What are the long-term effects of smoking blunts? As one can imagine, there hasn’t been any formal research comparing the long-term effects of blunts versus other forms of cannabis consumption. However, based on the available information on cannabis and tobacco use, it’s possible to make an educated guess about the potential risks. While life is short and the occasional blunt is lovely, switching to a cannabis vape is a healthier indulgence.
The long-term effects of smoking tobacco
Smoking tobacco is also the leading cause of lung cancer. Cannabis, on the other hand, has yet to be associated with lung cancer when used in moderation.
The evidence regarding long-term cannabis use and lung cancer is inconclusive. Smoking tobacco is also associated with increased risks of:
- Heart attack
- Chronic lung disease (COPD, emphysema, asthma)
- Cancer of the cervix, pancreas, and kidneys
- Damage to blood vessels in the heart and the body
- Tooth stain/discoloration
Another study on prenatal cannabis use found that cannabis alone was not associated with negative birth outcomes, but mixing cannabis and tobacco was associated with low birth weight and preterm delivery.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), cigarette smoking is associated with over 480,000 deaths per year. Worldwide, tobacco is expected to claim up to 8 million lives annually by 2030.
The effects of tobacco have been studied significantly more than those of cannabis. However, in the 5,000-year history of human cannabis consumption, there has yet to be a single recorded death from cannabis consumption (that is known of).
The long-term effects of smoking cannabis
To date, there are few reports on negative long-term effects of cannabis smoking. However, long-term effects cannot be entirely ruled out, either.
Smoking cannabis does cause microscopic damage to the tissue in the throat and lungs. Let’s face it, inhaling burning plant matter can be extremely hot and uncomfortable.
In the short-term, smoking cannabis is known to cause bronchitis-like symptoms, including coughs, congestion, and mucus. However, these side effects typically subside when a person stops smoking cannabis.
In a 2013 paper, Dr. Donald Tashkin, a professor of medicine at UCLA, explains that frequent cannabis use by itself doesn’t seem that harmful. Tashkin has been researching the effects of cannabis and tobacco smoke for three decades, and he has yet to find conclusive evidence that cannabis smoking causes significant harm. He explains,
[…] habitual use of marijuana alone does not appear to lead to significant abnormalities in lung function when assessed either cross-sectionally or longitudinally, except for possible increases in lung volumes and modest increases in airway resistance of unclear clinical significance.
Increased lung volume may actually be a beneficial side effect of smoking, while increases in airway resistance could be a sign of something less positive. As Tashkin mentions, there is still a lot to learn about cannabis and the lungs.
One area of particular interest is the lack of an association between cannabis and lung cancer. While tobacco causes 90% of lung cancer cases, cannabis just doesn’t seem to have the same effect.
Dr. Taskin hints that the anti-cancer properties of cannabis may be part of the reason why rates of cancer in cannabis smokers just keep coming up low.
In an interview with Time, he explains,
The THC in marijuana has well-defined anti-tumoral effects that have been shown to inhibit the growth of a variety of cancers in animal models and tissue culture systems, thus counteracting the potentially tumorigenic effects of the procarcinogens in marijuana smoke.
So, unlike tobacco smoke, the healing powers of THC and other cannabinoids may provide some protection from cell damage. However, more research is needed to confirm this hypothesis.
Does cannabis counteract the tobacco in a blunt?
At this point in time, there is no way to say whether or not the anti-cancer potential of cannabis reduces the risks of tobacco consumption. At the time of writing, the cancer-fighting properties of the cannabis plant have been tested primarily in laboratory animals and cancer cells cultured outside of the body.
The safest ways to consume cannabis are through vaporization and carefully dosed edibles. Otherwise, breathing in hot, burning plant material of any kind is more damaging to the lungs than helpful.
It’s important to be especially cautious with tobacco, as the high cancer risk for the plant is well-known.