Let’s face it: if you want to keep your lungs healthy, smoke is bad. Yet, when it comes to marijuana’s effect on your lungs, that simple fact comes with a huge and complicated “BUT…”
The number one risk of inhaling smoke into your lungs is lung cancer. Be it smoke from tobacco or from a campfire, ashen plant particles in your lungs are never good.
Yet, somehow, this fact fails to hold true for weed smokers. Is this a natural anomaly? Well, kind of. Recent studies show that regular cannabis users are as likely to get lung cancer as the average person.
Weird, right? How is that possible? Well, we’ve got the scoop. Here’s all you’ve ever needed to know about the effects of smoking marijuana, and how to keep your lungs healthy while doing it:
The Bizarre Truth About Cannabis Smoke
Earlier this year, researchers at Atlanta’s Emory University analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Their study found that marijuana users who smoked one joint a day for up to 20 years did not show signs of lung damage.
The New Magic Number?
A Joint A Day Keeps The Doctor Away.
These results were found by studying data from a type of breathing test that measures airflow as you exhale. This test is called a spirometry test in the medical world.
But, wait! There’s more.
Bad News For Heavy Smokers:
While cannabis and lung cancer don’t go hand-in-hand, heavy smokers still have some risks to worry about:
- Trouble Exhaling – Heavy smokers that crossed the joint-a-day for over 20 years threshold lost some of their capacity to make full, forced exhalations.
- Inflammation – Long-term, heavy smokers also had more inflammation in the small air pathways in the lungs. This can cause asthma-like symptoms later in life.
These risks are reduced when you vaporize instead of smoke herb. While it may seem obvious, it’s easy to forget that when you smoke weed, you’re breathing hot, smoldering plant materials into your body. Vapes use just enough heat to activate the cannabinoids in your flower or wax. At the same time, they avoid the itchy, inflaming burn associated with weed that’s been roasted a little too hot.
Rolling papers and the products you use to smoke may also be to blame for some of the lung irritation. Rolling papers may be processed with bleach or other chemicals, damaging your lung tissue. Switching to a vape would avoid all of these risks as well.
But…Why Don’t Weed Smokers Get Lung Cancer?
Doctors, researchers, and scientists are still puzzled about why marijuana smoke is not linked to cancer. It’s been recorded for some time now that marijuana smoke contains many of the same cancer-causing toxins as tobacco.
The odd absence of tumors might be explained by THC, the primary psychoactive in weed. Research coming out of Spain’s oldest university, the Complutense University of Madrid, has shown that THC causes tumor cells to destroy themselves in animals.
No official studies have yet been approved to test THC’s power as a true tumor-killer in humans. Though, fortunately, there’s hope in animal testing. In animal models, THC both slowed and helped prevent the growth and progression of tumor growth.
Another study from a German University tested the effects of cannabidiol CBD on lung cancer cells. The results were quite exciting: CBD may help prevent cancers from moving around the body. That is to say, it prevents cancer cells from infecting other cells.
The authors even went as far as suggesting clinical trials using CBD as a treatment for lung cancer.
Findings like these may point to why weed smoke doesn’t cause lung cancer. Can a substance cause cancer and also prevent it at the same time? Only time and research will tell.
Different Smokes for Different Folks
Everyone has their preferred method of smoking weed. Joints, pipes, and blunts have always been crowd pleasers. However, now that concentrates are in the mix, there’s a little more you need to know if you want to be a health-conscious cannabis smoker.
Protecting your lungs starts with knowing the pros and cons of different smoking methods.
Using a vape is the healthiest way of consuming cannabis by smoking. Because vaporizers don’t put direct fire onto the herb, you’re able to get a nice inhale of vapors while mitigating many of the harmful impacts of inhaling hot plant material.
Joints & Pipes
There’s one thing you need to remember before you light up: your standard Bic Lighter can reach a temperature of 3,590.6 degrees F (1,977 C). That. Is. Hot. Smoking a joint, pre-roll, or a pipe means taking a very hot flame directly to your weed. You inhale the remaining hot, ashey particles in less than a second after lighting the herb.
That hot, unfiltered smoke is what causes irritation and tar build-up. Looking to play it safe? Try natural rolling papers or consider a screen for your pipe.
Water Pipes & Bongs
Water pipes, bubblers, and bongs all use water to cool down smoke before you breathe it into your throat and lungs. Not only does this cool down your herb, but the water also catches unnecessary ash and weed particles that would later turn into tar inside your lungs.
These water-based methods are far from perfect. Water and ice don’t catch all of the plant resin floating around in smoke. Look for larger pieces that increase the distance between the flame and you, and supplement with ice if you’d like to play it safe.
Dabbing concentrates like Butane Hash Oil (BHO) is now more popular than ever. For healthy lungs, there are a couple of important things to note about dabbing:
- Use Ice: Using a torch makes the smoke much, much hotter than any other method. Cool things down by using a water-based rig and crushed ice.
- Solvents Matter: The health risks of inhaling small amounts of butane are controversial. For the most part, butane burns hot and evaporates fast. Much of it is gone the moment the torch hits the wax. However, too much gas can cause headaches and irritate mucous membranes as you inhale. If you find BHO a little uncomfortable, CO2 extractions are easier on the lungs.
