Weed has been smoked for countless millennia now, either as a joint made from rolled buds or from modified CBD oil in new fangled CBD vape pens.
However, as with most things that mankind has been doing forever, people have begun to fear the possibility that weed might actually be bad for your lungs.
After all, cigarettes are widely known as being extremely damaging to your lungs, so it would make sense for weed to be the same.
Let’s take a look at the facts and figure out, once and for all, whether or not weed is bad for your lungs.
Why are Your Lungs Susceptible to Damage?
You might notice that the part of the body always mentioned with regards to injuries or illnesses when it comes to substance abuse is the lungs – whether it be lung cancer from smoking, or lung injury from weed, it always seems like the lungs are the organ most likely to suffer in some horrible way.
Why is this?
Well, the lungs are particularly weak with regard to actual defenses. Unlike other vital organs that are built to take a bit of damage now and then, such as your liver or even your heart, your lungs are instead rather gentle and thin.
This is because of the way in which the lungs work to process oxygen. Made up of a series of bronchial tubes that help move air across the lungs, your breathing organ is less a substantial and resilient organ and more a gentle pile of tissue paper full of wires.
Any injury or damage you get to one of your tubes or the lining of your lungs can cause breathing problems. This is made worse because breathing problems are immediately noticeable, in comparison to, say, kidney issues or a pancreatic injury.
If you can’t breathe properly, you’re going to know about it straight away.
Thanks to this inherent vulnerability within the lungs, it’s especially important to know if anything you’re taking has any possible risk of causing damage to your lungs.
However, why would weed ever be bad for your lungs? What actually is it that can cause injuries?
Damage from Combustion Due to Smoking Week
If someone asked you to imagine someone consuming weed, the very first thing your mind would think of is someone smoking a joint or toking from a pipe.
This is because it is by far the most common method of getting weed into your body.
Most people know that smoking cigarettes can damage your lungs, but they don’t actually know why this damage occurs, or why the same thing can happen with weed.
When you smoke something, be it tobacco or weed, you are lighting the substance on fire. While that may sound obvious, there are a number of things happening in this process that can cause damage to your lungs.
For starters, by burning the weed (and the paper that the weed is usually wrapped in when smoking a joint) you are just charing plant matter in an attempt to get the cannabinoids within the weed into your body.
The plant matter, the weed itself, is burnt and converted into a vapor in the process of combustion. Once lit, the weed undergoes a complex chemical reaction that combusts the plant matter, both instantly browning and disintegrating it, but which also performs decarboxylation. This is when the carbon dioxide within the substance is released, but it also converts the cannabinoids into chemicals more easily usable by the human body.
This resultant vapor is then breathed in, ending up in the lungs where the bloodstream removes the useful compounds (such as cannabinoids like THC and CBD) and carries it away to be used by the body.
However, this vapor is also extremely, extremely hot. The combustion process causes a chain reaction of ignition within the weed, eventually creating an intensely hot vapor that you breathe in.
Though experienced weed smokers might consider themselves immune to it, this hot vapor can damage your lungs through simply burning them.
This hot air is far hotter than what your lungs were evolved to handle; this means that your weak little lungs can become scorched.
The inner linings of your bronchial tubes are especially vulnerable, creating eventually compounding issues due to frequent burnings to create a sensation of wheezing and difficulty breathing in long term smokers.
One study conducted by the Journal for New England Journal of Medicine by Volkow et al. found that, among other long term ramifications of frequent marijuana smoking, chronic bronchitis was one of the most reported side effects.
Additionally, the burnt paper remnants that form the lining of the weed joint can also cause problems in the lungs, as this can form sediment and clutter up the bronchial tubes.
From all this, you might conclude that the only real danger with weed for your lungs is with the actual smoking of your weed.
Well, it turns out that there are a few other dangers for your lungs with other methods of imbibing weed.
Cannabis Vaping & Damage from Lipids
You might think to yourself “Oh, smoking weed from a joint or pipe seems dangerous, maybe I’ll just vape? That’ll be safer, right?”
Sadly, this article is all about crushing your dreams. Sorry.
Cannabis vapes, usually sold as a pure extract of either THC or CBD suspended within inert oil processed to be vaporised for the purpose of making it easier to smoke, is commonly seen as an easier way of smoking weed.
But in the same way that smoking weed normally can cause burnt plant matter to damage your lungs, the stuff that makes up cannabis vape liquid can do the same.
This is because vape e-liquids are essentially a pure extract and burnable oil. This oil is thinned out using viscosity-reducing chemicals, and then vaporized in your vape pen.
This process not only allows the cannabinoids within the e-liquid to enter into your respiratory system; it also allows for the oil to be vaporized as well.
Though not entirely common, these vaporized oil particles can actually become stuck in your lungs.
A study by Betancourt et al. for the American Journal of Roentgenology found that, due to the presence of lipids within the oils commonly used to suspend cannabis extracts, you are introducing their lipids into your alveoli, the tiny tissue within your lungs.
This causes the lipids to become stuck and accumulate, forming a fatty lining around the interior of your lungs.
This can lead to a condition called Lipoid Pneumonia, wherein your bronchial tubes become overly constricted due to those lipids blocking the pathways of your lungs. This can cause severe respiratory distress, as well as the significant possibility of eventual death.
However, it’s worth noting that this is extremely rare and is generally as a result of extremely frequent use. For the casual weed vaper, the risk of this is essentially nonexistent.
Additionally, there are several treatment options available once you notice this respiratory distress, so it’s unlikely to result in any kind of serious injury or illness.
There is also the small risk with vape oils that the layer of lipids that form on flowering cannabis plants (known as cuticle wax) can be inhaled as well.
When you combust cannabis leaves in a joint or pipe, these are automatically destroyed, but during the process of cannabinoid extraction, this cuticle wax is sometimes brought alongside the desired cannabinoids.
This means that it’s possible to be inhaling far more lipids than you might have expected. This causes something known quite simple as Cuticle Wax Accumulation and is similar in danger to regular Lipoid Pneumonia, only it’s a bit harder to detect or prevent.
Most vape oils are treated in a process called winterization that helps remove this leftover cuticle wax, but it’s still possible to find yourself inhaling undesired quantities of lipids with every vape without realizing it, especially if you go for the cheaper brands of vape liquids.
Final Thoughts on the Dangers of Smoking Weed
All of this might seem like doom and gloom; endless injuries and diseases that you can acquire as a result of simply trying to imbibe some weed.
The fact of the matter is, there are always going to be some unintended side effects when you are trying to imbibe a substance.
Whether that be undesired side effects linked to medical issues, such as increasing or decreasing heart rate or glandular pain, or just the risk of damage to your lungs, the substances we put into our body are sometimes not entirely healthy.
In the case of weed, though, the primary risk comes not so much from the substance itself, but as a result of the chosen method of consumption.
When you smoke it, you run the risk of the regular damage to the lungs that any normal cigarette smoker risks as well.
However, when you vape, you introduce the possibility of inflicting undesired lipids into your lungs, causing a few types of respiratory illness.
Despite all this, it’s important to remember that these are worst case, unlikely scenarios.
As long as you consume in moderation and know exactly what you’re buying, you’re unlikely to suffer in any significant way.
There are a few dangers to your lungs when you imbibe weed, but the risk can certainly be considered worth it for the benefits of the herb.
As long as you’re careful, you’re probably going to be fine.