Emphysema more common in marijuana smokers than cigarette smokers

Airway inflammation and emphysema are more common in marijuana smokers than cigarette smokers, according to a study published in Radiology, a journal of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA). Researchers said the difference may be due to the way that marijuana is smoked and the fact that marijuana smoke enters the lungs unfiltered.

Marijuana is one of the most widely used psychoactive substances in the world and the most-commonly smoked substance after tobacco. Its use has increased in recent years amid legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada and many states in the U.S. The growing use has created an urgent need for information on marijuana’s effects on the lungs, something that is currently lacking.

“We know what cigarettes do to the lungs,” said study author Giselle Revah, M.D., a cardiothoracic radiologist and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Canada. “There are well researched and established findings of cigarette smoking on the lungs. Marijuana we know very little about.”

To find out more, Dr. Revah and colleagues compared chest CT results from 56 marijuana smokers with those of 57 non-smoking controls and 33 tobacco-only smokers.

Three-quarters of the marijuana smokers had emphysema, a lung disease that causes difficulty with breathing, compared with 67% of the tobacco-only smokers. Only 5% of the non-smokers had emphysema. Paraseptal emphysema, which damages the tiny ducts that connect to the air sacs in the lungs, was the predominant emphysema subtype in marijuana smokers compared to the tobacco-only group.

Airway inflammation was also more common in marijuana smokers than non-smokers and tobacco-only smokers, as was gynecomastia, enlarged male breast tissue due to a hormone imbalance. Gynecomastia was found in 38% of the marijuana smokers, compared with 11% of the tobacco-only smokers and 16% of the controls.

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