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  • With the increasing legalization of recreational and medical marijuana in the United States, some people are concerned about the drug’s negative health effects.

    In particular, many worry that smoking marijuana could cause higher incidence rates of lung diseases, including lung cancer. 

    Marijuana & Lung Health

    Most people who use marijuana also called cannabis, smoke it through a pipe, bong, blunt, paper-wrapped joint, or other devices. 

    Cannabis smoke irritates your throat and lungs. That’s why people who smoke it often experience a heavy cough. 

    In addition, people who smoke marijuana usually inhale the smoke more deeply and hold it for longer than people who smoke tobacco cigarettes. Their lungs get four times more exposure to tar, which is a chemical substance that contains toxins and irritants. 

    Lung Problems Associated With Smoking Marijuana

    According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people who smoke marijuana face an increased risk of the following lung problems:

    • large airway inflammation
    • increased airway resistance
    • hyperinflated lungs

    All of these issues can cause symptoms like coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and fatigue. 


    Marijuana smokers may also experience symptoms of bronchitis more frequently than nonsmokers. Bronchitis is an infection of the tubes that carry air to your lungs. Symptoms include:

    • cough, sometimes with mucus 
    • shortness of breath 
    • wheezing
    • fatigue
    • fever
    • chills
    • chest discomfort


    Some studies also suggest that smoking marjuana may increase the risk of emphysema, a chronic lung disease that damages the air sacs in the lungs and causes symptoms like morning headaches, chest tightness, and trouble sleeping.

    Lung Infections

    In addition, smoking marijuana may decrease the body’s immune response against viruses and bacteria, increasing the risk of lung infections like pneumonia (along with infections of other body parts). 

    To prevent the above problems, some people, especially teenagers and young adults, start vaping marijuana instead of smoking it. 

    However, vaping marijuana is not a safe alternative to smoking. It’s been linked to a life-threatening lung disease called e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI).

    Does Smoking Marijuana Cause Lung Cancer?

    Smoking tobacco is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. Marijuana smoke contains many of the same carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds) as tobacco smoke. It also contains higher amounts of certain carcinogens, including 50% more benzopyrene and 75% more benzanthracene. 

    However, scientists have yet to find a link between marijuana and cancer, including lung cancer.

    A small number of uncontrolled studies have suggested that frequent, heavy cannabis smoking may contribute to respiratory cancers such as lung cancer, but better-designed studies have not found the same results. 

    Some researchers theorize that marijuana smoke poses a lower risk of lung cancer than cigarette smoke because its effects last longer, meaning most marijuana smokers take fewer hits of smoke than cigarette smokers.

    In addition, some studies suggest that cannabinoids (compounds found in cannabis that attach to cannabinoid receptors in the body) have anticancer effects. 

    The most well-known cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which can make you feel euphoric or “high,” and cannabidiol (CBD), which can make you feel relaxed. Some health care researchers are studying their effectiveness in cancer treatment.

    Other Risks Of Smoking Marijuana

    Although cannabis smoking might not cause an increased risk of lung cancer, it’s not necessarily safer than cigarette smoking. Along with the lung problems listed above, other side effects of marijuana can include:

    • trouble breathing
    • high blood pressure
    • increased heart rate
    • anxiety
    • paranoia 
    • hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t there)
    • problems with thinking, attention, and memory

    Also, about 30% of people who use marijuana develop some degree of marijuana addiction. 

    This disease makes you feel unable to control your marijuana use. It causes symptoms like tolerance (needing increasingly larger amounts of marijuana to feel the desired effects) and dependence (experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you don’t use marijuana). 

    If you or someone you love struggles with cannabis use, please reach out to an Ark Behavioral Health specialist to learn about our treatment options. 

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with the Use of E-Cigarette, or Vaping, Products
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - What Are the Risk Factors for Lung Cancer?
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - What are marijuana's effects on lung health?
    U.S. National Library of Medicine - Cannabinoids in cancer treatment: Therapeutic potential and legislation
    U.S. National Library of Medicine - Marijuana abuse and bullous emphysema

    Medically Reviewed by
    Davis Sugar, M.D.
    on July 6, 2022
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