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Lungs take a hit with pot smoke, UCLA study says

Multiple studies have linked smoking marijuana to lung damage and respiratory problems; Valley students weigh in.

By Mickie Shaw, Multimedia Editor

Marijuana, the most popular of illegal drugs, is now legal in several U.S. states for medical and recreational purposes, including in California, and while cannabis has many medicinal uses, smoking weed has damaging effects on a smoker’s lung health.

Cannabis is smoked with pipes, bongs, paper-wrapped joints, blunts and other devices that heat or vaporize it. Users prefer smoking because it has a faster effect than eating it in various kinds of foods. But studies have shown smoking weed affects the lungs adversely and has properties similar to smoking cigarettes. It can also cause respiratory problems.

A study conducted by Dr. Donald Tashkin at UCLA found marijuana smokers inhale more toxins than tobacco smokers because they inhale deeper and hold their breath four times longer than tobacco smokers.

“Marijuana smoking deposits [in the lungs] significantly more tar and known carcinogens within the tar,” said Dr. Tashkin.

According to a University of Washington report from their Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, the deeper and longer inhalation and the higher burn temperature results in five times the carbon monoxide concentration, three times the tar, and the retention of one-third more tar in the respiratory tract as compared to tobacco. Plus, higher amounts of ammonia and hydrogen cyanide have been found in marijuana smoke, as opposed to tobacco.

Long-term marijuana smoking damages the respiratory tract.

“It has the same respiratory irritants and carcinogens as tobacco smoke,” said Sonia Nodal, Clinical Supervisor/Physician Assistant at the Valley College Student Health Center. “Marijuana smoke acutely irritates the airways producing cough, phlegm, inflammation and even wheezing.”

Heavy cannabis smoking has also been linked to bullous lung disease, air pockets in between the lungs and the lungs and chest wall, which can grow in size and cause shortness of breath. It also causes more mucus to form in the lung.

The incidence of chronic bronchitis is also higher in weed smokers than non-smokers. Smokers also have a higher rate of doctor visits for respiratory problems than non-smokers. Smoking pot is also shown to lower the bodies immune system and its ability to fight disease in people with compromised immune systems from disease or immune-suppressing drugs.

Water devices like bongs offer no protection from the downside of smoking weed. They have been shown to have the same amount of tar and do not reduce the risks associated with inhaling the smoke.

Vaporizers are advertised to be a safer method of smoking with lower levels of tar than cigarettes and fewer respiratory symptoms reported by users. However, vaping has been shown to release ammonia, which when inhaled can cause irritation as well as asthma and bronchial spasms.

The American Lung Association warns against cannabis second-hand smoke because it has many of the same carcinogens and toxins as inhaled marijuana smoke and in similar amounts. The smoke itself can also raise the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Smoking cannabis is the most popular among young people including teenagers. But, the dangers of smoking cannabis is not well known.

Zpour Tinkjian, an 18-year-old studio art major at Valley and a non-smoker, said, “all I know most about is hallucinations and the whole read eye situations, where [smokers] wear shades.”

Some students aren’t too concerned about the effects. Steven Williams, a 30-year-old mechanical engineering student, is nonchalant about the dangers.

Williams said, “This is something I enjoy, and there might be health risks. There is not going to be health risks tomorrow, and there’s not going to be health risks in ten years. There’s going to be health risks in 35 years. Who knows what I am going to be doing in 35 years.”


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