Which Is Worse For You – Marijuana Smoke Or Tobacco Smoke?

marijuana lung cancer

(via karmajello.com)

There are a lot of people out there that think that marijuana smoke and tobacco smoke are the same, and that both are equally bad for you. But is that true? What does science have to say about the matter? More and more states are legalizing medical marijuana, but banning smoke-able forms of cannabis due to fears that marijuana smoke is the same as tobacco smoke. Minnesota and New York are examples of that. One of my heroes, Paul Armentano of NORML, recently wrote about this topic. Below are some excerpts from his article:

Writing in the Harm Reduction Journal in 2005, noted cannabis researcher Robert Melamede explained that although tobacco smoke and marijuana smoke have some similar chemical properties, the two substances possess different pharmacological activities and are not equally carcinogenic. Specifically, he affirmed that marijuana smoke contains multiple cannabinoids – many of which possess anti-cancer activity – and therefore likely exerts “a protective effect against pro-carcinogens that require activation.” Melamede concluded, “Components of cannabis smoke minimize some carcinogenic pathways whereas tobacco smoke enhances some.”

Consequently, studies have so far failed to identify an association between cannabis smoke exposure and elevated risks of smoking-related cancers, such as cancers of the lung and neck. In fact, the largest case-controlled study ever to investigate the respiratory effects of marijuana smoking reported that cannabis use was not associated with lung-related cancers, even among subjects who reported smoking more than 22,000 joints over their lifetime. Summarizing the study’s findings in The Washington Post, pulmonologist Dr. Donald Tashkin, Professor Emeritus at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, concluded: “We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use. What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect.”

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). Assessing marijuana smoke exposure and lung health in a large representative sample of U.S. adults, age 18 to 59, they maintained, “The pattern of marijuana’s effects seems to be distinctly different when compared to that of tobacco use.” Subjects had inhaled the equivalent of one marijuana cigarette per day for 20 years, yet did not experience FEV1 decline or deleterious change in spirometric values of small airways disease.

While tobacco smoking is recognized as a major risk factor for the development of COPD – a chronic inflammation of the airways that may ultimately result in premature death – marijuana smoke exposure (absent concurrent tobacco smoke exposure) appears to present little COPD risk. In 2013, McGill University professor and physician Mark Ware wrote in the journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society: “Cannabis smoking does not seem to increase risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or airway cancers… Efforts to develop cleaner cannabinoid delivery systems can and should continue, but at least for now, (those) who smoke small amounts of cannabis for medical or recreational purposes can breathe a little bit easier.”

As you can see, marijuana smoke is not as harmful as tobacco smoke. It’s not a matter of opinion. It’s a scientific fact based off of the studies and evidence listed above. Patients should explore using marijuana in various forms and via various consumption methods and stick with what works for them. Patients shouldn’t refrain from smoking marijuana if the reason for refraining is because the patient thinks that smoking marijuana is the same as smoking tobacco, because it definitely is not.


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  • Byrond2

    Major tobacco carcinogens are TSNA’s, or Tobacco-Specific Nitrosamines, which are formed from nicotine on drying tobacco by bacterial action. Cannabis and of course other plants don’t and can’t have these very potent carcinogens.

  • PhDScientist

    Everyone who cares about this issue should study the work of Manuel Guzman. Years ago, he asked a simple question — “Why didn’t smoking Marijuana cause Cancer in rats?”

    After all, Marijuana smoke contains benzo(a)pyrene which breaks P53.

    There had to be one or more extremely powerful anti-cancer agents in Marijuana smoke that counteracted the effects of benzo(a)pyrene, which by itself should have given the rats Cancer.

    The biochemicals in Marijuana work against Cancer in a number of different ways.

    Marijuana is anti-angiogenic, encourages apoptosis and autophagy of Cancer cells, and is both anti-proliferate and anti-metastatic,

    That’s incredibly exciting because it means that Cancer cells must develop multiple mutations in order to defeat the anti-cancer properties of the compounds that Marijuana contains.

    Please call the White House comment line at (202) 456-1111 and ask that the President get Marijuana removed from Schedule 1 IMMEDIATELY.

    Call every day and ask everyone you know to call everyday and to get everyone they know to do the same.

    Marijuana is a wonder drug for Cancer patients undergoing Chemotherapy. 82% of American Oncologists want their patients to be able to use it.

    That’s more than enough of a reason to re-schedule or de-schedule Marijuana, so Physicians in all 50 states can prescribe it for their patients on the same basis as every other medication.

    But the fact that Cancer patients around the world are seeing such remarkable results when using High Dose Medical Marijuana Oil Therapy (HDMMOT) and the rock-solid Scientific reasons to believe that there’s good reason to expect them make both re-scheduling or de-scheduling Marijuana and getting large scale clinical trials of HDMMOT going IMMEDIATELY a moral imperative.

    Please do everything you can to help out in this effort. This year 1.7 MILLION Americans will be diagnosed with Cancer and half of them will eventually die from it — after going through hell on earth,. Every American with Cancer deserves the right to have safe, legal, access to Medical Marijuana.

