By / June 28, 2020

Cannabis smoke could potentially be more harmful than tobacco

Cannabis use is quite popular, especially in countries where it has already been legalized. However, the scientific evidence of its effects on the body remains quite mixed. Cannabis appears to have short-term positive effects on patients with certain conditions, but there is still considerable doubt about the supposed properties that have motivated many to use it.

Although many claimed that it can relax them without long-term side effects, the fact is that the use of cannabis carries a potential health risk.

Now, a team of researchers from the University of Alberta who studied the composition of cannabis smoke reported that it contains several compounds that are toxic to humans. Their results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, serve as a call to raise awareness on the harmfulness of cannabis smoking.

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Why smoking cannabis could have negative effects

The researchers used a “smoking machine,” with which they simulated the process that occurs when a lung extracts the desired volume of smoke from samples of a standard cigarette and a cannabis cigarette. They chose the cigarettes strategically as a point of comparison because they have been studied for decades and there is a lot of information about them.

The experiment involved letting the smoke from one of these two products into a large bag to measure the properties of the particles that make up the smoke with the aerosol instrumentation available in the laboratory. They then classified them according to physical characteristics, such as size and concentration, as well as some chemical properties.

The classification was a key point in determining the harmfulness of the particles in question, since, as the authors indicated, the size of the particles determines where they will be deposited in the lungs.

“Whether it’s in the throat or the upper airways, or whether it’s transported to the alveoli, that depends on the size of the particles and their other physical characteristics,” explained researcher Robert Nishida, a postdoctoral co-leader at the University of Alberta.

Even if tobacco is more toxic, particles in cannabis are larger

Researchers found that, among the billions of particles found in a single puff of cannabis smoke, there were 2,575 chemical compounds, of which they managed to identify 536. Among these, 110 have already been identified as toxic to humans, either because they are carcinogenic, mutagenic or teratogenic (chemicals that can interfere with the development of the embryo or fetus).

The researchers noted that despite tobacco is having more toxic compounds (173), the particles present in cannabis smoke were approximately 29 percent larger.

In total, there was 3.4 times the mass of particles in a typical cannabis joint than in a cigarette. Researchers referred to it as tar, a sticky brown substance composed of toxic chemical particles leftover from burning tobacco.

It is true that, despite the large number of studies that have been conducted on traditional cigarettes, there is still not much certainty about some of their health effects. However, the evidence collected so far is compelling enough to try to avoid it, and it seems that this applies to cannabis as well.


(Featured image by Grav via Unsplash)

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