
Clean out your lungs with these powerful herbs
Cannabis isn’t the only incredible, therapeutic herb on the planet – various other plants also help to promote good health, and have been used by civilizations all over the planet as natural medicines for thousands of years.
Celery is known medically for its antispasmodic properties, and ancient English and Chinese cultures use the plant as a home remedy for bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
Other herbs have anti-inflammatory qualities, help to calm allergic reactions, reduce coughing, kill harmful bacteria, break down mucus, limit cell damage and much more.
After vaping a bowl, why not fill another – or brew a herbal tea – with one of the following herbs: peppermint, ginger root, oregano, eucalyptus, peppercorn, horehound, orange peel, chaparral, lungwort, lobelia and elecampane.
If vaping isn’t for you, then maybe brew a marijuana tea or a Bhang Ki Masala Chai, an Indian speciality.
Cannabis research is far from finished, and it’ll be years before we fully appreciate all of the herb’s properties. Let’s not pretend that smoking marijuana for decades is healthy, but the evidence isn’t there to suggest it presents serious, consistent risks either. Lung cancer is one of the main arguments we hear from anti-cannabis activists, too.
Are you a long-term user of marijuana? Why not share your experiences with the plant in the comments section.