Previous studies of the long-term effects of habitual marijuana smoking on respiratory status and lung function have yielded conflicting results. In the present study, lung function tests obtained in 74 regular marijuana smokers (duration of smoking > two-five years; frequency of smoking three days/week to several times/day) who denied intravenous narcotic drug abuse were compared with similar tests performed in two groups of control subjects. One group consisted of individuals tested in a mobile laboratory who were computer-matched to the marijuana smokers for anthropometric characteristics and quantity and duration of tobacco smoking; the other group was comprised of 41 nonsmokers of marijuana who were tested in the same laboratory as the marijuana smokers. Paired and unpaired t analyses revealed lower values for specific airway conductance (-0.07 to -0.08 +/- 0.02; P < 0.001) in the marijuana smokers compared with either group of control subjects, but no differences in spirometric indices, closing volume or delta N2 750-1250. When non-tobacco smoking marijuana users (n = 50) were matched with either non-tobacco smoking or tobacco smoking control subjects, significant differences were again noted in specific airway conductance (P < 0.001) but not in spirometric tests, closing volume or delta N2 750-1250. These results suggest that habitual smoking of marijuana may cause mild, but significant, functional impairment predominantly involving large airways which is not detectable in individuals of the same age who regularly smoke tobacco. The clinical implications of these findings await further study.