Marijuana use has been shown to increase users’ difficulty in trying to quit smoking tobacco. This was reported in a study comparing smoking cessation in adults who smoked both marijuana and tobacco with those who smoked only tobacco. The relationship between marijuana use and continued smoking was particularly strong in those who smoked marijuana daily at the time of the initial interview, 13 years prior to the followup interview. A study of 450 individuals found that people who smoke marijuana frequently but do not smoke tobacco have more health problems and miss more days of work than nonsmokers do. Many of the extra sick days used by the marijuana smokers in the study were for respiratory illnesses.
Even infrequent marijuana use can cause burning and stinging of the mouth and throat, often accompanied by a heavy cough. Someone who smokes marijuana regularly may have many of the same respiratory problems that tobacco smokers do, such as daily cough and phlegm production, more frequent acute chest illnesses, a heightened risk of lung infections, and a greater tendency toward obstructed airways. Cancer of the respiratory tract and lungs may also be promoted by marijuana smoke.
A study comparing 173 cancer patients and 176 healthy individuals produced strong evidence that smoking marijuana increases the likelihood of developing cancer of the head or neck, and that the more marijuana smoked, the greater the increase. A statistical analysis of the data suggested that marijuana smoking doubled or tripled the risk of these cancers. Marijuana has the potential to promote cancer of the lungs and other parts of the respiratory tract because it contains irritants and carcinogens. In fact, marijuana smoke contains 50 percent to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke. It also produces high levels of an enzyme that converts certain hydrocarbons into their carcinogenic form, levels that may accelerate the changes that ultimately produce malignant cells. Marijuana users usually inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer than tobacco smokers do, which increases the lungs’ exposure to carcinogenic smoke.
These facts suggest that, puff for puff, smoking marijuana may increase the risk of cancer more than smoking tobacco does. Some adverse health effects caused by marijuana may occur because THC impairs the immune system’s ability to fight off infectious diseases and cancer. In laboratory experiments that exposed animal and human cells to THC or other marijuana ingredients, the normal disease-preventing reactions of many of the key types of immune cells were inhibited.
In other studies, mice exposed to THC or related substances were more likely than unexposed mice to develop bacterial infections and tumors. One study has indicated that a person’s risk of heart attack during the first hour after smoking marijuana is four times his or her usual risk. The researchers suggest that a heart attack might occur, in part, because marijuana raises blood pressure and heart rate and reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood.
Marijuana and Memory
Marijuana’s damage to short-term memory seems to occur because THC alters the way in which information is processed by the hippocampus, a brain area responsible for memory formation. Laboratory rats treated with THC displayed the same reduced ability to perform tasks requiring short-term memory as other rats showed after nerve cells in their hippocampus were destroyed. In addition, the THC-treated rats had the greatest difficulty with the tasks precisely during the time when the drug was interfering most with the normal functioning of cells in the hippocampus.
As people age, they normally lose neurons in the hippocampus, which decreases their ability to remember events. Chronic THC exposure may hasten the age-related loss of hippocampal neurons. In one series of studies, rats exposed to THC every day for 8 months (approximately 30 percent of their lifespan), when examined at 11 to 12 months of age, showed nerve cell loss equivalent to that of unexposed animals twice their age.
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This information is from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website.