Cannabis & the Respiratory System

Our respiratory system is constantly at work, breathing.


Our respiratory system is constantly at work, breathing. The lungs pull in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. The cells of our bodies are always in need of fuel, even when we sleep, to ensure our heart keeps pumping and our brain continues to send the needed signals to maintain life, all of this requires oxygen. Our lungs are crucial for oxygen and energy processing and when their health declines, our overall health will also decline. This is why it’s always important to investigate the effects of any substance being used by means of inhalation.

Cannabis is no exception. While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting the plant improves health, it doesn’t mean ingesting it by any means can be healthy.

Working closely with the cardiovascular system, the respiratory system consists of the, lungs with their bronchiole tubes and alveoli, which allow for the absorption of oxygen by the blood as well as the release and exhalation of carbon dioxide. But we also have to consider the connections used to draw air into the lungs; the throat and trachea. But it’s the small sacs called alveoli that facilitate gas exchange with the blood, appropriately moving oxygen and carbon dioxide.

When we burn any substance and inhale it, we’re going to somehow harm either our throat or lungs. Smoke, which can be really hot air, also contains carcinogens from what is being burned or combusted. Carcinogens and burned debris aren’t meant to be inside our bodies – and both of these are created when we decide to ignite a material, setting it on fire before we breathe it in. The temperature alone from the fire needed to smoke product can burn our throat and esophagus, resulting in short-term discomfort or irritation and sometimes leading to further complications in the respiratory system such as airway inflammation, wheezing, a cough, or even bronchospasm.

However, using cannabis by other means or products, such as ingesting edibles or tinctures, tends to eliminate any problem that could arise in the respiratory system from smoking the plant.

A study published in 2016 noted that cannabis consumers have increased forced vital capacity, which is the amount of air that can be forcibly exhaled from the lungs after taking the deepest breath possible. Reasons behind this discovery remain unknown, but it has been proposed to be due to the fact that most consumers take deep inhalations when smoking cannabis and holding it in several seconds. This is unlike the common inhalation pattern of tobacco smokers.

More studies need to be done to fully understand cannabis’s effects on the respiratory system. However, it’s safe to say that smoking the plant isn’t the best way to consume it but it is certainly very common. If you’re planning on turning to cannabis for it’s medicinal value, many users suggest that you first try it as an edible, a beverage, or simply switch to vaping it instead of smoking the flower to avoid any problems from potentially popping up in the future. Unfortunately, vaping cannabis product may also become an issue by increasing the risk of developing “popcorn lung” which refers to the damage some vaping can do which creates a visible pathological phenomenon associated with it’s name.