Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on January 4, 2023

Smoking weed has been the most common method of consuming cannabis for a very long time. The fragrant aroma of burning cannabis buds can be really tempting, but we also need to discuss its shortcomings. Burning any kind of substance releases heavy and toxic irritants, and weed is no exception, whether we like it or not.

That being said, smoking marijuana isn’t exactly 100% safe for lung health, but what exactly are the consequences? As a marijuana user, it’s normal to ask these questions, which is what we’ll cover in today’s article.

How Harmful Is Smoking Marijuana to Lung Health?

Over the years, we’ve learned a lot about marijuana. We know that its active ingredients bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain and cause all kinds of fun effects, and we also know that it’s effective for medical use. 

However, since marijuana is most commonly consumed through smoking, we need to know how harmful it can be to lung health, especially for people who want to obtain the medical benefits of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). Therefore, it’s important to know whether the dangers of smoking marijuana can override the benefits.

Due to the lack of conclusive studies on the effects of marijuana smoke, we don’t exactly know for certainty what short-term and long-term effects to expect from smoking weed. However, from what we do know, it seems that smoking weed can increase the risk of developing chronic bronchitis, which is an inflammation and irritation of the airways. 

Additionally, it seems that smoking marijuana causes coughing and increased phlegm production that could become a problem for chronic smokers, however, this issue seems to resolve with quitting smoking marijuana.

Are the Effects of Marijuana Smoking Worse Than Cigarette Smoking?

Marijuana hasn’t been studied as extensively as tobacco due to it being illegal for so long. What we know of cigarette smoke is that it’s filled with carcinogens that can increase the risk of lung cancer, but can the same be said about marijuana smoke?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that cannabis smoke contains many of the same volatile chemicals and tar as tobacco smoke, but whether it leads to an increased risk of lung cancer or not isn’t clear as the studies done so far have given mixed results. Many marijuana smokers mix the weed with tobacco, so it’s hard to draw the line between the effects of the two. More detailed studies are needed in order to get conclusive results.

Moreover, marijuana and tobacco are consumed in different ways. Marijuana smoke is inhaled deeper but is also consumed less frequently than cigarettes.

Is There a Connection Between Marijuana Smoke and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a common complication of smoking cigarettes. In people with COPD, there is a gradual impairment of lung function with respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, productive cough, and chest tightness. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema (having excess air in the lungs) also fall in the COPD category.

The link between tobacco smoke and COPD is already established, but the same can’t be said about cannabis smoking. There have been some studies that suggest that smoking weed mixed with tobacco may lead to COPD, but smoking weed alone didn’t seem to pose the same risk. (Ribeira, 2016)

What About Secondhand Marijuana Smoke?

Secondhand smoke is a common concern for non-smokers, especially in the context of drug testing. Just like secondhand tobacco smoke, secondhand marijuana smoke also contains the same toxins and irritants that are inhaled when you smoke weed. Therefore, inhaling secondhand weed smoke can be just as harmful as smoking a joint, especially in unventilated rooms and for children and vulnerable individuals who have respiratory problems. 

Is Vaping Better for the Respiratory System?

Many marijuana smokers switch over to vaping as it’s considered a healthier form of inhalation than smoking. And indeed, when you smoke a joint, all of that unfiltered smoke goes into your lungs, and while bongs filter out some of the impurities, there’s still a lot left because of the combustion. With vaping, on the other hand, there’s no combustion, and you can still obtain the health effects if you use it as medical marijuana.

Vapes heat the plant material below the burning point which enables the cannabinoids and terpenes to be extracted efficiently without releasing toxins. It’s the same thing when you vape pure cannabis concentrates. The only way vaping could be unsafe is if you vape e-juice that contains dilutants, such as propylene glycol, polyethylene glycol, or vitamin E acetate, as they have been connected with side effects such as serious lung inflammation.

If You’d Rather Not Smoke, Just Use Cannabis Differently

The good thing about marijuana use is that there are so many different ways you can consume it that don’t involve smoking. Today’s cannabis market is especially abundant with all kinds of products that you can take your pick. 

You can vape, of course, or even dab if your tolerance is high, and you can also switch to edibles if you want, or start taking capsules. There are also tinctures, and not to mention beverages, such as cannabis tea which you can make yourself. The market is ever-expanding, so if you ever decide to switch your method of consumption, you’ll find the next best thing, without a doubt.

Conclusion – Not Harmless, but More Studies Are Needed

While smoking weed has a lot of perks, we need to remain mindful of the consequences of smoking. Compared to tobacco smoke, the effects of marijuana smoke on the lungs haven’t been closely examined, so we’re hoping that future studies could shed some light and fill in the gaps we have right now. 

From the knowledge that’s available to us, it seems that marijuana could cause airway inflammation that can lead to some respiratory symptoms, but whether it can cause lung cancer and COPD, two conditions closely linked to tobacco smoke, is unclear as the results from the studies done so far have been mixed.

Therefore, we can conclude that of course, it’s safer to not smoke and consume marijuana in a different way as any burnt substance produces toxic chemicals that are best not inhaled, but we still need to know more.

Additional Sources

Chatkin, J. M., Zabert, G., Zabert, I., Chatkin, G., Jiménez-Ruiz, C. A., de Granda-Orive, J. I., Buljubasich, D., Solano Reina, S., Figueiredo, A., Ravara, S., Riesco Miranda, J. A., & Gratziou, C. (2017). Lung disease associated with marijuana use. Archivos de Bronconeumología (English Edition), 53(9), 510–515. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.arbr.2017.07.010

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  

Tashkin D. (2013). Effects of marijuana smoking on the lung. DOI: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.201212-127FR

Tan, W. C., & Sin, D. D. (2018). What are the long-term effects of smoked marijuana on lung health?. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne, 190(42), E1243–E1244. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.181307

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


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