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Review
. 2013 Jun;10(3):239-47.
doi: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.201212-127FR.

Effects of Marijuana Smoking on the Lung

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Review

Effects of Marijuana Smoking on the Lung

Donald P Tashkin. Ann Am Thorac Soc. .

Abstract

Regular smoking of marijuana by itself causes visible and microscopic injury to the large airways that is consistently associated with an increased likelihood of symptoms of chronic bronchitis that subside after cessation of use. On the other hand, habitual use of marijuana alone does not appear to lead to significant abnormalities in lung function when assessed either cross-sectionally or longitudinally, except for possible increases in lung volumes and modest increases in airway resistance of unclear clinical significance. Therefore, no clear link to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease has been established. Although marijuana smoke contains a number of carcinogens and cocarcinogens, findings from a limited number of well-designed epidemiological studies do not suggest an increased risk for the development of either lung or upper airway cancer from light or moderate use, although evidence is mixed concerning possible carcinogenic risks of heavy, long-term use. Although regular marijuana smoking leads to bronchial epithelial ciliary loss and impairs the microbicidal function of alveolar macrophages, evidence is inconclusive regarding possible associated risks for lower respiratory tract infection. Several case reports have implicated marijuana smoking as an etiologic factor in pneumothorax/pneumomediastinum and bullous lung disease, although evidence of a possible causal link from epidemiologic studies is lacking. In summary, the accumulated weight of evidence implies far lower risks for pulmonary complications of even regular heavy use of marijuana compared with the grave pulmonary consequences of tobacco.

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