Is smoking weed bad for you?

Thanks to a decades-long smear campaign (“Reefer Madness,” anyone?), a large portion of the US population operated under the assumption that weed was always bad.

That all began to change once legalization, both medical and recreational, started spreading across the country. Today, cannabis has become much more normalized and many people not only disagree with the idea that cannabis is bad for you, they actually incorporate weed into their wellness routines.

But what about smoking weed? Are there any risks? Does smoking carry more side effects than other consumption methods? 

Inherent risks

While we wish the answer was as clear cut as “yes, smoking weed is bad for you” or “no, smoking weed isn't bad for you,” the truth is a bit more complicated.

First, let's look at smoking as a consumption method. Whenever you combust plant material, toxins called polyaromatic hydrocarbons form. Polyaromatic hydrocarbons exist in both tobacco and cannabis smoke and exposing yourself to those toxins is one of the risks of smoking weed.

man smoking joint
Research shows that smoking cannabis doesn't have the same risks as smoking cigarettes.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

But research shows that smoking cannabis just doesn't have the same risks as smoking cigarettes. While smoking weed to excess may lead to respiratory issues (like bronchitis or, in severe cases, COPD), there has been no causal link found between smoking weed and cancer, one of the biggest risks associated with smoking cigarettes. In fact, research shows that some of the compounds in cannabis show potential for slowing the growth of cancerous tumors

Smoking anything, including cannabis, has potential risks. But research shows that cannabis smoke has far fewer risks than cigarette smoke, and, to date, there's been no link found between cannabis and cancer.

Potential side-effects

People use cannabis in different ways, for different reasons, and have different experiences. Many people smoke weed and encounter no negative side effects whatsoever. Some find tremendous relief from conditions like PTSD or chronic pain. These people would probably say smoking weed is not bad for them. 

But others smoke weed and have a different experience. Weed can make some people feel anxious, tired, or unmotivated. In extreme cases, they may develop cannabis use disorder. For those people, smoking weed probably isn't the best choice.

Every consumption method, including smoking, has potential side effects. Some of those associated with smoking cannabis include:

The risks associated with smoking weed increase based on the frequency and duration of use. For people who smoke weed on a moderate basis, the benefits (particularly for patients using cannabis for medical reasons) typically outweigh the risks. 

gummy edibles
If you're concerned about experiencing respiratory side effects, try other consumption methods, like edibles, tinctures, or vaporizers.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

If you're concerned about experiencing respiratory side effects, other consumption methods (like edibles, tinctures, or vaporizers) may help mitigate those risks.

Is there anyone who should avoid smoking weed?

There are certain groups of people who should avoid cannabis, including:

  • People under the age of 21. There is a mountain of evidence that using cannabis while the brain is still developing can lead to serious adverse outcomes, so children, adolescents, and young adults under the age of 21 should abstain from smoking weed or consuming cannabis. 
  • People with psychotic disorders and/or a family history of psychotic disorders. Cannabis may exacerbate symptoms of a psychotic disorder. If you struggle with a mental illness like schizophrenia or psychosis (or you're at high risk due to a family history of such disorders), it's recommended that you avoid cannabis altogether.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women. While there is some debate around the safety and potential risks of smoking weed while pregnant or breastfeeding, the research still hasn't reached any definitive answers. For the sake of the child's health, most medical professionals recommend erring on the side of caution and abstaining from cannabis use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
  • People with cannabis use disorder. If you find yourself struggling with dependence on cannabis or your cannabis use is interfering with or negatively impacting your life, abstinence is often necessary. 
  • People on certain medications. Cannabis may interact with certain pharmaceutical drugs. If you've been prescribed blood thinners, blood pressure medication, or any other medications to help manage or treat a cardiac condition, it's important to speak to your doctor about smoking weed and confirm whether there are any potential risks or interactions between cannabis and your prescribed medication. If you're on any psychiatric drugs, it's also important to talk to your doctor about whether smoking weed while taking your prescribed drugs can cause any negative side effects.

While the majority of people in the above-mentioned groups should avoid smoking cannabis, there are exceptions, particularly when cannabis is prescribed for medical reasons. Again, the only way to determine whether smoking weed is good or bad in any particular situation is to evaluate the risks and benefits, apply them to yourself and your situation, and come to a personal conclusion for yourself and your health. 

Bottom line

From the perspective of consumption, smoking cannabis carries some risk, but not nearly as many risks as smoking cigarettes. Cannabis has the potential to be both helpful and harmful, healthy and unhealthy, “good” and “bad.” It all depends on a variety of factors, including your health, your history, and the way you use cannabis. Weigh the risks and benefits and make the decision that's right for you. 

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The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical or legal advice. This page was last updated on September 8, 2020.