In the past, we have reported on non-smokers who get lung cancer. There has been some speculation that while these people may not have smoked cigarettes, they DID smoke marijuana, but researchers have discovered that smoking pot does not lead to lung cancer.

Scientists always assumed that smoking pot was even more dangerous than smoking cigarettes, but a new study shows that people who smoke marijuana?even heavy, long-term marijuana users?do not appear to be at increased risk of developing lung cancer.These findings were a surprise to the researchers. “We expected that we would find that a history of heavy marijuana use?more than 500-1,000 uses?would increase the risk of cancer from several years to decades after exposure to marijuana,” says Dr. Donald Tashkin.

The study looked at 611 people in Los Angeles who developed lung cancer, 601 who developed cancer of the head or neck regions, and 1,040 people without cancer who were matched on age, gender and neighborhood. The researchers limited the study to people under age 60 because, “If you were born prior to 1940, you were unlikely to be exposed to marijuana use during your teens and 20s?the time of peak marijuana use,” Tashkin says. People who were exposed to marijuana use in their youth are just now getting to the age when cancer typically starts to develop.

The heaviest smokers in the study had smoked more than 22,000 marijuana cigarettes, or joints, while moderately heavy smokers had smoked between 11,000 to 22,000 joints. Even these smokers did not have an increased risk of developing cancer. People who smoked more marijuana were not at any increased risk compared with those who smoked less marijuana or none at all. The study found that 80% of lung cancer patients and 70% of patients with head and neck cancer had smoked tobacco, while only about half of patients with both types of cancer smoked marijuana.

The new findings are surprising for several reasons, Dr. Tashkin said. Previous studies have shown that marijuana tar contains about 50% higher concentrations of chemicals linked to lung cancer, compared with tobacco tar, he noted. Smoking a marijuana cigarette deposits four times more tar in the lungs than smoking an equivalent amount of tobacco. “Marijuana is packed more loosely than tobacco, so there’s less filtration through the rod of the cigarette, so more particles will be inhaled,” Tashkin says. “And marijuana smokers typically smoke differently than tobacco smokers?they hold their breath about four times longer, allowing more time for extra fine particles to deposit in the lung.”

One possible explanation for these findings is that THC, a chemical in marijuana smoke, may encourage aging cells to die earlier, BEFORE they undergo cancerous transformation.

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