Does Cannabis Cause Cancer?

July 29, 2023
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Does marijuana cause cancer?

For decades, the connection between smoking tobacco cigarettes and developing a variety of cancers has been common knowledge. But what about marijuana, another plant that is most commonly consumed by smoking via joints, blunts, or bongs?

Like tobacco smoke, cannabis smoke contains a variety of chemicals and compounds, several of which are linked to lung cancer or are linked to respiratory diseases.

In this article, we’ll explain in greater detail what the presence of these chemicals means in terms of cancer risk for individual cannabis consumers. We’ll also explore whether vaping cannabis presents a healthier alternative consumption method in comparison to smoking and cover a brief history of the close link between cancer patients and medical cannabis.

Marijuana smoking and cancer

After tobacco, cannabis is the most widely smoked substance in the world, according to the United Nations’ World Drug Report for 2021.

Given what we know about tobacco smoke and cancer, it would be reasonable to expect a similar connection between lung cancer and cannabis smoke. The current evidence on the matter, however, seems to indicate otherwise. 

“One would expect marijuana to be associated with an increased risk for lung cancer,” the authors of one literature review published in 2022 explain. “Older studies corroborated that impression, with more recent studies negating it. Once again, there is a suggestion that marijuana smoke may contain both injurious and beneficial substances.”

The authors go on to recommend that consumers — especially those who consume more heavily or frequently — remain “tentative” about the lack of evidence connecting cannabis smoke and lung cancer.

“None of these conclusions should be considered to be final,” they state. “Studies have been subject to confounding by concomitant use of tobacco, small sample sizes, young age of participants, and, most important, underreporting.”

Another literature review, published in 2021, also makes the observation that the older studies referenced in the quote above were focused on consumers in North Africa, where “tobacco is commonly mixed with cannabis… thus making it difficult to rule out residual confounding by tobacco smoking.”

“The co-use of cannabis with tobacco is associated with a variety of health problems. Combustible tobacco use is particularly high among cannabis and tobacco co-users (co-users) relative to tobacco-only users. This is quite concerning because tobacco use is the leading cause of cancer,” the review’s authors add.

The 2021 review found that several recent studies conducted in Sweden and California, as well as pooled studies from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand, did not support a link between cannabis smoking and lung cancer. 

From this data, we can confidently assert that adding tobacco products to your cannabis is generally a bad move for your well-being, and may indeed increase your risk of developing lung cancer. Until more studies are conducted to further clarify any connection between lung cancer and cannabis smoke, light up at your own risk.

Cannabis has been studied in relation to a variety of non-lung cancers as well. According to the 2021 literature review, studies have found mixed evidence that smoking cannabis might increase your risk of developing cancers of the neck and head. There is also evidence suggesting that smoking cannabis, especially when done frequently over a long period of time, might increase your risk of developing testicular cancer.

Is vaping cannabis safer than smoking?

Despite the dangers of smoking, there are still benefits to inhalation as a consumption method. Fortunately, you don’t have to smoke cannabis to inhale it. Dry herb vaporization devices, for example, present a relatively safe option in comparison to smoking.

This is because vaporizers, sometimes called “heat-not-burn” devices, don’t actually burn your cannabis product and therefore don’t produce smoke or the harmful byproducts that would be contained in that smoke.

These devices, which include classics like the Storz & Bickel Volcano alongside newer market favorites like the Dynavap (an affordable entry point!) or the TinyMight, essentially act like a small oven that heats your cannabis flower to the point where the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds turn into an inhalable vapor that doesn’t negatively impact your respiratory system as badly as smoking does. Many dry herb vapes can also be connected to your bong or bubbler, allowing you to still get the cooling benefits of those consumption tools. 

Oil pens or dab pens are another type of popular vaporization-based inhalation device. These, however, do carry some risks in spite of not producing smoke. As the 2021 review is careful to note, vaping with an oil cartridge from a non-regulated source could potentially expose you to toxic additives used by some illicit producers to make and fill their cartridges. The list of potential contaminants includes “pesticides, solvent residues, and toxic metals from the original plant material or from processing and storage” as well as “ petroleum distillates, medium-chain triglycerides… [and] vitamin E acetate.”

To stay safe, we recommend purchasing your vape cartridges only from regulated dispensaries. Using Jointly Matches, which helps direct you to cannabis products based on your own particular wellness goals, will also ensure you’re only purchasing quality products from vetted sources.

Cannabis and cancer patients: A brief history

Any article detailing the connection between cancer and cannabis would be remiss in excluding the history between the battle for cannabis legalization and medical marijuana. 

For example, a 1972 report from the U.S. National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse — also called Shafer Commission, after chairman Raymond Shafer — presented a turning point in the history of cannabis legalization by lending the federal government’s clout to the idea that marijuana could have therapeutic potential.

The report “garnered headlines because of its proposal to decriminalize the personal possession and use of pot” and contained “an addendum recommending that the federal government support studies examining the efficacy of marijuana in the treatment of various diseases, including glaucoma, migraine, alcoholism, and cancer,” writes Lewis A. Grossman, a lawyer and professor of law and history at American University.

After the publication of the Shafer Commission’s report, thanks to the activism of groups like NORML and legendary activists like Dennis Peron (who co-founded the country’s first cannabis dispensary in San Francisco and co-authored California’s Proposition 215, which legalized medical cannabis use in that state) a wave of medical marijuana legalization slowly progressed across the country. 

While there isn’t a significant body of evidence supporting the use of medical marijuana for alleviating pain and nausea caused by chemotherapy, 21st century studies have found that chemotherapy patients who used cannabis for pain and nausea experienced reduced symptoms in comparison to those who received a placebo.

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So if you're ready to find your best products and enjoy your perfect cannabis experience, download the Jointly app today on the App Store or Google Play, or shop your matches on the Jointly website. Discovery awaits.

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