November 2023

Smoking Cannabis: Safety Perceptions vs Evidence

A recent survey found that smoking cannabis is increasingly perceived as safer than smoking tobacco. This is a good time to talk to patients about the risks associated with regular cannabis use.

Despite perceptions, smoking cannabis can cause a variety of respiratory issues. It’s not clear if smoking cannabis is linked to an increased risk for lung cancer, but it has been linked to other serious conditions, including acute eosinophilic pneumonia and drug-induced lung injury. The most common respiratory concerns are coughing, wheezing, and inflammation of the upper respiratory tract.

E-cigarette, or vaping, product-use associated lung injury (EVALI) is also a concern. The majority of patients experiencing EVALI report using THC-containing products in the three months prior to the development of symptoms. It’s not clear if EVALI is the direct result of THC or another part of vape formulations, like vitamin E acetate. But the FDA has warned consumers to stop using THC vape products due to this risk.

In addition to the respiratory concerns, remind patients that dependence isn’t unique to smoking tobacco – about 47% of regular cannabis users experience cannabis withdrawal syndrome upon reducing or discontinuing use. Additionally, cannabis and cannabis-containing products continue to increase in potency. Most cannabis products on the market contain about 15% THC or more. There’s still a lot that we don’t know about potential short- or long-term adverse effects of these increasingly potent products. 

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2023 NatMed. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. NatMed is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.