    Every. Single. One,.

  • MrPC

    Please don’t confuse us with science and research. We know it’s snowing outside, so global warming must be a fraud. We also know smoking cigarettes, pipes and cigars can kill you, so naturally pot must do the same. It’s common sense.

    • Please do not confuse us with your lack of education on the matter.

      Your “common sense” is only common to you.

      • saynotohypocrisy

        Turn on your sarcasm detector, I think.

        Actually before the studies showed no connection between smoking weed and cancer/COPD, I assumed that smoking enough weed probably could cause cancer. So did Dr. Donald Tashkin, so I won’t feel too stupid. It did seem like common sense back then, but it turned out to be anything but. Damn good thing too, considering the ferocity of the opposition to weed.

      • MrPC


  • michael_ellis

    Thanks, Johnny, for this concise and useful summary. It will make a nice rebuttal to some of the more idiotic comments one sees online in various media fora.

  • Duncan20903

    I’m a firm believer in not purposefully inhaling carbon monoxide. There are just too many delivery methods which don’t require inhaling CO to bother with the ones that do. In addition to the vaporizer, there is oromucosal delivery via tincture or gel strip, infused edibles/liquids, eye drops or suppositories.

  • CyZane

    22,000 joints over a lifetime is a very small quantity when spread over a few decades. The authorities tell us that ” (tobacco) smoking related” illnesses appear after 20 years of heavy smoking. That would represent approx. 150,000 cigarettes. If marijuana was smoked at 20 – 25 joints per day like the average tobacco smoker smokes, we might be observing the exact same lung problems as tobacco smokers. Let’s please compare apples with apples. Moderation is the key whether for tobacco or marijuana no matter what they want you to believe about tobacco.

    • Byrond2

      But smoking only 100 cigarettes can result in cancer later in life. If you smoked a few packs 20 years ago, you better start vaping some high-CBD cannabis to counteract the cancerous cells.

      • CyZane

        100 cigarettes in a lifetime will do you in? Oh puhleez ! If you believe this about tobacco even when you observe that the heavy smoking baby boomers is the generation that will have live the longest of all times, you’ll believe anything, including the film Reefer Madness on marijuana back in the 50’s. (look it up).

        Here’s how many inhaled cigarettes it takes on average before and if a tumor develops :

        ”The average number of smoked cigarettes per day is quite low,less than 10 cigarettes, so that the total average number of smoked cigarettes is 158,045,well under 280,000 which is considered the cut-off point in many studies of when tumors are noticed. ”

        Enormous difference between 100 cigarettes that the propaganda wants you to believe can cause cancer and 280,000 cigarettes which is the average cigs smoked before a tumor develops, you must admit.

        Look up :
        Smoking and longevity: an incompatible binomial?

        • Byrond2

          This is from a study. 100 cigarettes is when the risk begins, it’s not that you will get cancer. If you’re exposed to a potent carcinogen like tobacco, it can damage your DNA, which can lead to cancer later in life. And lung cancer is only one of many cancers and diseases that tobacco causes, such as heart disease and strokes, as well as cancer of the mouth and throat. Tobacco and alcohol are the top causes of oral cancer.

          • CyZane

            If you’re going to assess risk this way, let me tell you that the risk begins as soon as you’re born. You don’t have to smoke 100 cigarettes for it to begin. But if you’re going to parrot the anti-tobacco propaganda all I can say to you is that critical thinking is very selective in your case. Continue believing that because one smoked 5 packs of cigarettes when they were 16 and died of a heart attack or a pancreatic or lung cancer at 80 it is the hundred cigarettes that did it. There is not much more I can say to you except that if you have fallen for the absurd political propaganda against tobacco, you shouldn’t act too surprised when others fall for the anti-marijuana propaganda.

          • Byrond2

            Look up why processed meats like bacon must have ascorbic acid or sodium erythorbate to neutralize nitrosamine formation from added nitrates. Then look up TSNA’s, or Tobacco-Specific Nitrosamines. These substances do cause cancer in very small amounts. Yes they do. Heart disease is caused by different mechanisms. Smoking tobacco also causes vertebral disc deterioration. But through different mechanisms.

    • Betsy

      I have never heard of anybody smoking that many joints a day. Smoking that much weed you would almost stop feeling the high. Because every time you smoke after you have already smoked makes the effects last a smaller amount of time than they did before. That’s an insane amount of weed.

  • Rachel Garland ✨

    Right on Johnny! As someone that has lost a loved one to lung cancer from tobacco use, this blog hit home. Marijuana smoke is NOT as harmful as marijuana smoke and it’s not just an opinion, it’s a scientific fact. Thanks for spreading truth.

  • john chuksorji

    great.. I have something similar in my blog. marijuanerolife.com

  • Spike Valentine

    Well, you don’t seem to understand cancer… All smoke is bad for you, regardless of the source (and this extends to vaporizers) because it is mostly the hot air that causes the damage that will cause a reaction in your body (cancer is caused by your own body when responding to injuries and such).

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