Marijuana: respiratory tract effects

Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2014 Feb;46(1):65-81. doi: 10.1007/s12016-013-8374-y.


Marijuana is the most commonly used drug of abuse in the USA. It is commonly abused through inhalation and therefore has effects on the lung that are similar to tobacco smoke, including increased cough, sputum production, hyperinflation, and upper lobe emphysematous changes. However, at this time, it does not appear that marijuana smoke contributes to the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Marijuana can have multiple physiologic effects such as tachycardia, peripheral vasodilatation, behavioral and emotional changes, and possible prolonged cognitive impairment. The carcinogenic effects of marijuana are unclear at this time. Studies are mixed on the ability of marijuana smoke to increase the risk for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and cervical cancer. Some studies show that marijuana is protective for development of malignancy. Marijuana smoke has been shown to have an inhibitory effect on the immune system. Components of cannabis are under investigation as treatment for autoimmune diseases and malignancy. As marijuana becomes legalized in many states for medical and recreational use, other forms of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have been developed, such as food products and beverages. As most research on marijuana at this time has been on whole marijuana smoke, rather than THC, it is difficult to determine if the currently available data is applicable to these newer products.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bronchial Spasm / drug therapy*
  • Cannabis / metabolism*
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immune System / metabolism
  • Marijuana Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid / physiology*
  • Respiratory System / drug effects*
  • Smoking / adverse effects


  • Receptors, Cannabinoid