Robert J. Hancox
Cannabis is one of the world's most widely used recreational drugs and the second most commonly smoked substance. Research on cannabis and the lungs has been limited by its illegal status, the variability in strength and size of cannabis cigarettes (joints), and the fact that most cannabis users also smoke tobacco, making the effects difficult to separate. Despite these difficulties, the available evidence indicates that smoking cannabis causes bronchitis and is associated with changes in lung function. The pattern of effects is surprisingly different from that of tobacco. Whereas smoking cannabis appears to increase the risk of severe bronchitis at quite low exposure, there is no convincing evidence that this leads to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Instead, cannabis use is associated with increased central airway resistance, lung hyperinflation and higher vital capacity with little evidence of airflow obstruction or impairment of gas transfer. There are numerous reports of severe bullous lung disease and pneumothorax among heavy cannabis users, but convincing epidemiological data of an increased risk of emphysema or alveolar destruction are lacking. An association between cannabis and lung cancer remains unproven, with studies providing conflicting findings.