Marijuana Use

A growing percentage of Americans acknowledge that cannabis smoke exposure poses fewer risks to health than does tobacco, according to survey data published in the journal JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Network Open.

Researchers surveyed over 5,000 respondents on their views regarding smoking. Forty-three percent of respondents perceived the daily smoking of one cannabis cigarette to be either “much safer” or “somewhat safer” than the daily use of tobacco cigarettes — up from 36 percent in 2017. About 30 percent of respondents viewed the two products as equally dangerous to health. Younger respondents were most likely to have shifted their views over time, whereas retirees were least likely to have done so.

Forty percent of respondents perceived exposure to second-hand marijuana smoke to be either “much safer” or “somewhat safer” than tobacco smoke, up from 35 percent in 2017.

Although the study’s lead author criticized Americans’ changing perceptions toward cannabis, numerous scientific studies reinforce the fact that cannabis smoke exposure poses far fewer risks to health than does tobacco. For example, longitudinal studies show that cannabis smoking, even long-term, is not associated with an increased risk of either lung cancer, COPD, or other significant adverse effects on pulmonary function.

Other studies indicate that cannabis smoke and tobacco smoke are not equally carcinogenic and that subjects who exclusively smoke cannabis possess a reduced level of exposure to harmful toxicants and carcinogens than do those who smoke tobacco cigarettes. Some researchers have also theorized that cannabinoids’ anti-cancer activities may offset some of the harms otherwise associated with inhaling combustive smoke.

According to longitudinal study data published last year in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, “[I]t is increasingly clear that cannabis has different effects on lung function [as compared] to tobacco and the effects of widespread cannabis use will not necessarily mirror the harms caused by tobacco smoking.”

The survey’s findings are consistent with those of other recent polls, including data published earlier this year which found that most Americans consider marijuana to be significantly less harmful than cigarettes, alcohol, and opioids

Full text of the survey, “Perceptions of safety of daily cannabis vs tobacco smoking and secondhand smoke exposure, 2017-2021,” appears online. Additional information is available in the NORML fact sheet, ‘Cannabis Exposure and Lung Health.”

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