Does marijuana increase the risk of developing cancer?

03-20-2017 Posted in Marijuana

Although marijuana use is illegal under the U.S. federal law, its medicinal use has been legalized by 28 states and the District of Columbia; eight of them have even legalized its recreational use. The rapid expansion of marijuana use across states is leading to concerns about a potential risk of cancer, specifically lung cancer.

There is a comprehensive body of research which proves the link between smoking tobacco and cancer; however, the evidence is not so clear in the case of marijuana. Scientific research has so far not been able to establish a direct link between smoking weed and cancer of the lungs or other organs. Smoke from marijuana combustion contains many of the same irritants, toxins and carcinogenic matter as tobacco smoke. Of additional relevance is the fact that marijuana is smoked differently than tobacco. Marijuana smokers inhale deeper and hold their breath longer than cigarette smokers, which increases the likelihood of lung cell damage caused by marijuana smoke.

Marijuana and cancer: Inconclusive evidence necessitates additional research

There are mixed findings from studies which have tried to substantiate (or disprove) the carcinogenic effects of smoking marijuana. One of the challenges in doing such an analysis is the fact that many marijuana users are also tobacco users – this makes the task of separating marijuana’s carcinogenic effects more difficult.

  • A 2015 study published in the International Journal of Cancer analyzed cumulative data from six case-control studies in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and New Zealand within the International Lung Cancer Consortium. Even though the possibility of damage due to heavy cannabis consumption could not be ruled out, the researchers found negligible evidence of an increased risk of lung cancer among habitual or long-term cannabis smokers.
  • Another study undertaken by the University of Southern California (USC) found a link between smoking cannabis and potential cancerous effects on testicular cells. Findings of the study were published in Cancer, an online peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society. The researchers emphasized caution in the use of marijuana for either recreational or medicinal purposes.
  • An older study published in one of SAGE journals analyzed the cause and effect relation between cannabis and cancer of the head and neck. It was found that there is a higher chance of developing cancer due to alcohol consumption, tobacco use and lower income levels, but not as a result of cannabis use. However, the researchers acknowledge that the study suffered from certain limitations and that a short-term or longer-term effect could not be ruled out.
  • A large body of past research has not been able to establish or invalidate the association between cannabis use and various types of cancers, including lung, anal, testicles, bladder, aerodigestive tract and childhood cancers.

Although there is uncertainty regarding the carcinogenic effects of cannabis, some studies suggest that it may inhibit the growth of certain types of tumors. The National Cancer Institute provides details of results from preclinical studies investigating the effects of marijuana in inhibiting or curing liver, colon and breast cancers.

Marijuana’s damaging effects cannot be overlooked

Even if there is lack of scientific evidence proving the link between marijuana and cancer, it is difficult to ignore its hazardous impact on an individual’s overall health. Smoking cannabis has been known to cause chronic cough, wheezing, phlegm and acute bronchitis. Heavy marijuana smoking may possibly result in the formation of air pockets between the lungs or between the lungs and the chest wall, and air bubbles in the lungs. It also suppresses the immune system increasing the likelihood of infections of lung and other organs.

It is also relevant to understand the impact of passive marijuana smoking. Research published in the journal of the American Heart Association shows that even a very limited exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke may damage blood vessels, and prolonged exposure can lead to long-term problems such as clogged and hardened arteries.

Controlling the damaging effects of using cannabis or any other addictive substance is a challenge for the government and society. It becomes imperative to ensure that holistic treatment is available to help people suffering from addiction. If you or a loved one needs professional help, get in touch with the 24/7 Drug Addiction Helpline experts to get guidance on some of the best inpatient drug abuse treatment centers in your vicinity. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-403-5607 or chat online for more information on how to avail help for drug addiction.

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