What are the Effects of Smoking Weed for Medical Purposes?
While the vast majority of states around the country have legalized medical marijuana, a number of states, cities, and localities still ban smoking weed for both medicinal and recreational purposes.
Smoking marijuana in Florida, Minnesota, and Ohio, for example, is currently illegal. But it's proactively being debated in the courts and amongst lawmakers in the United States. Depending on where you’re located, some Californians also can’t legally smoke marijuana.
Before evaluating the arguments on both sides of the hot topic debate, it's important to understand the experiences of medical marijuana patients and heavy marijuana users and reliable research examining the effects of smoking weed.
So is burning and inhaling marijuana bad for you? AND after you smoke marijuana...how does the cloud of weed smoke that’s produced impact your health?
Ways to Smoke Marijuana
In addition to using a topical ointment or orally ingesting cannabis in the form of a capsule or edible, another one of the primary ways to consume marijuana is by inhaling or smoking it. Delivery methods for smoking weed include:
- Vaporizers (for oil, wax, dabs and liquid marijuana extracts as well as a smokable flower)
- Hand pipes
- Homemade pipes
- Glass pipes
- Water pipes (i.e. bong)
- Joints (with hemp paper or tobacco paper)
- Blunts (i.e. emptied out cigar)
- DIY smoking methods (e.g. apples, gravity bong)
Effects of Smoking Weed With a Vape
Before we dig into the potential effects of smoking weed with the smoking devices used, it’s important to understand the difference between vaping and smoking. To date, using a vaporizer is without a doubt the most health-conscious way to smoke marijuana.
Vaporizers work by pulling health-aiding cannabinoids, including CBD, THC and other cannabis components, through the device in order to collect and transfer the vapor. So when smoking weed through a vaporizer, whether it’s oil, wax or another smokable flower, you’re inhaling just vapor through the lungs, not the weed smoke. In other words, vaporizers activate the medicinal components of cannabis without sending heat, ash and tar through the airway. And because of the way they slowly activate cannabinoids without burning them, vaporizers allow you to benefit from the full scope of therapeutic properties in smokable flower.
The sticky resins in cannabis oil and wax typically have much higher concentrates of cannabinoids than regular marijuana. Advancements in vaporizer delivery devices have paved way to the continued development and refinement of cutting-edge Volcanoes and other noteworthy devices for smoking weed. Because they mitigate potential health concerns and maximize the benefits of CBD and cannabis, vaporizers today are hailed as the king of cannabis instruments.
What about the other ways to smoke marijuana? Is smoking weed bad for your health, wellness, and longevity if you’re not using a vaporizer?
What’s the Health Impact of Other Forms of Smoking Weed?
Contrary to common belief, no link has been found between smoking marijuana and the development or spreading of cancer cells. Cannabis and cannabis-derived CBD, in particular, may actually help kill cancer-causing cells. There’s also no definitive association between regularly smoking weed and developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms. COPD is a category of long-term lung diseases that can produce wheezing, shortness of breath, congestion, and other symptoms.
But frequent, long-term weed smoking may worsen existing breathing problems, COPD symptoms, and chronic bronchitis. When considering the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs today, however, the potential increase in coughing that smoking weed may cause is minor. Especially considering the balancing effect of full-spectrum CBD on our natural processes and the harmonious interactions of cannabinoids with our body’s endocannabinoid receptors.
If you do develop a cough or experience troubles from smoking weed, however, you can typically get rid of these side effects by switching to edibles or another cannabis delivery method.
“Immediate” Effects of Smoking Marijuana
Smoking (as well as vaping and dabbing) is the quickest way for cannabis to work. When you smoke marijuana, the components enter the bloodstream after passing the blood-brain barrier (BBB) so quickly that the effects of the psychoactive, naturally occurring cannabinoid THC in whole-plant CBD can be felt in less than a minute. However, the effects of smoking weed taper off much sooner than oral and topical cannabis delivery methods.
