Respiratory experts in New Zealand are asking pro-cannabis lawmakers to consider the effects of smoking marijuana after a review linked it to bronchitis. The researchers also found that cannabis smoking could lead to another severe respiratory condition known as ‘bong lung’.
This conclusion was based on the analysis of existing international research regarding the effects of cannabis smoking on the lungs. According to the analysis, while cannabis behaves differently from tobacco, smoking it even in small amounts could cause respiratory problems.
The New Zealand government is currently ready for cannabis legalization. Earlier this month, it released the final model for a referendum scheduled for later this year. All the same, the lead researcher at the University of Otago Professor Bob Hancox says legalisation policies should consider extensive health effects of smoking. He says much of the current debate on legalisation focuses on social and mental health risks.
Whether liberalizing availability will lead to further increases in cannabis remains to be seen, but it is likely that patterns of cannabis use will change, with resulting health consequences, Hancox says.
As New Zealand considers decriminalizing or legalizing recreational marijuana, Professor Hancox said there is still a lot to discover about cannabis. He said there is sufficient evidence to confirm that smoking is harmful to the lungs.
Our findings were that it does cause lung damage, although the effects are not quite the same as tobacco, he said.
Hancox added that heavy users who smoke at least a joint per day for an extended period could develop a condition known as ‘bong lung’. However, he was quick to say, “That involves very regular use over many years.”
More discussion on respiratory health impacts
While reiterating the possible consequences of smoking cannabis, Hancox was quick to note that they were not for or against legalisation. In a statement, he said:
We are not here to say we are for or against legalisation, but just that smoking it does have toxic effects on the lungs, and that we would not want to see an increase in a large amount of people smoking heavily over a long period.
The researchers concluded that with the upcoming referendum on legalising recreational cannabis, they advocate for more debate on the respiratory health impacts. That said, there are other ways to consume cannabis including edibles, which the researchers say could be less damaging to the lungs.
The main issue for the lungs here is the burning, so obviously if you don’t smoke it, it will do less damage to your lungs, although there are other health issues associated with cannabis to consider, Hancox stated.