Study says marijuana less harmful to lungs

By Sarah Mitchell

Study sparks dialogue about drug’s effects

Some students are beginning to re-evaluate their smoking habits, as a study released last week by the Journal of the American Medical Association stated there is no decline in lung function after one marijuana joint a week for 49 years.

The study, which followed more than 5,000 people for 20 years, found smoking marijuana daily led to a decline in lung function after 10 years, although not to a significant degree.


Chris Julian-Fralish, coordinator of the alcohol and drug abuse program at the Student Health Center, said he anticipates seeing students who use the results of the study as an excuse to smoke marijuana.

“People are not going to look at the actual research, and they’ll use it as a justification to use it in ways that aren’t necessarily healthy,” he said.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug.

About three-quarters of those who use illicit drugs cite marijuana use.

Julian-Fralish said he thinks people need to pay more attention to the details of the research because the study primarily examined those who smoke marijuana only two to three times a month.

“What the authors also report in this is that it’s more difficult to estimate potential effects of regular heavy use because this pattern of use is relatively rare,” he said.

College-aged students are most responsible for the increase in marijuana use, according to a study conducted by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The study reported drug use among young adults ages 18 to 25 has jumped from 19.6 percent in 2008 to 21.5 percent in 2010.

For some students, the results of the study came as no surprise. Before seeing the results of the study, Trevor, a sophomore from Homewood studying cinema and history whose last name will not be used due to the nature of this article, said he suspected marijuana smoke was not dangerous.

Trevor said he has been smoking marijuana twice a day since high school, and he does not think the drug has had a negative effect on his health.

“I play sports and it’s never been a problem,” he said. “I can still run and swim just fine.”

Marijuana smoke contains many of the same chemicals as cigarette smoke, and until now, researchers were unsure whether marijuana use led to the same injuries to the lungs as cigarette smoking.

Michael, an undecided sophomore from Chicago, said he smoked marijuana for three years and never found the drug hazardous. However, when he began smoking cigarettes, he said he felt a negative change in his short-term health.

“I smoked cigarettes for six months and it was harder to breathe,” he said. “I was coughing a lot.”

Michael said although he never experienced health problems from smoking marijuana, he would not say the drug is completely without health risks.

“If you’re going to smoke weed everyday, you’re bound to come into some health problems that aren’t necessarily from smoking alone,” he said. “You might stop taking care of yourself as much. You could eat worse. You might not want to exercise.”

Julian-Fralish said it is important to be responsible with information and not just focus on one extreme or the other.

He said people think smoking is not a health hazard for the heart and lungs, but that is not true.

“On the other hand, maybe … the idea that any amount of smoking is going to harm you physically isn’t necessarily accurate. Both sides may not be true, and it doesn’t serve to live … in these areas of extremism with these ideas,” he said.

Julian-Fralish said the study has the potential to open up conversations about a more accurate portrayal of the dangers of smoking.

“We’re not living in a black and white world,” he said. “The world’s a shade of gray, and so is the marijuana issue.”