Smoking marijuana is as bad for your lungs as smoking tobacco, according to a report from the British Lung Foundation. Marijuana has the same chemicals that are harmful to respiratory tissue as tobacco?except for nicotine?and three marijuana joints a day are as dangerous as 20 cigarettes, mainly because of the way they’re smoked.

“These statistics will come as a surprise to many people, especially those who choose to smoke cannabis rather than tobacco in the belief it is safer for them,” says Mark Britton, of the BLF. A survey done in the U.K. in 2002 found that 79% of children think marijuana is “safe.” One reason it’s so dangerous is that the amount of smoke that?s inhaled in order to get “high” is 2/3 more than with tobacco, and the smoke gets sucked 1/3 deeper into the lungs and held there 4 times longer. “You inhale deeper and hold your breath with the smoke for longer before exhaling. This results in more poisonous carbon dioxide and tar entering into the lungs,” says Helena Shovelton of the BLF.

Tar from marijuana has 50% higher concentrations of the cancer-causing chemicals benzathracenes and benzpyrenes than tobacco smoke. THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, decreases the ability of the immune system to function. The average joint in the 1960s contained about 10 milligrams of tetrahydrocanabinol (THC), while today it?s 150 mg. “This means that the modern cannabis smoker may be exposed to greater doses of THC than in the 1960s or 1970s,” according to the Lung Foundation report.

Governments in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. are considering legalizing marijuana for medical use in a mouth spray or pill form. “We have always been keen to find additional ways of administering cannabis as a medicine,” says Nina Booth-Clibborn of the Medicinal Cannabis Research Foundation. “It did seem that smoking would not be the best way.”

Lyndon Pugh, editor pro-Marijuana magazine CC Newz, says, “These allegations have been made before countless times. Lot of things are dangerous, like driving.”

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