Marijuana: Respiratory tract effects

  • Owen K
  • Sutter M
  • Albertson T
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Daily marijuana smoking has been clearly shown to have adverse effects on pulmonary function and produce respiratory symptomatology (cough, wheeze, and sputum production) similar to that of tobacco smokers. Based on the tobacco experience, decrements in pulmonary function may be predictive of the future development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, in the absence of alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, the habitual marijuana-only smoker would likely have to smoke 4-5 joints per day for a span of at least 30 yr in order to develop overt manifestations of COPD. The mutagenic/carcinogenic properties of marijuana smoke are also well-established. The potential for induction of laryngeal, oropharyngeal, and possibly bronchogenic carcinoma from marijuana has been documented by several case reports and observational series. Despite this, a relative risk ratio for the development of these tumors has not yet been quantified. Based on a higher frequency of case reports for upper airway cancer compared to bronchogenic carcinoma, marijuana smoking may have a more deleterious effect on the upper respiratory tract. However, this hypothesis remains speculative at best, pending confirmation by longitudinal studies.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Immune system
  • Malignancy
  • Marijuana

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  • Kelly P. Owen

  • Mark E. Sutter

  • Timothy E. Albertson

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