Encouraging News on Cannabis Smoke, Vaping and Lung Health
Data supports its relative superior safety profile over cigarettes.
“But what about lung injury?” Questions such as this have been asked of both cannabis smokers and vapers for years. This issue became especially pointed during the EVALI epidemic of 2019, where both illegal and contaminated cannabis vapes and e-cigarettes were tied to the deaths of 68 deaths in 29 states as well as Washington, DC. However, two recent studies have pointed to good news that can dispel the anxiety behind such inquiries. Studies suggest that, for both cannabis smoke and vaping, when properly regulated, the sorts of life-threatening issues people fear are far less prevalent than they are with cigarettes for a multitude of illnesses — even EVALI (E-cigarette or Vaping Use Associated Lung Injury).
That’s not to say that these doctors gave something like cannabis smoke a clean bill of health. As you may know, doctors stress out over even wildfire smoke and its carcinogenic qualities. But for reasons researchers have yet to understand, the data continually supports its relative superior safety profile over cigarettes.
Safer Cannabis Smoke
These points were highlighted in a recent survey of data undertaken in the academic journal Medical Clinics of North America. Sifting through findings pertaining to smoked cannabis and its effects on pulmonary health, the researchers determined that while cannabis could cause bronchitis, it was not implicated in a variety of other lung injuries or diseases, most notably COPD, small airway injury or lung cancer. The researchers determined cannabis smoke to be “distinctly different from tobacco,” particularly in their safety profiles. “The data on marijuana contrast starkly with the consistent demonstration of injury from tobacco, the greatest legalized killer in the world today,” the paper determined. “Any possible toxicity of marijuana pales in comparison.”
The biological mechanisms for such data are still a matter of scientific inquiry. One paper cited in the recent findings noted several ways in which cannabis smoke ended up repressing the sorts of cell damage that was caused or heightened by tobacco smoke, such as tumor growth and cell migration, even though both smoke types contain many of the same carcinogens. It also helps that cannabinoid receptors aren’t found in respiratory epithelial cells, whereas nicotine receptors are. Since cannabis smokers can and do smoke both tobacco and cannabis, particularly in countries like Europe, it’s not always easy to separate out what substance does what in the bodies of specific people. But again, research such as a 2021 paper in Nicotine & Tobacco Research cited by NORML found, “Co-users and ET [exclusive tobacco cigarette] smokers demonstrated comparable levels of biomarkers of exposure to harmful constituents despite smoking similar amounts of tobacco. ECa [exclusively cannabis] smokers demonstrated lower levels of toxicant exposure for most biomarkers.” So in other words, if you’re just using cannabis, you’re relatively much better off in the long run.
Ever since COVID hit, there hasn’t been a whole lot of talk about EVALI, and thankfully so. Once biochemical sleuths fingered dodgy additives like vitamin-E acetate as the culprit, cases have dwindled down negligible numbers. The CDC’s page on it hasn’t been updated in two years.
Now a post-mortem on the epidemic has been released, and it turns out that legal cannabis programs may have helped keep people alive during that period. A recent paper in PLOS One looked into data from 13 medical, adult-use, and non-legal states, and found that while the prevalence of cannabis vapers in medical/adult-use states was higher than in non-legal states, there was an “inverse association” with this prevalence with EVALI cases. In other words, the more prevalence of legal cannabis vapers in the state, the less likely they were to contract EVALI.
While this is merely an association, previous papers have also theorized a link between legal cannabis programs and lower prevalence of EVALI cases. The current paper suggests the relationship between EVALI and cannabis vaping is “nuanced,” but indicates the relationship “is possibly reflective of access to informal sources of THC-containing e-cigarettes.” And at any rate, the continued regulation of cannabis vapes in legal states is recommended to keep customers safe. Apparently, they’ve done a pretty good job so far.