Quality Product Keeps You Feelin’ Healthy
OK, here it is: the final tip on how to keep your lungs healthy while smoking weed. When you can, just say no to schwag. “Schwag” meaning flower or wax that just doesn’t look or taste quite right. We’re talking sketchy, real low-quality stuff. Here’s why:
The Bad News:
Unfortunately, at the time of writing, there is no standardized quality control for marijuana. Without testing data, there’s no way to tell if what you’re smoking is free of contaminants. Those contaminants may be leftover pesticide, fertilizer, miticide, fungus, or something else that happened to hitch a ride on what you just picked up.
Like inhaling too much butane solvent, breathing in unknown substances has consequences. Smoking pollutants can cause coughing, lung and throat irritation, and allergic reactions.
The Good News:
Many legal states now mandate that grown cannabis legally is tracked and tested. People are demanding better quality marijuana, and their voices are being heard.
More and more, growers and dispensary owners are having products tested. This ensures that the plants are healthy and safe for consumption. This testing data is available online. If you’re lucky enough to live with access to legal medical or recreational cannabis, ask your dispensary for local testing data.
Cleaning Your Lungs After Smoking
You might be wondering: If smoking leaves all this extra stuff behind, is there a way to clean out my lungs?
The answer? Yes! A little exercise can help reduce the effects of marijuana on your lungs. The best exercise for your lungs? Deep breathing.
Why Breath Matters
As we breathe, we take in vital oxygen that keeps us alive. There are two primary types of breathing: deep breathing and shallow breathing.
As we inhale, we either take air into the tops of our lungs, or we breathe deeply and fully throughout the organs. The more fully we breathe, the more fresh oxygen can travel deeply into the lung tissue. The shallower the breath, the more toxins, stale air, pollutants, and allergens stay trapped.
All this trapped bad air and extra gunk in our lungs has direct impacts on our health. It causes us to feel tired and leads to a loss of tissue function.
Lungs need exercise and movement every single day. When we’re sitting and resting, our lungs only operate at 50% capacity.
“Your lungs need at the very least 20 minutes of consistent, moderately intense movement daily, like a brisk walk,” explains Jennifer Ryan, PT. Jennifer is a specialist in cardiovascular and pulmonary physical therapy at Rush University Medical Center.
“To help counteract the build-up of toxins and tar in the lungs caused by environmental pollutants,” Ryan continues, “allergens, dust, and cigarette some, you need to help your lungs cleanse themselves.”
Care about your lungs? Set aside time for a few simple breathing exercises after your next bowl. They will give your lungs the fresh oxygen and exercise they need to feel healthy. To get you started, we’ve outlined a few of our favorites.
4 Breathing Exercises to Clear Out the Smoke
These quick and simple breathing exercises eliminate toxins and keep airways clear. As an added bonus, they may even help you de-stress.
For all of these exercises, it’s important to think about your posture. Slouching or hunching hinders your ability to breath deeply. If you’re seated, plant your feet flat on the floor. Remember to keep your back straight and your chest open.
If you chose to lay down, lay flat on your back with your arms relaxed down from your sides. Keep your palms open.
Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7, and exhale for 8. The 4-7-8 technique has grown in popularity among insomniacs and anxiety sufferers alike. Not only will each breath help clear out your lungs, but it will leave you feeling calm and relaxed.
Deep Belly Breath Breathing
Focus on long, slow inhalations and exhalations of five seconds or longer. Imagine that you are breathing deep into your belly. Concentrate on raising your chest and navel as you inhale.
The Cleansing Breath Pranayama
The strength of this breath comes from the abdominal muscles. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. This breath should not be done lying down. Exhale using short contractions of your abdominal muscles for power. Remember to keep your mouth relaxed open.
Visualize expanding the diaphragm as you slowly and deeply inhale. The diaphragm is a muscle at the base of your lungs. Singers exercise this muscle to increase their lung capacity.
Lung Cleansing Herbs for Your Vape
Marijuana might be our favorite herb, but many other plants also have powerful medicinal properties.
Cultures have been using medicinal herbs to treat respiratory illnesses for centuries. As early as the fifth century B.C., common plants like celery were used as medicines.
Celery, often found lying limp and pathetic in the bottom of the salad crisper, is antispasmodic. In ancient England and China, it was used to treat diseases like asthma and bronchitis. Other medicinal plants can:
- Break up mucus and expel congestion.
- Calm inflammatory and allergic reactions.
- Reduce cell damage and redness as antioxidants.
- Ease coughing symptoms.
- Kill harmful organisms and bacteria.
To help refresh your lungs after smoking weed, sprinkle a little of the dried herbs listed below into a vape. You can also brew them into a nice cup of tea.
Some Easy-to-Find Cleansing Herbs Include:
- Orange Peel
- Ginger Root
Also Look For:
Don’t Have A Vape? Check these herb-rich recipes:
As with most marijuana research, we’re left wanton for more detailed information and firm final conclusions. It’s safe to say that long-term cannabis smoking does come with its own share of health concerns. But, an increased risk of lung cancer, one of the most primary arguments against weed legalization?
Nope. Sorry. The evidence just isn’t there yet.
Feature Photo Credit: Flickr
What effects has weed had on your lungs? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? We’d love to hear what you think! Continue the discussion by dropping a note on social media.
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