Smoking marijuana probably leads to lung cancer, just as smoking cigarettes does (in most people, anyway) but the verdict is still out. A large-scale national study suggests low to moderate use of marijuana is less harmful to users’ lungs than exposure to tobacco, even though the two substances contain many of the same components.

There are plenty of chances to inhale it: Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States–16.7 million Americans ages 12 and older reported using marijuana at least once in the month prior to being surveyed. In addition, since 1996, 16 states and Washington, DC have legalized the medical use of marijuana to help manage the symptoms of many diseases, including cancer, AIDS and glaucoma.

Researcher Stefan Kertesz says, "With marijuana use increasing and large numbers of people who have been and continue to be exposed, knowing whether it causes lasting damage to lung function is important for public-health messaging and medical use of marijuana." His study showed that " even up to moderately high-use levels–one joint a day for seven years–there is no evidence of decreased air-flow rates or lung volumes."

Researcher Mark Pletcher says, "An important factor that helps explain the difference in effects from these two substances is the amount of each that is typically smoked. Tobacco users typically smoke ten to 20 cigarettes a day, and some smoke much more than that. Marijuana users, on average, smoke only two to three times a month, so the typical exposure to marijuana is much lower than for tobacco."

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