Bad news for anyone who thought vaping cannabis was a healthier alternative to smoking. A new study claims that vaping THC products can be more harmful to the lungs than vaping or smoking nicotine products. The good news is smoking flower is still thought to be safer than using tobacco.
The study was published last week in the Journal of Adolescent Health, and it contradicts conventional wisdom that vaping cannabis oil is safer than smoking flower. Researchers analyzed data collected by the two-year Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Study conducted by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The previous study surveyed teens between the ages of 12 and 17. The participants were asked if they’d experienced wheezing or whistling in the chest that disturbed sleep or limited speech. They were also asked if they experienced wheezing during or after exercise.
In an interview lead researcher Carol Boyd at the University of Michigan School of Nursing said, “I thought that e-cigarettes would be the nicotine product most strongly associated with worrisome respiratory symptoms. Our data challenges the assumption that smoking cigarettes or vaping nicotine is the most harmful to the lungs.”
Boyd’s team found that adolescents’ lifetime cannabis vaping was associated with all of the negative respiratory symptoms that they were looking for. This was not the case for lifetime e-cigarette or tobacco users.
“In short, it is all bad. But if you also vape cannabis, you have a greater number of unhealthy respiratory symptoms than if you just smoke cigarettes or marijuana, or vape e-cigarettes,” Boyd said. “Without a doubt, cigarettes and e-cigarettes are unhealthy and not good for lungs. However, vaping marijuana appears even worse.”
Since smoking cannabis flower has been shown to have fewer deleterious effects than smoking tobacco, vaping cannabis could potentially be a more harmful way to consume it.
But Boyd says it’s still too early to come to any solid conclusions. The study did not analyze the relationship between negative respiratory symptoms and co-use of both tobacco products and cannabis vaping. “Future studies need to assess if it is the combination of vaping both nicotine and cannabis that is creating so many respiratory issues,” said fellow researcher Philip Veliz. “It may be the combination of vaping cannabis along with smoking cigarettes is what leads to the high rates of respiratory symptoms among youthful marijuana vapers.”
The study also relied on self-reported symptoms, which can be unreliable.
Cannabis Sales Top $17.5 Billion in 2020
Last year’s legal U.S. cannabis sales jumped an astonishing 46 percent compared to the previous year.
According to Forbes legal sales of both recreational and medical cannabis across America hit a record $17.5 billion in 2020, despite the widespread economic downturn resulting from the pandemic. A survey from cannabis data firm BDSA found that around 30 percent of consumers shopped for cannabis products more often last year than the year before, and 25 percent of those surveyed said their usage increased in that time. The firm also reported that in states that have legalized recreational marijuana, 43 percent of the states’ residents use cannabis, up from 38 percent in 2019.
In mature markets the sales increases were substantial. Colorado saw sales increase by 26 percent compared to the previous year, reaching $2.2 billion. Oregon saw a 29 percent increase over 2019, reaching $1.1 billion. But new markets actually saw the biggest sales boom. Illinois saw a $784 million increase over 2019—the largest gain of any state—resulting in over $1 billion in sales.
It’s believed that the pandemic greatly contributed to this sales increase. In every state where cannabis is legal in some form, dispensaries were deemed essential and allowed to remain open while other small businesses were forced to shut down. Media coverage of claims that marijuana could treat symptoms associated with COVID-19 could also have helped drive consumers to consume more marijuana last year.
Meanwhile, illicit cannabis sales are estimated at more than $100 billion each year.
DEA Says Traffickers Hide Weed With Hemp
The Drug Enforcement Agency released its annual National Drug Threat Assessment report last week. In it, the agency claims that legalizing hemp has made it easier for drug traffickers to avoid detection by authorities.
“The 2018 Farm Bill legalizing hemp production at the federal level has further challenged law enforcement, particularly in states that legalized marijuana,” DEA said. “According to law enforcement officials, traffickers use their state-issued hemp documentation as cover for large-scale marijuana grows and marijuana loads transported across state lines. Additionally, large hemp grows are sometimes used to hide marijuana plants interspersed throughout the hemp plants.”
The agency fails to cite specific cases but highlights that the total gross weight of marijuana seizures nationwide declined by 30 percent between 2018 and 2019 as proof that legal hemp is being used to traffic illegal cannabis. Advocates say the decline was caused by legal sales of cannabis undercutting the illegal market.
Ironically, the agency itself has admitted this point in the past. In its performance budget submission to Congress, DEA wrote that, “After the 2017 legalization of medical marijuana in Florida resulted in retail distribution centers throughout the [area of responsibility], the legalization of low-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (10 percent) smokeable medical marijuana in March 2019 is anticipated to lead to a growing market for Florida-sourced low-THC marijuana.” The agency did warn that barring dispensaries from selling high-THC cannabis could result in an increase of demand.