Marijuana smoke is three times more harmful than exposure to tobacco smoke, new research suggests. Many people are turning to medical marijuana for their pain management needs, thinking that because it is natural it is somehow safer than other drugs commonly used to treat pain. Matthew Springer, a professor at University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, has been studying the effects of smoke on rats and found exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke makes it harder for arteries to function properly.

Springer’s research involved putting a lit cigarette or marijuana joint in a plexiglass box with anesthetized rats. When exposed to tobacco smoke, the rats’ arteries had difficulty expanding for about 30 minutes. However, when exposed to marijuana smoke, the arteries took about 90 minutes to return to their normal function. According to the researcher, tightly controlled marijuana, which has been tested, has less chemicals than cigarettes. However, any smoke is bad for the lungs, heart and blood vessels.

Springer said people shouldn’t think of the research “an anti-THC conclusion,” referencing the active ingredient in marijuana, rather “an anti-smoke conclusion.”

“We in the public health community have been telling them for decades to avoid inhaling secondhand smoke from tobacco,” Springer says. “We have not been telling them to avoid inhaling secondhand smoke from marijuana, and that’s not because it’s not bad for you — it’s because we just haven’t known. The experiments haven’t been done.”

There has been little research into the short term and long term health effects of first hand or secondhand marijuana smoke. “We in the public health community have been telling them for decades to avoid inhaling secondhand smoke from tobacco,” Springer recently explained to National Public Radio. “We have not been telling them to avoid inhaling secondhand smoke from marijuana, and that’s not because it’s not bad for you – it’s because we just haven’t known. The experiments haven’t been done.”

The increasing use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices is concerning to him and other researchers.  The tobacco and marijuana industries present these devices as alternatives to avoid inhaling smoke and producing secondhand smoke, however Springer warns they could contain harmful chemicals of their own. He is currently researching the health effects of those chemicals as well.

Marcus has over a decade of experience in the medical foods and dietary supplement industry and currently serves as Managing Director for Physician Therapeutics.

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