Effects of cannabis on pulmonary structure, function and symptoms

Aldington, Sarah; Williams, Mathew; Nowitz, Mike; Weatherall, Mark; Pritchard, Alison; McNaughton, Amanda; Robinson, Geoffrey; Beasley, Richard
December 2007
Thorax;Dec2007, Vol. 62 Issue 12, p1058
Academic Journal
journal article
Background: Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug worldwide. Long-term use of cannabis is known to cause chronic bronchitis and airflow obstruction, but the prevalence of macroscopic emphysema, the dose-response relationship and the dose equivalence of cannabis with tobacco has not been determined. Methods: A convenience sample of adults from the Greater Wellington region was recruited into four smoking groups: cannabis only, tobacco only, combined cannabis and tobacco and non-smokers of either substance. Their respiratory status was assessed using high-resolution CT (HRCT) scanning, pulmonary function tests and a respiratory and smoking questionnaire. Associations between respiratory status and cannabis use were examined by analysis of covariance and logistic regression. Results: 339 subjects were recruited into the four groups. A dose-response relationship was found between cannabis smoking and reduced forced expiratory volume in 1 s to forced vital capacity ratio and specific airways conductance, and increased total lung capacity. For measures of airflow obstruction, one cannabis joint had a similar effect to 2.5-5 tobacco cigarettes. Cannabis smoking was associated with decreased lung density on HRCT scans. Macroscopic emphysema was detected in 1/75 (1.3%), 15/92 (16.3%), 17/91 (18.9%) and 0/81 subjects in the cannabis only, combined cannabis and tobacco, tobacco alone and non-smoking groups, respectively. Conclusions: Smoking cannabis was associated with a dose-related impairment of large airways function resulting in airflow obstruction and hyperinflation. In contrast, cannabis smoking was seldom associated with macroscopic emphysema. The 1:2.5-5 dose equivalence between cannabis joints and tobacco cigarettes for adverse effects on lung function is of major public health significance.


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