Differences Between Cannabis and Tobacco Smoke
All smoke is not created equal. So when it comes to debating the risks and rewards of cannabis vs. tobacco smoke, it’s important to know the facts. Despite Big Tobacco’s strident efforts to cover-up medical research into the harmful effects of cigarette smoke, Americans in the 1970s began to learn of the serious consequences of smoking tobacco.
Today, we know that long-term exposure to tobacco smoke is demonstrably harmful to health.
According to the United States Center for Disease Control, tobacco smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and chronic exposure to tobacco smoke is linked to increased incidences of cancer as well as vascular disease.
Tobacco smoke is dangerous. Appalling. In fact, there’s virtually nothing positive it does for human health.
Today, we know that cannabis is a powerful medicine. In some places where medical marijuana has been legalized, like New York, patients are prohibited from ingesting cannabis through inhalation.
Put otherwise; patients just can’t smoke it, and that’s because uninformed lawmakers fear marijuana smoke is as dangerous as tobacco smoke.
So the differences between tobacco and cigarette smoke not only matter for health reasons but the matter when it comes to writing the laws on pot.
Writing in the Harm Reduction Journal in 2005—so certainly not the most recent research—noted cannabis researcher Robert Melamede explained that although tobacco smoke and marijuana smoke have some similar chemical properties, the two are not equally carcinogenic.
Specifically, he showed that because marijuana smoke contains many cannabinoids, which have a kind of anti-cancer property, it likely exerts “a protective effect against pro-carcinogens that require activation.”
So cannabinoids minimize carcinogenic potentials while tobacco smoke significantly enhances them, Melamede concluded.
But what about the simple effects on pulmonary strength—simply put, how well your breath? Do cannabis smokers cough up along when exerting themselves, like cigarette smokers tend to do?
Current research suggests not. According to a 2015 study conducted at Emory University in Atlanta, the inhalation of cannabis smoke, even over extended periods of time, is not associated with detrimental effects on pulmonary function, such as forced expiratory volume (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FCV).
In short, people who smoke weed regularly did not see any decrease of air they could inhale, or how effective their lungs were at aspirating that air.
The study was significant, with a large sample size. And after testing subjects with the equivalent of one joint per day for 20 years—that’s more than 7,000 joints!—the researchers found some interesting results.
Assessing marijuana smoke exposure and lung health U.S. adults, age 18 to 59, the study’s authors maintained, “The pattern of marijuana’s effects seems to be distinctly different when compared to that of tobacco use.”
So the bottom line is this: Based on this scientific record, it makes very little sense for lawmakers to impose bans on cannabis products intended for inhalation, such as those that presently exist for patients in Minnesota and New York and which are now being proposed in several other states (e.g., Georgia and Pennsylvania).