Marijuana & Your Lungs: Should You Be Worried?

byPerry Solomon, MD5 minutes

It's a well-known fact that smoke is bad for the lungs. From lung cancer to upper respiratory disease, smoking presents a variety of risks to the well-being of our lungs. Because of this, many marijuana smokers are concerned about the effect that inhaling cannabis will have on their respiratory health, and indeed, there have been some studies linking marijuana with slightly increased risks of lung cancer and respiratory problems. The issue of cannabis and lung health, however, is far from simple. Here's what you need to know about how marijuana affects your lungs.

Cannabis Smoke and Lung Health

While it may seem logical to assume that cannabis smoke and tobacco smoke are equally harmful to the lungs, this simply isn't true. While tobacco smokers often experience drastic lung damage as a result of their smoking habits, data reviewed by researchers at Emory University showed that cannabis consumers who enjoy a single joint each day for as long as 20 years don't actually experience lung damage. These results change, however, when scientists evaluate heavy marijuana smokers (more than a joint a day for 20 years); these smokers often suffer from respiratory conditions such as difficult exhalation and inflammation in the lungs.

While the Emory University data seems to discount the risk of lung damage from marijuana smoke, there have been several other studies (a 2006 study and a 2014 study, respectively) that have found that marijuana smoke does leave tar remnants in the human lung, although the risk for lung cancer remains low despite this.


In light of these conflicting results, it's difficult to say conclusively that smoking marijuana doesn't harm the lungs and equally difficult to claim that it causes irreparable damage. With that in mind, it's wise to turn our attention, instead, to how to consume marijuana in a way that poses as little risk as possible to the lungs.

Popular Cannabis Inhalation Methods and Their Effect on Your Lungs

Because the data on lung damage and cannabis smoke is still quite contradictory, many dedicated cannabis users have begun to focus on finding more lung-friendly ways to inhale cannabis. While there are many ways to inhale cannabis smoke, some are healthier than others.


The popularity of vaporization has risen in recent years due to the fact that the method is widely considered to be the healthiest and cleanest way to use marijuana. While smoking creates ash that is hard on the lungs and edibles often come in the form of sugary treats, vaporizers produce a clean, streamlined product that is easy to use on the go and presents a low risk of damage to the body. Vaporizers work by heating the herb at temperatures lower than the those needed to induce combustion. Instead of burning, the active ingredients in the cannabis plant are vaporized and inhaled. This mitigates the risks associated with inhaling burnt cannabis byproducts.

Pipes or Rolled Joints

There are many cannabis users out there who love the tactile and oral experience of a pipe or a joint. Unfortunately, if you're looking to make consuming marijuana easier on your lungs, these probably aren't your best go-to options. Hot, ashy smoke is tough on the lungs, and over time, aficionados of these methods are likely to experience some of the adverse effects mentioned earlier. There is, however, a way to make smoking a little safer. By purchasing a screen for your glass pipe, you can filter some of the particulate out of the marijuana smoke and produce a somewhat cleaner product.

Water Pipes

For people who still want the experience of smoking without all the harmful ash and debris, a water pipe may be the way to go. Water pipes work by filtering smoke through a water reserve before it is inhaled by the user. In addition to helping cool the hot smoke before it reaches your lungs, this method also filters particulate and harsh ash out of the smoke, producing a cleaner product and limiting the material that can later build up as tar in the lungs. Keep in mind that while water pipes can't filter all the harmful particulate from marijuana smoke, they are quite a bit cleaner than inhaling directly from a pipe or joint.


Dabbing is the process by which cannabis extract is heated and inhaled as smoke. Compounds such as BHO (butane hash oil) are commonly used. While dabbing uses extract rather than the whole herb, the torch used to produce the smoke super heats the extract, making it harsh on the lungs. This can be mitigated by using crushed ice to cool the smoke before it reaches the lungs. However, dabbing also presents the risk of inhaling traces of butane, which is a controversial topic. While it's true that butane evaporates quickly, some people report headaches and irritation in the membranes of their mouths and noses during dabbing.


While the information surrounding smoking marijuana and lung health is spotty and often contradictory, there's no question that inhaling hot particulate isn't beneficial for our respiratory tracts. Fortunately, people who love inhaling marijuana can easily make the process safer by opting for a vaporizer or a water pipe over a joint or a dabbing setup. Additionally, simple things such as breathing deeply and getting daily exercise can help keep the lungs clean and strong.

Photo Credit