Smoking Marijuana Does Not Increase Lung Cancer Risk, Report Finds

The most comprehensive report to date has found no link between increased risk for neck, head, or lung cancer.

Panel of physicians and health experts find no tie to increased lung cancer risk from smoking marijuana

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued the report "The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids." The 395-page paper summarizes the body of research on the efficacy of medical marijuana and its effects on various health issues including smoking marijuana and lung cancer. The report is the most official and comprehensive medical review of marijuana to date.

A panel of 16 experts, including physicians, public health experts, neurobiologists, and addiction specialists authored this report. Over ten thousand published studieswere considered. These studies included reports on marijuana's relationship with cancer, psychological disorders, and traffic accidents.

There is a growing acceptance, accessibility, and use of cannabis. Medical marijuana is currently legal in 28 states and Washington DC. Recreational marijuana is legal in 8 states and Washington DC. And the cannabis industry surpassed $7 billion in legal sales in 2016. As a result, they reason, there's a "clear need to establish what is known and what needs to be known about the health effects of cannabis use."

Major findings of the study

Through these published studies, experts found that cannabis could be used to treat:

  • Chronic pain, nausea associated with cancer treatment
  • Muscle spasms common for patients with multiple sclerosis
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Social anxiety disorder, specifically when treated withCBD
  • Traumatic brain injury

Additionally, smoking marijuana does not increase one's risk for head, neck, or lung cancer.

However, the study also found that:

  • Teens who use marijuana may develop "problem cannabis use" when they are older
  • Using marijuana before driving increases risk of collision
  • Causation has not been proved, but there is a possible tie between heavy cannabis use and psychoses
  • Smoking marijuana during pregnancy may be tied to lower birth weight
  • Long-term smoking of marijuana is connected to more frequent cases of bronchitis

Despite the testimony of doctors across the nation, the report states that there is not sufficient evidence that cannabis or cannabis compounds can effectively treat cancer, epilepsy, or schizophrenia. But according to Arizona physician Dr. Sue Sisley, "the federal government has systematically impeded efficacy studies." Sisley has tried for years to get a study cannabis as post-traumatic stress disorder approved by the federal government.

The Need for Knowledge

The panel noted there are huge legal and bureaucratic barriers when it comes to investigating the effects of marijuana. First, researchers must get approval from the DEA. In some states, they may also need the approval of a state board of medical examiners. Thenstrict security measures must be established to limit the number of people coming into contact with the marijuana. The various hurdles "can be a daunting experience for researchers," according to the panel.

These hurdles exist because cannabis and cannabis extractsare federally classified as Schedule 1 drugs. This means that marijuana has no accepted medical use and a it has high risk for abuse.

Restrictive federal policies impede research into the health effects of widely available cannabis products. Testing the health effects of marijuana products marketed to consumers is actually illegal. For instance, sales of cannabis concentrate ("dabs") doubled in Colorado between 2015 and 2016. However, federal law prevented researchers from examining the effects of these concentrates. Edibles are also a popular item available to consumers. But once again, federal law blocks much-needed research. It prevents scientists from testing edibles for contaminants, investigating their effects on patients with medical conditions, or testing them on lab animals.

There's a level of obscurity surrounding marijuana because of this inability to perform research. So patients, doctors, and policy makers cannot make an informed decision on the use of cannabis and cannabinoids.

The lack of reliable information concerns Tarek Tabsh, who operates medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Information is scarce. Andunderstanding how increasingly concentrated cannabis products can affect consumers is important. Not only for his business, but for the public's knowledge.

"The biggest fear I have has nothing to do with policy or commerce," saidTabsh. "It has everything to do with science."

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Woman holding a nug of marijuana over a jar.
Image of a woman passing a marijuana (cannabis) joint to a friend.

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