A new study has suggested that smoking marijuana may be more dangerous than people think.
The results of chest scans suggest that marijuana smokers are more likely to have inflamed airways or emphysema.
Canadian researchers published their analysis Tuesday in Radiology. They compared chest scans from marijuana smokers with those of tobacco-only smokers, who were matched according to age. The researchers found that paraseptal Emphysema was twice as common in those who inhaled cannabis than it was in people who only smoked cigarettes.
Paraseptal Emphysema refers to a disease that affects the small air sacs in the lungs responsible for taking in oxygen as well as removing carbon dioxide. Dr. Giselle Revah, a cardiothoracic radiologist at The Ottawa Hospital, was a co-author of the study.
She said that “”when they are damaged, small holes in the lungs are created and gas exchange does not work as well.””
Revah believes that two factors could explain the higher paraseptal mortality rate among marijuana smokers. Joints are not filtered like cigarettes. Marijuana smokers inhale deeper and for longer periods than cigarette smokers.
Paraseptal emphysema is not as deadly as long-term tobacco smoking. However, it can cause a variety of distressing symptoms. Dr. Donald Tashkin, a UCLA pulmonologist, spoke of his experience with paraseptal.
Emphysema symptoms can include:
- Breathing difficulties when climbing stairs
- The sensation that one can’t get enough oxygen in their lungs.
- Consistent wheezing and cough.
- Mucus is a common reaction.
Tashkin stated that paraseptal emphysema may sometimes cause a collapsed lung which can prove to be fatal.
Emphysema cannot be cured.
Revah and her coworkers reviewed medical records from 146 patients who had undergone a chest CT scan to examine the effects of smoking marijuana on their lung health.
Revah and her associates searched the Ottawa Hospital records looking for marijuana smokers. Revah then determined which marijuana smokers had undergone a chest scan.
The team then looked for non-smokers as well as cigarette smokers, who had been given chest scans to compare them to marijuana smokers.
26 of the 56 people who claimed to have smoked marijuana provided information on the average daily amount. The majority of marijuana smokers (50 out of 56) also said that they smoked tobacco.
Ages 20-73 were the average age of marijuana smokers, while non-smokers were between 19 and 75. And tobacco-only smokers were between 50 and 71.
The analysis showed that 75% of marijuana smokers had some form of emphysema. This compares with 5% among nonsmokers and 67% among tobacco-only smokers. The researchers looked at patients aged 60 or older and found that 57% had paraseptal Emphysema. This compares to 24% in the tobacco-only group.
Higher rates of inflammation in the airways were also seen in marijuana smokers.
The results didn’t surprise Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos (a pulmonologist and director of the Tobacco Treatment Clinic at Johns Hopkins Medicine).
Galiatsatos stated that “”Chemicals and toxins”” will cause damage to the lungs on an ongoing basis. “”The lungs are not meant for smoking cigarette smoke or marijuana smoke.””
Galiatsatos stated that the research is limited by its small size and needs to be validated through a larger study.
“”All inhalation is bad, regardless of whether it’s tobacco smoke or marijuana smoke,”” Dr. Thomas McLaren, a Vanderbilt University Medical Center cardiothoracic radiologist, said.
McLaren stated that if you intend to use cannabis, this is not the best method. He also suggested edibles for patients with cancer.
Tashkin stated that a UCLA study on people who only smoke marijuana had found signs of chronic bronchitis, along with widespread pathological changes in their airways.
He said, “”So smoking marijuana causes some injury to our central airways.””