A new study published this week in the journal Radiology, from Radiological Society of North America, stated that people who smoke marijuana have a higher rate of pulmonary emphysema and airway inflammation than those who consume only tobacco. The study was conducted by researchers at the University and Hospital of Ottawa, Canada. The result of the survey surprised even those involved in the work.
Over several years of research, researchers examined chest X-rays of 56 marijuana smokers, 57 non-smokers, and 33 tobacco-only smokers between 2005 and 2020. They found higher rates of airway inflammation and emphysema, a chronic lung disease , among regular marijuana smokers compared to regular smokers and non-smokers.
According to the MSD Manual of Diagnosis and Treatment, “emphysema is defined as the widespread and irreversible destruction of the alveolar walls (the cells that support the air sacs, or alveoli, that make up the lungs) and enlargement of many of the alveoli”🇧🇷 Patients with these conditions usually have difficulty breathing as their main symptom.
“The American Lung Association says the only thing that should be getting into your lungs is clean air, so if you inhale anything, it could potentially be toxic to your lungs.”Giselle Revah – Ottawa Hospital radiologist
“Cannabis use is increasing and there is a public perception that marijuana is safe or safer than (tobacco) cigarettes”, told AFP Giselle Revah, radiologist at the Ottawa Hospital, where the research was carried out. "But this study raises concerns that this may not be true".
Still according to the researcher, the explanation for this may be related to differences in how drugs are consumed. “Marijuana is smoked without a filter, unlike tobacco which is usually filtered. When you smoke unfiltered marijuana, more particles reach your airways, getting deposited there and irritating those airways.” Another detail raised by Revah is the fact that, when smoking marijuana, the smoke is purposefully retained for a longer time in the lungs, with long puffs, which can cause more damage to the organ.
In addition to problems involving the lungs, the study showed that gynecomastia, a condition in which male breast tissue is enlarged due to a hormonal imbalance, was more frequent among marijuana users. The researchers showed that 38% of cannabis users had gynecomastia, compared to 11% of tobacco-only smokers and 16% of non-smokers.
Another concern raised by the researcher is the fact that damage to the airways caused by smoking can become irreversible. “Airway inflammation early on is reversible”, she said. “When I see mucus and airway thickening, if you stop the exposure, that should get better. But sometimes this can lead to dilation of the airways, and when dilated, they are irreversible.”, concludes the specialist.
The small number of patients studied is one of the limitations of the work, but the main author emphasizes that further research is needed in the future to establish the relationship between the way people smoke cigarettes or marijuana and possible lung damage.
The new study comes weeks after other research indicates that recreational use of drugs, such as marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine and opioids, increases the risk of irregular heartbeat. Published by scientific journal European Heart Journal, this is the first study to identify the association between cannabis and the risk of the condition.
To understand a little better how recreational drugs can affect the likelihood of atrial fibrillation (also known as cardiac arrhythmia), researchers analyzed more than 20 million patients residing in California who required medical intervention between 2005 and 2015. Of this total, 132 98 people reported using cannabis, while a smaller proportion had used other drugs: methamphetamine (49 people), cocaine (10) and opioids (XNUMX).
During all those years, almost a million people developed atrial fibrillation. When the researchers looked at the role of drug use in the risk of the condition, they found that methamphetamine posed the greatest risk, with an 86% increase in the likelihood of the heart problem. Next is the use of opiates, with a 74% increase in risk, and cocaine, with 61%. Last but not least is marijuana, increasing the chances of cardiac arrhythmia by up to 35%.
“Despite showing a weaker association with incident atrial fibrillation than the other substances, cannabis use still exhibited a similar or greater magnitude of association with risk factors such as dyslipidemia, diabetes mellitus and chronic kidney disease. Furthermore, those with cannabis use exhibited similar relative risk as those with traditional tobacco use.”, write the authors.
Atrial fibrillation can be a precursor to more serious cardiovascular conditions. For example, irregular heartbeat can contribute to the formation of clots in the atria. These clots can break off and cause a deadly stroke. Atrial fibrillation-related strokes cause more than 150 deaths each year and affect an estimated 12,1 million people in the United States alone.
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