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As cannabis – especially recreational – continues to grow in popularity, many people have been wondering how similar it is to smoking other substances… mainly tobacco.

Like many who are more familiar with the effects of cannabis will adamantly tell you, it’s no where near as damaging as smoking cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products. Not only are the ill effects of tobacco well-documented, it’s also known as the most addictive psychoactive drug in the United States. Cannabis vs tobacco, what are the facts?

Tobacco is a plant. Nicotine is the psychoactive agent in the tobacco that is highly addictive.  Nicotine binds to and stimulates the same area of the brain as cocaine and amphetamines.  Nicotine tolerance develops faster than any other drug known – including cocaine and heroin.

On average, people who smoke tobacco cigarettes die fourteen years earlier than nonsmokers due to the shortened life expectancy caused by the damage that tobacco does to the body.  This is the reason why smokers find it more difficult to obtain life and disability insurance.

The Dangers of Using Tobacco

Cannabis vs tobacco: What are the risks?
Cannabis vs tobacco: What are the risks?

For starters, one in three teenagers who are “just experimenting” with tobacco cigarettes end up being addicted by the time they are twenty years old. This is a huge problem that leads to a lifetime of health issues if not curbed at a relatively young age. Ideally, quitting smoking before the age of 35 can reduce many health risks. But for someone that’s been smoking since they were a teen, the damage might already be done.

The effects smoking has on the human body are profound. A major concern is that nicotine decreases fertility in both men and women.  It decreases sperm production and decreases ovulation. It also increases the risk of still births, miscarriages, low birth weight, and mental retardation. Additionally, nicotine decreases nitric oxide production which has many negative effects for both men and women, such as making penile erections harder to maintain and affecting egg quality in the ovaries.

As a matter of fact, nicotine is so toxic that it was one of the first chemicals used in agricultural insecticides, but then cheaper chemicals were discovered and the sale of nicotine as a pesticide ceased.  Just imagine, nicotine – something humans smoke / chew / or ingested in any form, when eaten by an insect – it dies!

Frequently Asked Questions About Cannabis vs Tobacco

Question: Is it true that smoking one joint is equivalent to smoking ten cigarettes?

No, cannabis smokers inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer than tobacco smoker; therefore, cannabis smokers are exposed to more tar. It turns out that cannabinoids inactivate many of the carcinogens released by smoking.

Question: What are the dangers of cannabis cigarettes compared to tobacco cigarettes on lung health? 

Both cannabis and tobacco cans cause cough and chronic bronchitis, but the similarities end there. Tobacco contributes to heart disease, strokes, kidney dysfunction, vascular disease, vision loss, hearing loss, and is a chief contributing factor to multiple malignancies.

Question: Is there any problem if you mix the tobacco with the cannabis before you smoke it?

Yes, you will still derive many of the benefits from the cannabis, but you will be exposing yourself to the dangers of nicotine.

Take Home Point

Smoking cannabis vs tobacco
Smoking cannabis vs tobacco

There are millions of people all over the world who smoke cannabis for its medical benefits.  How many people smoke tobacco for its medical benefits?  Answer: none.

 References:

“Cannabinoid receptor agonists are mitochondrial inhibitors: A unified hypothesis of how cannabinoids modulate mitochondrial function and induce cell death.” Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, December 7, 2007

“Cannabis and tobacco smoke are not equally carcinogenic.” Harm Reduction Journal, October 2005

“Cannabidiol inhibits cancer cell invasion via upregulation of tissue inhibitor of matrix metalloproteinases-1.” Biochemical Pharmacology, Biochemical Pharmacology, April 2010  

“Harmful effects of nicotine.”  Indian J Med Paediatr Oncol. 2015 Jan-Mar; 36(1): 24–31.

“Cannabis and tobacco smoke are not equally carcinogenic.”  Harm Reduct J. 2005; 2: 21.

“Marijuana use and mortality.”  Am J Public Health. 1997 Apr; 87(4):585-90.

“Effects of cannabis on pulmonary structure, function and symptoms.” Thorax 2007; 62:1058–1063

“Antineoplastic activity of cannabinoids.” J Natl Cancer Inst. 1975 Sep; 55(3):597-602.

“Inhibition of glioma growth in vivo by selective activation of the CB(2) cannabinoid receptor.” Cancer Res. 2001 Aug 1; 61(15):5784-9.

“Targeting CB2 cannabinoid receptors as a novel therapy to treat malignant lymphoblastic disease.”

Blood. 2002 Jul 15; 100(2):627-34.

“Inhibition of skin tumor growth and angiogenesis in vivo by activation of cannabinoid receptors.” 

J Clin Invest. 2003 Jan; 111(1):43-50

“Anandamide induces apoptosis of PC-12 cells: involvement of superoxide and caspase-3.” FEBS Lett. 2000 Apr 21; 472(1):39-44.

Pulmonary hazards of smoking marijuana as compared with tobacco.  N Engl J Med. 1988 Feb 11; 318(6):347-51.

Role of nitric oxide in ovarian follicular development and egg production in Japanese quail. (Coturnix coturnix japonica) 2006 April 15

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