Cannabis usage is on the rise among adults in the United States, in contrast to the diminishing prevalence of cigarette use.
Additionally, laws and regulations that regulate the consumption of tobacco and cannabis are heading in opposite ways.
More and more places are passing laws that make it illegal to smoke in public areas and set other restrictions on sales of tobacco products, such as outlawing flavored tobacco at the state level.
On the other hand, more states are moving toward decriminalizing cannabis for either medical or recreational use, and there are moves afoot to make exceptions for cannabis usage in laws prohibiting smoking in public places.
As a result of these developments, there will undoubtedly be a greater number of persons who are exposed to the smoke of cannabis. But how risky is it to inhale cannabis smoke directly or indirectly?
I am a primary care physician as well as a researcher in a state that has recently legalized the use of cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes.
During this period of increasing cannabis use and marketing, my coworkers and I were curious on how opinions regarding the relative safety of smoking tobacco and cannabis had evolved over the past few years.
When we polled more than 5,000 adults in the United States in 2017, 2020, and 2021, we discovered that a rising number of respondents felt that being exposed to smoke from cannabis was safer than being exposed to smoke from tobacco.
In 2017, 26 percent of people believed that smoking a joint made of cannabis was safer than smoking a cigarette on a daily basis. In the year 2021, more than 44 percent of people choose cannabis as the safer option.
People were similarly more likely to judge secondhand cannabis smoke as being “completely safe” compared to cigarette smoke, even for sensitive populations such as children and pregnant women.
This was the case for both cannabis and tobacco smoke.
Emerging research, in spite of these perspectives, raises concerns regarding the health implications of being exposed to cannabis smoke.
How well do scientific findings and popular beliefs about cannabis align?
Decades worth of investigation and hundreds of separate studies have established a connection between inhaling tobacco smoke and many forms of cancer as well as cardiovascular problems.
On the other hand, very few research have been conducted on the consequences of cannabis smoke over the long term. It is more difficult for researchers to examine cannabis because it is still against the law at the federal level.
It has been especially challenging to examine health outcomes that would require a longer period of time and greater exposure to emerge.
Recent investigations that looked at the link between cannabis usage and cancer or cardiovascular disease concluded that the studies in question were flawed for a number of reasons, including the fact that they followed participants for insufficient amounts of time, that they didn’t expose them to high doses of cannabis, and that they failed to take cigarette smoking into account.
As evidence that cannabis is safe to use, the fact that there have been no conclusive studies done on the potentially harmful consequences of inhaling cannabis smoke is used as a justification by many supporters.
On the other hand, my coworkers and I are of the opinion that this is a prime illustration of the well-known scientific adage that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
Both tobacco smoke and cannabis smoke include hundreds of different compounds, and many of the same carcinogens and poisons.
These substances have been identified by researchers. When tobacco and cannabis are burned, whether in a cigarette or in an electronic vaporizer, particles are produced that can be breathed deeply into the lungs and cause damage to the tissue there.
Studies conducted on animals demonstrate that exposure to secondhand smoke from tobacco and cannabis has similarly alarming effects on the cardiovascular system.
These include problems with the dilatation of blood vessels, an increase in blood pressure, and a decrease in the function of the heart.
Although additional research is required to evaluate the danger of lung cancer, heart attacks, and strokes posed by smoking cannabis, the information that is already available has caused public health officials to express worry about the matter.
Why is it important to have an opinion about cannabis?
How individuals feel about the safety of cannabis has significant bearing on how much of it is used and how the government regulates it.
Researchers who have studied cannabis and other narcotics have discovered that when people believe something to be less dangerous, they are more inclined to engage in its use.
Laws governing the medical and recreational use of cannabis, as well as other regulations, will be shaped by opinions on the drug’s safety.
For example, these opinions will determine whether the smoke from cannabis will be compared to the smoke from tobacco or whether exceptions will be given to laws prohibiting smoking in public places.
The fact that, unlike cigarettes, cannabis has been shown in scientific trials to have potential benefits in specific contexts adds an additional layer of complexity to the decision-making process regarding its use.
Among them include the management of particular types of chronic pain, the reduction of nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, and the stimulation of an increased appetite and increased weight gain in persons who are afflicted with HIV/AIDS.
It is important to note that the majority of these research did not use smoked or vaporized cannabis as their subjects.
When you Google cannabis, you will get millions of hits about the health advantages of cannabis; however, many of these claims are not supported by information from scientific studies.
People who are interested in learning more about the potential advantages and risks of cannabis should speak with health care practitioners or look for publications that give an unbiased picture of the scientific data.
I encourage them to do so. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health provides a comprehensive review of studies on the use of cannabis in the treatment of a wide range of medical illnesses, in addition to information about the possible adverse effects of using cannabis.
This post was first published on The Conversation, an independent, not-for-profit news website dedicated to sharing ideas and perspectives from academic professionals.
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Research conducted by Beth Cohen is supported financially by the National Institutes of Health and the Tobacco Related Disease Research Program.
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