Is Marijuana Worse for You than Cigarettes?
Ask the experts
My friends told me smoking cigarettes was less harmful to your lungs than smoking marijuana. Is this true? Is one really any better than the other?
Cigarettes and marijuana both can damage the lung. In reality, cigarettes probably damage more tissue simply because most people smoke many more cigarettes than they do marijuana. If someone smoked a “pack or two” of marijuana cigarettes every day, like cigarette smokers often do with cigarettes, they would probably end up with a similar degree of damage to their lungs. It is also important to realize that cigarettes are not just paper and tobacco but also many chemical additives so that they burn “properly.” Marijuana tends not to contain these chemical additives, but may contain other equally damaging substances placed intentionally or inadvertently in the drug.
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People tend to smoke many more cigarettes than marijuana, so even if marijuana has more tar or other carcinogens, the difference between the two is more or less a wash. Both damage the lungs.
Vaping, Smoking, or Eating Marijuana
The safety and long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes or other vaping products still aren’t well known. In September 2019, federal and state health authorities began investigating an outbreak of a severe lung disease associated with e-cigarettes and other vaping products . We’re closely monitoring the situation and will update our content as soon as more information is available.
Over the past decade, marijuana laws have continued to change across the United States.
What was once vilified as a potentially dangerous “gateway drug” is now being recognized by many states (33 plus Washington, D.C., to be exact) as having medicinal properties that can help manage a range of health conditions, from anxiety and cancer to chronic pain and more.
Marijuana is now also recreationally legal in 11 of those 33 states. (Note that marijuana is still classified as illegal by the U.S. federal government.)
In states where marijuana is legal, it’s being sold mostly in three different ways:
- to be smoked
- to be eaten
- to be vaped
If you live in a state where marijuana is legal, you might be wondering how best to consume it, especially in light of recent federal investigations into the safety of vaping .
Here’s what we know.
For decades, health experts warned the public about the dangers of inhaling tobacco smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes.
For marijuana, some research suggests some compounds in it, known as cannabinoids, may have a few benefits.
One of the more well-known cannabinoids is called CBD. For this reason, some people believe smoking marijuana is less dangerous than smoking tobacco.
Cannabinoids, such as CBD, are different from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical in marijuana that gets a person “high.”
What about smoking?
Inhaling smoke of any kind — whether it’s cannabinoid-containing weed or tobacco or another substance — is bad for lung health, according to the American Lung Association.
Most marijuana users hold smoke in their lungs longer than tobacco smokers, putting them at greater risk for exposure to tar — which is harmful to the lungs.
Some negative health effects associated with chronic weed smoking include:
- air pockets between the lungs and lungs and chest wall
- chronic bronchitis
- excessive mucus production
- possible increased risk of infection in immunocompromised people, such as those with HIV
- possible increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections
- weakened immune system
What about vaping?
Vaping marijuana involves inhaling heated oil through a vaporizing device, often referred to as an e-cigarette. Vaping marijuana can also refer to using a vaporizer, such as a Volcano , to produce vapor from dried plant material.
Some people believe vaping is safer than smoking because it doesn’t involve inhaling smoke. But the reality is, when it comes to vaping marijuana, there’s much less known about the negative health effects.
The most recent research suggests vaping THC oil could be quite harmful to lung health. The greatest concern at the moment is the severe effects of inhaling vitamin E acetate. This additive chemical has been found in many vaping products that contain THC.
As of Dec. 27, 2019, nearly 2,561 cases of lung injury (EVALI) caused by inhalation of vitamin E acetate, or “popcorn lung,” have been reported in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories (Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands) and have led to 55 deaths during that time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) .
Some of the people affected by vaping illnesses include children.
The CDC recommends people avoid using e-cigarettes and vaping products, particularly those containing THC oil, because they’re likely to contain vitamin E acetate.
Early research shows vaping liquids and oils — even once — can harm your lungs. Because vaping is new and hasn’t been well studied, there could be harmful effects of vaping that aren’t yet known.
Some states with legal marijuana are proactively warning marijuana users that vaping liquids has been known to cause severe lung injuries and death.
To stay up to date on the latest vaping-related illness news, check the CDC website for regular updates.
Smoking uses dried plant parts or concentrates
There are several ways to smoke marijuana:
- One way is to roll dried parts of the flower into a joint using cigarette paper.
- Some people mix their marijuana with tobacco, so it’s a bit less potent (this is called a spliff).
- Some people use bongs or pipes to smoke.
- Sometimes people smoke more potent forms of marijuana than the flower, called concentrates. These include hash and kief.
Vaping uses concentrated extracts or ground dry herb
When people vape, they consume concentrated marijuana. It seems to be a much more potent delivery system than smoking. In other words, you’ll get more high from vaping than from smoking.
Vaping can be more intense
Researchers have determined that the effects of vaping marijuana are much stronger than smoking.
In one study , researchers found that first-time and infrequent marijuana users were more likely to experience adverse reactions from the enhanced delivery of THC caused by vaping when compared to smoking.
Both take effect fast
Both smoking and vaping have an almost immediate effect on the body. Their effects peak within 10 to 15 minutes.
Most experts recommend starting vaping or smoking very slowly, taking in a small amount at first and waiting 20 to 30 minutes before having more.
A note about marijuana strains
There are many strains of marijuana, each having slightly different effects on the body. Sativa strains are thought to be more stimulating. Others, called indica, are more relaxing. It’s worth noting marijuana strains can affect people quite differently. Just because a certain strain has purported properties doesn’t mean you’ll get those exact effects.
If you’re trying to untangle the sticky subject of marijuana today, let’s look at what’s known about vaping versus smoking weed.