Will Smoking Weed Damage My Lungs?

By Melanie Graysmith

It’s well known that cigarettes are harmful to your health—particularly to your lungs, as cigarette smoking is linked to as many as 90 percent of lung cancers, according to the CDC. But what about weed smoke? Both tobacco and cannabis smoke have similar chemical properties, so can weed do just as much damage to your lungs as cigarettes? While the answer isn’t completely cut and dry and it’s not as equally carcinogenic as cigarette smoke, the short answer is yes, weed smoke can be harmful to your lungs. Here’s how.

Marijuana smoke and lung health

The American Lung Association cautions the public against smoking weed because of its risks to lung health, citing that “smoke from marijuana combustion has been shown to contain many of the same toxins, irritants and carcinogens as tobacco smoke.” Beyond the smoke itself, the ALA points out that the way weed is smoked differs from the way tobacco cigarettes are inhaled—and not in a good way. Weed smokers tend to inhale the smoke more deeply and hold it in their lungs for a longer period of time, leading to “greater exposure per breath to tar.”

The American Thoracic Society also cautions that smoke of any kind, including pot smoke, can cause bronchitis and COPD, which creates swollen air passages making it difficult to breathe. Smoking can cause bullae (large air sacs) to develop in the lungs, a side effect more commonly found in pot smokers under the age of 45. In more serious cases, ruptured bullae can result in a collapsed lung. For those who already experience lung issues such as asthma or lung disease, smoking weed can exacerbate those conditions.

Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker had a health scare in 2012 that he attributes in part to smoking pot. “They found that I had six ulcers, and I had a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which is basically from really extreme acid reflux or if you excessively smoked, your esophagus lining becomes pre-cancerous. ...I had this lump in my throat around the same time. My tonsils were three to four times the size they should have been,” explained Barker. “I used to love smoking weed. I would smoke weed at night if I had anxiety. I always thought I’d be able to do that for the rest of my life, but when your health is on the line, you don’t mess around. I love being a dad and I love playing music. I’m not trying to give up any of that.”

What about vaping?

Because vaping is a process by which the user inhales water vapor through an electronic cigarette or vape pen, many may be under the misconception that is a safe alternative to smoking weed through more traditional methods. Unfortunately, vaping comes with its own risk factors. First, remember that vape still produces smoke, and we’ve already gone over the negative effects of smoke on the lungs. Second, according to Jordan Tishler, MD, a medical cannabis specialist, “The little pen-shaped vaporizers that have become very fashionable and use cannabis oil should be avoided,” he says. “The cannabis in those devices is most often thinned with propylene glycol or polyethylene glycol. Neither of these are safe to heat and inhale.”

Additionally, a study found that vaping can lead to teen smoking and tobacco product use, and we all know how that turns out.

Is there a safe way to smoke marijuana?

The American Thoracic Society cautions that there is no safe way to smoke marijuana, and cautions that “it is likely that in frequent users (and some less frequent users), marijuana harms the lungs.”