Clearing Away The Smoke: Truth on Marijuana vs Tobacco
The facts about smoking cigarettes haven’t changed; it is generally recognized that tobacco use in all forms leads to greater risk of disease and adverse health effects, like cancer. Smoking tobacco and inhalation of second-hand smoke have been acknowledged as causes of cancer, especially lung cancer, since the US surgeon general’s warning came out in January 1964.
But even smokeless tobacco, such as chewing tobacco and snuff, have been linked to other types of cancers, gum disease, cavities, heart disease, and addiction in users (For more chewing tobacco facts and health risks, click here).
But what about marijuana vs cigarettes? Or marijuana vs tobacco in general? There is still widespread uncertainty among the general population about which is worse. Part of the problem is misrepresentation, equating marijuana smoke to tobacco smoke. Lung.org, for example, claims marijuana smoke contains “many of the same toxins, irritants and carcinogens as tobacco smoke,” and since marijuana users pull deeper and hold smoke in longer, they expose themselves to greater amounts of tar for each inhale.
Some of this might be true; however, the organization’s implicit critique of marijuana vs. tobacco remains remiss in the fact that cigarettes contain a synthesized toxic mix of 7,000 chemicals, at least 70 of which are known to cause cancer.
Meanwhile, the marijuana bud or flower, when smoked, is entirely natural and free of synthetic chemicals.
It has also been suggested that marijuana users absorb less tar and fewer carcinogens than tobacco smokers, because people who smoke marijuana actually smoke less than people smoking cigarettes.
A review in Nature Reviews Cancer journal reported that the active ingredients in marijuana, cannabinoids such as THC, work within the body to suppress tumor growth and thwart cancer progression.
The following review takes a look at some of the more recent scientific literature considering the question of weed vs tobacco smoke and their respective health effects. It should no doubt help to clear the air around the issue!
Marijuana vs tobacco statistics and studies
In one meta-analysis, which internationally pooled data and analysis from studies conducted in the US, Canada, UK, and New Zealand, researchers found little evidence of increased lung cancer risk for “habitual or long-term cannabis smokers.” The study used data from 2,159 patients with lung cancer and 3,000 controls.
However, the study’s researchers also pointed out that they could not totally rule out the possibility of some adverse effect in the cases of very heavy cannabis use.
In 2006, another study compared marijuana smokers with tobacco smokers and non-smokers. Researchers confirmed an association between marijuana use and increased tar exposure, lung irritation, abnormal bronchial mucous, and increased oxidative stress compared to other participant groups.
Although, in summarizing their results, the researchers found that “subjects with marijuana exposure failed to demonstrate significant associations between marijuana smoking and lung cancer after adjusting for tobacco use.” For medicinal marijuana, doctors will usually recommend their patients to vaporize their weed instead of smoking it through a pipe/joint/bong as it is a healthier method of use.