A new study has found that 7.1% of the population in the UK have used cannabis in the last year. Despite the fact that smoking remains the most common method of cannabis use, many of these users describe themselves as non-smokers, suggesting that many cannabis users may not recognise the associated risks.
It is thought that up to 75% of cannabis users usually mix the drug with tobacco for smoking. Nevertheless, based on the findings of the study – a questionnaire with a sample population of 13,000 – an estimated 380,000 people who smoke cannabis daily, either with or without tobacco, still describe themselves as non-smokers.
An additional 830,000 people are estimated to use cannabis in the same way on a weekly basis. The study, which aimed to understand the prevalence of the co-use of tobacco and cannabis and the mental health implications of each substance, was published in the Journal Addiction.
In an interview with The Guardian, one of the authors of the study, Hannah Walsh of King’s College London, said:
“It is possible that they do not realise they are putting their health at risk. It’s also a concern that people may be unwittingly establishing a tobacco addiction, with cannabis acting as their route into a lifetime of smoking tobacco.”
While significant research has established the significant health risks associated with tobacco smoke, fewer have focused on cannabis. However, the relatively limited evidence suggests that cannabis smoke and tobacco smoke carry some of the same health risks.
Inhaling the smoke from any plant matter is guaranteed to expose the lungs to toxic chemicals and carcinogens. These chemicals can cause inflammation, coughing, and wheezing (bronchitis). The American Lung Association claims that smoking marijuana has been found to lead to chronic bronchitis and can damage the cell linings of the large airways in our lungs.
While cannabis smoke may carry some risks to health, tobacco is still believed to be the more harmful of the two drugs. Tobacco smoke has been linked to many serious health conditions including cancer, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. However, the common combination of the two substances may be a cause for concern.
Cannabis is often smoked in combination with tobacco and smoked without a filter. This leaves the user exposed to harmful chemicals and carcinogens that may ordinarily be trapped by cigarette filters.
The results of this study emphasise the need for more robust education on the harms of cannabis use, beyond the potential mental health issues that are often associated with the drug and pedaled by the media.