How Cannabis is ruining lungs of American youth, experts issue caution
With a positive correlation between cannabis use frequency and asthma prevalence among teens, experts caution against the misconception of marijuana's safety.
A recent study from the City University of New York (CUNY) found a link between cannabis legalization and asthma among kids and teens. The study, published in Preventive Medicine, showed that in states where marijuana is legal, more teens have asthma than in states where it is illegal.
The study used data from the National Survey on Children’s Health, which included 227,451 U.S. children aged 17 and below. The researchers found a positive linear relationship between the frequency of cannabis use and asthma prevalence among both youth and adults.
“The relationship was not explained by confounding cigarette smoking, and an even stronger relationship between the frequency of blunt smoking and asthma was found,” said Renee Goodwin, CUNY SPH professor and lead author of the study.
Goodwin pointed out that there is “very little information available” on the respiratory health risks of cannabis use. He said that smoking cannabis may have similar health risks as cigarettes, especially for people with asthma. He also warned that the public may be misled by the commercialization and advertising of cannabis use, which may make them think it is risk-free.
“That is not based on science or any data on long-term outcomes,” he said.
‘Asthma risks increase significantly for those who smoke marijuana’
Goodwin also noted that today’s cannabis products have higher THC concentrations than the joints of decades ago, and that cannabis oils and waxes are chemically manufactured substances.
“The potential short- and long-term effects of exposure to this level of THC on the human brain, respiratory or other aspects of physical health have never been studied,” he said.
He urged consumers to demand information on safety and purity, as well as dose, potency, and health and safety risks, from any commercial cannabis retail outlet.
Dr. Eric Heffelfinger, staff physician at Caron Treatment Centers, an addiction center in Pennsylvania, commented on the study.
“This study is significant not just in its size, but in its findings that asthma risks increase significantly for those who smoke marijuana, especially those who smoke blunts for more than 20 days per month,” he said.
According to Dr. Heffelfinger, an addiction medicine specialist and former pulmonologist, marijuana use is linked to asthma risk, as nicotine is. “We expected this to be the case for marijuana, but now we have the data to prove it,” he said.
He added that the data, collected in 2020, might not reflect the current situation, as marijuana and cannabis products have become more accessible in the last three years.
“We anticipate that the number of people impacted with asthma because of marijuana use will also have increased significantly,” he said.
He warned that marijuana users and those exposed to secondhand smoke face serious health risks, such as psychiatric symptoms, psychosis, and cannabis use disorder.
“The known health impacts from marijuana and cannabis products are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
He also pointed out the unknown effects of genetically and chemically enhanced products that are smoked or vaped, causing lung damage.
“Because these products are so easily accessible, the long-term health implications are worrisome and likely to increase in frequency and severity across the spectrum of occurrences,” he said.