What Smoking Marijuana Does To Your Lungs

Is smoking marijuana harmful to your lungs? The answer is a little more complicated than a simple 'yes' or 'no.' But since marijuana is used by around 22 million Americans each month, it's time to dive into research that shows what effect the drug may have on lung health (via CDC). Here's what researchers have uncovered so far.

Smoking marijuana, in any form (joint, bongs, or otherwise), can lead to irritation and coughing fits, scarring, and damaged lung tissue. For those who smoke regularly, the risk of respiratory problems like chronic bronchitis increases, along with outpatient medical visits (via National Institutes of Health).

In one study, rats that inhaled secondhand marijuana smoke for one minute experienced poorer blood flow through their arteries for 90 minutes afterward. Author Matthew Springer, Ph.D. told Men's Journal that "while the effect is temporary for both cigarette and marijuana smoke, these temporary problems can turn into long-term problems if exposures occur often enough and may increase the chances of developing hardened and clogged arteries."

Smoking marijuana can damage lungs

Although links to cancer have been inconclusive, marijuana smoke also contains several cancer-causing chemicals, which are also found in tar that tobacco smoke.

Other studies indicate that occasional, low-dose use of marijuana poses a low risk. Dr. Stefan Kertesz, an associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, coauthored a 20-year study about the effects of smoking marijuana on lung health. He concluded that low-dose, non-addicted use "seems to pose a lower risk to lungs than the typical usage patterns of cigarette smoking" (via CBS News).

That doesn't mean it's problem-free. Kertesz is quick to point out that users "[shouldn't] assume that there is 'no' risk no matter who you are." A study of 1,500 college students found that more than 50% of them suffered from coughing fits and anxiety or paranoia after smoking weed (via Men's Journal).

So can smoking marijuana damage your lungs? Yes, but how quickly and severely is unknown.