The True Effects of Marijuana on the Lungs (Cancer Risks or No?)

No one can deny that smoking cigarettes increases the chance of developing lung cancer, but what about marijuana? Does smoking weed regularly increase your risk for lung cancer? Though researchers haven’t done as much study when it comes to marijuana effects on the lungs in comparison to nicotine effects, the American Lung Association has concerns.  They are cautioning marijuana users about smoking it because it can cause damage to the lungs over time and it may increase the risk of cancer.

What is Marijuana?

Marijuana, also known as weed or pot, comes from the plant Cannabis sativa.  The flowers of the plant are dried and usually smoked in hand-rolled joints, pipes, and water pipes called bongs. Today, they’re also becoming more popular in vapes.

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THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive chemical in pot, which is the mind-altering part of the plant. People have been using marijuana for many centuries, as it’s rather easy to grow and users report that it helps them relax, feel euphoric, and sometimes have a mild psychedelic “trip.”  However, in many parts of the world, the plant is illegal to grow and use.

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Effects Of Marijuana On The Lungs

When you inhale marijuana, the smoke can irritate the throat and lungs, causing some people to cough when they smoke it. The makeup of weed includes volatile chemicals and tar, like what you’ll find in a cigarette.  These chemicals in marijuana are what concern health officials when it comes to cancer or lung disease risks.

When marijuana is smoked, it can cause the airway to become inflamed and the lungs to become hyperinflated. The inflammation causes resistance in the airway, making it harder for air to get through. Health officials state that those who smoke marijuana regularly report that they come down with chronic bronchitis more frequently than those who don’t.

Some studies report that smoking marijuana regularly increases the chance of getting a lung infection like pneumonia. Others report that there may be a decrease in the immune system response.  However, when it comes to answering the question, “Does smoking marijuana cause lung cancer?”, the answer is not clear.

According to the U.S. Library of National Medicine, “Smoking cannabis has been further linked with symptoms of chronic bronchitis…Based on immuno-histopathological and epidemiological evidence, smoking cannabis poses a potential risk for developing lung cancer. At present, however, the association between smoking cannabis and the development of lung cancer is not decisive.”

Pot Smoking Vs. Cigarette Smoking

Just like cigarettes, marijuana contains ingredients that are considered carcinogenic, including double the amount of benzopyrene and three quarters more benzanthracene. It also contains more tar, nitrosamines, phenols, reactive oxygen species, carbon monoxide concentration, ammonia, and vinyl chlorides.

Actually, smoking marijuana causes you to experience more tar deposits (four times more) than cigarettes because you tend to hold the smoke in the lungs longer and inhale deeper. It also has a higher combustion temperature and when smoked as a joint, many people smoke it to a shorter butt length than cigarettes.

Still, despite a few independent studies that suggest that heavy pot smoking can increase cancer risks, the more controlled studies have not found an increased risk when it comes to marijuana smoking and cancer.

One factor to consider is that it’s typical for marijuana smokers to smoke less than cigarette smokers. The effects of pot last longer, so typically, you smoke less, whereas a cigarette smoker may be lighting up every 30 minutes or an hour.

Respiratory Issues

Regular marijuana smoking has been found to have a negative effect on the lungs. In 2011, a systematic review of research indicated that it causes injury to the cell linings of the lungs, which can cause you to experience a consistent cough, wheeze, produce phlegm, or experience acute bronchitis. (Howden & Naughton, 2011).

Air pockets can also form in between the chest wall and lungs and between both lungs. And, consistent smoking marijuana can weaken the immune system, making it more difficult to fight off illness or disease. Although there is no clear evidence that marijuana smokers experience these things more than those who don’t, reports indicate that they do show up at the doctor more often with respiratory conditions.

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What About “Vaping” Marijuana?

There hasn’t been a lot of research done yet on “vaping” marijuana. Health experts are concerned about this method, as it could very well cause similar respiratory health problems as those who use e-cigarettes. Though many think it’s safer to “vape” weed, the reality is that the vape devices have been said to emit ammonia, which can be inhaled by the person using the vape.  The ammonia can cause lung irritation, and it can also affect the central nervous system. (Bloor et al. 2008).

The Research

A study done at Washington State did not find an increased risk of lung cancer in marijuana smokers. (Rosenblatt et al. 2004).  Other lung diseases that have been concerning are bullous lung disease and pneumothorax, which is a collapsed lung. There has not been any clinical evidence that marijuana smoking causes these two lung diseases, but the theory is there. (Tam et al. 2006).

Also, it’s sometimes challenging to do studies specifically on marijuana smokers because many of them also smoke cigarettes. However, health experts have not ruled out that there is a correlation between chronic marijuana smokers and cancer.


The scientific research isn’t all that clear on the true effects of marijuana on the lungs. Despite some studies that have been done, there’s no definitive proof that marijuana causes lung cancer.  However, there are healthcare professionals that assert that chronic marijuana smokers may experience respiratory tract damage and may experience more respiratory infections.

Despite the lack of clinical evidence, many in the healthcare field do believe that those who smoke marijuana regularly may be at a higher risk of developing lung cancer. There must be more studies done to really evaluate the hypothesis, as research has been limited to date.

If you’re smoking marijuana regularly, or if you’re addicted to marijuana, know that there is a chance that this is affecting your lungs in a negative way. If you need help for overcoming marijuana addiction, there is treatment available. Reach out for help today and begin to walk your recovery path.

Start Your Journey to Recovery Today

Addiction is a complex disease that can be very difficult to overcome on your own. However, with help, marijuana addiction can be treated.  Our staff of medical and clinical professionals has experience in guiding people through the recovery process to a life free from active addiction. The road to recovery isn’t easy but you don’t have to go through it alone.

If you or a loved one is exhibiting signs of marijuana addiction, call the addiction specialists at the Palm Beach Institute at 855-960-5456 to learn more about treatment options.