HomeMedicinePublic HealthCannabis Smoke Wrongly Thought Less Harmful Than Tobacco

Cannabis Smoke Wrongly Thought Less Harmful Than Tobacco

Do you believe that smoking cannabis is safer than smoking cigarettes? Well, you are misinformed, but not alone! 

The way we think of marijuana has changed in recent years, largely because several US states and Canada have legalized it. Many people don’t smoke cigarettes because they understand it is harmful, but what about smoking marijuana? Do people feel that smoking marijuana or being exposed to it is less harmful than tobacco? 

Changing Perception

A new study conducted by a team of US doctors and scientists, aimed to answer this question. The article, published in JAMA Network Open by medics based at University of California San Francisco, reports that since 2017, an increasing number of Americans have come to believe that smoke from cannabis is safer than smoke from cigarettes.

From 2017 to 2021, the researchers surveyed over 5,000 US adults from different age groups, genders, and ethnicity online. To test how participants viewed the safety of marijuana compared to cigarettes, the team asked:

  • How safe is smoking one marijuana joint a day vs. one cigarette a day?
  • How does secondhand smoke from marijuana compare to secondhand smoke from tobacco?
  • How safe is it to expose adults to secondhand smoke from tobacco or cannabis?
  • How safe is it to expose children to secondhand smoke from tobacco or cannabis?
  • How safe is it to expose pregnant women to secondhand smoke from tobacco or cannabis?

In 2017, 35% of participants answered that smoking marijuana is safer than cigarettes, this proportion had increased to 46% by 2021. This change in public opinion is concerning, in fact, smoking cannabis products is just as bad for you as smoking tobacco. Some combustible Cannabis products, such as resin or shard, can be more harmful than cigarettes.

Is Cannabis Smoke Less Toxic?

Over the years many studies have shown that smoking marijuana can lead to negative health outcomes. Marijuana smokers are at an increased risk of hearts and lung damage. Lab tests showed that exposing rats to secondhand marijuana smoke for one minute caused harmful blood vessel narrowing that lasted an hour longer than that caused by tobacco smoke. Indeed, when scientists compared chest CT scans between tobacco and marijuana smokers, they found that the lungs of marijuana smokers were more damaged.

Inhaling Smoke Is Harmful

Inhaling smoke from burned plants, even if filtered through water, is bad for you, regardless of the type of plant. Burning organic material creates toxins such as acrylamides, tar, carbon monoxide, carbon deposits, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide. None of these nasties will do your lungs, heart or circulatory system any good.

Medical Cannabis Can be Helpful

Doctors sometimes use cannabis as a medicine for certain specific medical needs. For example, a doctor can give cannabis to treat nausea in a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy. However, patients receive such medication in the form of a pill or liquid and never through smoking. In general, smoking is bad for your health, whether its cannabis or tobacco.

Informed Choices

Casual use and the focus on the medical benefits of marijuana might have helped promote the idea that smoking marijuana or being exposed to its secondhand smoke is safe. Still, just because a certain idea is popular, it doesn’t necessarily make it true. Protect yourself and the people around you by making an informed decision before you spark up.

  1. Chambers J et al. Perceptions of Safety of Daily Cannabis vs. Tobacco Smoking and Secondhand Smoke Exposure, 2017–2021. JAMA Network Open. 2023; 6(8): e2328691
doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.28691
  2. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine et al. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. National Academies Press (US). 2017. doi: 10.17226/24625
  3. Wang X. et al. One Minute of Marijuana Secondhand Smoke Exposure Substantially Impairs Vascular Endothelial Function. J Am Heart Assoc. 2016; 5(8): e003858. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.116.003858
Edouard Al Chami
Edouard Al Chami
Edouard Al Chami is a freelance medical writer and a science correspondent at Medical News Bulletin. With graduate studies in pharmacology and immunology, Edouard enjoys writing about the latest scientific discoveries and advancements in drug development. Beyond work, he finds pleasure in reading classic literature and writing short stories.


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