When smoking marijuana with THC, from either an Indica or Sativa strain, the effects typically climax around 30 minutes, then slowly diminish within about 1 to 4 hours. On the other hand, when you eat or drink marijuana in the form of edibles, droplets and other methods, the THC and other cannabinoids have to pass through the digestive system, which can take up to 30 minutes to 2 hours. But when you consume cannabis in non-smokable forms, the effects can last up to 8 hours, significantly longer than the effects of smoking marijuana.
Weed Smoke vs. Tobacco Smoke
The American Lung Association found that smoking tobacco is the cause of around 85–90% of COPD incidents. However, the effects of smoking tobacco compared to smoking marijuana in terms of respiratory health remain unclear based on highly regarded scientific research and real-world observations today. In order to characterize the effects of smoking weed, there’s a growing need for longitudinal studies to examine the long-term experiences of people who smoke marijuana but who don’t smoke tobacco.
In these much-needed studies, smoking weed out of a blunt or joint made out of tobacco paper would be considered a form of tobacco use. So people who smoke blunts or joints not comprised of 100% hemp paper would fall into a separate category than folks who purely smoke marijuana.
Although more research is needed, there’s substantial evidence indicating that folks who consistently exercise AND smoke marijuana are significantly less likely to experience potential respiratory symptoms than people who chronically smoke marijuana but aren’t active.
When used together, there’s evidence that cannabis and tobacco combined may lead to increased risk of addictive tendencies. But this is largely attributed to the consequences of smoking tobacco rather than weed smoke. Out of all the common recreational drugs used today, including tobacco and cigarettes, cannabis has the least dependency risk. What's more, medical cannabis may also be a promising solution to the opioid crisis by contributing to a sharp decrease in opioid-related deaths.
Smoking weed doesn’t obstruct airflow to the lungs like tobacco. However, reviews suggest that chronically smoking marijuana may increase forced vital capacity (FVC), but more evidence is needed to substantiate and clarify this finding.
In terms of secondhand weed smoke, there’s currently not much research investigating how it compares to exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke. But the toxins and tar found in weed smoke have raised concerns about exposure among children, folks with asthma and other vulnerable groups.
Smoking Weed vs. Taking Pharmaceuticals
Before coming to a conclusion on the overall impact and side effects of smoking marijuana (without a vape) on our health, let’s take a second to consider the state of pharmaceutical drugs designed to cure the same ailments and disabilities today. Think about all the potentially debilitating side effects that are quickly run through at the end of drug ads and listed on the back of nonnatural, pharmaceutical prescriptions. Folks just don’t experience these negative effects when smoking weed.
So...is smoking weed bad for you?
Is marijuana bad for you when you smoke it? While much evidence today attempts to demonstrate the negative effects of cannabis smoke, scientists and researchers don’t fully understand the mechanisms and cost-benefit of smoking marijuana. Because of the well-established benefits of various cannabis-derived cannabinoids that naturally bind with and aid some of our body’s most pivotal synapses, more research is required to determine the effects of smoking weed for medical purposes.
Take, for example, just one of the 100+ cannabinoids and phytocannabinoids in the cannabis plant, CBD. Although the holistic therapeutic benefits of cannabis have been recognized for thousands of centuries, CBD today is becoming an increasingly popular natural facilitator to our endocannabinoid system. Similar to other cannabis ingredients, CBD has a direct role in maintaining the healthy balance of our neuroendocrine system and many associated physiological processes. The profound benefits of CBD for inflammation, chronic pain management, Parkinson’s, Epilepsy, and a host of other disorders and ailments are well documented.
But the need for well-devised and controlled studies on how the balancing/harmonizing benefits of cannabis may or may not outweigh the potential effects of chronically smoking weed is imminent. Especially since the legality of smoking weed for medical purposes and recreational use is such a highly-debated topic today.
To play it safe, if you’re concerned about the long-term impact of chronically smoking weed, it’s recommended to use a vape as your delivery method. Or, going with a non-smokable alternative such as using edibles is another great option.
Interested in learning about what’s happening at the state level with laws regulating weed smoking? What’s the current status of the weed smoking discussion in states like Florida, for example? Browse our article covering the current Florida debate about the legality of smoking weed for medical purposes.