Sorry, D.A.R.E: Study Confirms Smoking Pot Isn’t Bad For Your Lungs

A 20-year, federally-funded study published Tuesday came to a shocking and all around delightful conclusion: that casually smoking weed does not cause damage to the lungs.

Over 5,000 individuals were tracked in the study, which compared their health to their use of tobacco and marijuana:

The study randomly enrolled 5,115 men and women aged 18 through 30 in four cities: Birmingham, Chicago, Oakland, Calif., and Minneapolis. Roughly equal numbers of blacks and whites took part, but no other minorities. Participants were periodically asked about recent marijuana or cigarette use and had several lung function tests during the study.

Overall, about 37 percent reported at least occasional marijuana use, and most users also reported having smoked cigarettes; 17 percent of participants said they’d smoked cigarettes but not marijuana. Those results are similar to national estimates.

On average, cigarette users smoked about 9 cigarettes daily, while average marijuana use was only a joint or two a few times a month – typical for U.S. marijuana users, Kertesz said.

What the study found was that marijuana does not cause damage to the lungs, but that cigarettes do:

Researchers at the University of Alabama Division of Preventive Medicine and at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Birmingham measured lung function by assessing the force and volume of each person’s exhale.

Those who smoked cigarettes tended to have much higher lifetime exposure to smoking than marijuana users, but when researchers adjusted the data for current and lifetime exposure, they found smokers’ lung function got worse over time while pot smokers’ lung function actually improved slightly.

“At levels of marijuana exposure commonly seen in Americans, occasional marijuana use was associated with increases in lung air flow rates and increases in lung capacity,” said Kertesz.

According to DARE, “daily use of marijuana compromises lung function and increases the risk for respiratory diseases, similar to those associated with nicotine cigarettes.” But it’s unlikely this claim will ever fade from drug-prevention literature, despite studies like this one and the 2006 UCLA study that found no link between marijuana use and lung cancer — and that’s unfortunate, really, because when you find out they were lying about weed, you start to wonder if they were lying about cocaine or heroin, too — and then we get into very dangerous territory.

Furthermore, erroneous medical claims in anti-drug education programs make it difficult to address the actual problems that sometimes can arise from heavy marijuana use, like apathy, short term memory loss or lethargy.

A little while ago I told you that people who smoke weed aren’t actually burnouts, and may actually be intelligent! Now, with news on the rise that smoking cannabis may not be super harmful to lung function and over 50 percent of the people in the United States supporting its legalization, the last remaining question is when.

Well, when and “where is the peanut butter.”

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 919 articles for us.


  1. Well, yeah, DAILY marijuana smoking will be similar to cigarette smoking. I have nothing inherently against pot, except that I’m deathly allergic to it, but this is a ridiculous comparison. Of course people who only smoke 1-2 times a month are going to have better lung function than people who smoke several times a day! I bet people who only smoke 1-2 cigarettes a month would have similar improvements in their lung function. How did they “adjust” for exposure? Having done similar research, I feel like that’s pretty much impossible. You really have to compare people who smoke similar amounts.

    • “They measured marijuana use with a methodology called “joint-years,” in which one joint-year of exposure would be the equivalent of smoking 365 joints or pipe bowls.

      For those who reported smoking an average of one joint a day for seven years, or one joint/week for 49 years, the study found no harmful lung effects resulted.”
      fairly sound methodology, i think?

      • Not really… I don’t think it’s possible to adequately measure or adjust for this because (as an American Spirits smoker) there seems to be a big difference depending on how much you smoke per day or week. It seems… synergistic? I tend to get less sick than I did as a nonsmoker when I smoke a few cigarettes a week, but I get way sicker way more often than I did as a nonsmoker if I smoke 2-3 a day. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I think the amount smoked per day/week can make a huge difference that isn’t strictly quantitative.

        I would be really curious to see the results of a study that controlled for these variables by looking at people who smoke RYO cigarettes in quantities similar to people who smoke joints. I don’t really feel anything for marijuana either way and think it should be decriminalized for sure, but as a researcher I feel like this study failed to control for too many variables. =/

    • “but when researchers adjusted the data for current and lifetime exposure”

      I mean, these are trained and funded researchers. The adjustments probably aren’t perfect, but they did take your concerns into account.

    • Considering:
      a) The chemicals found in cigarettes may also be used for embalming a person,taking off nail polish and cleaning toilets, respectively.
      b) 50 out of the 4 thousand of said chemicals are known to be carcinogenic and/or poisonous.
      Where as marijuana has none, I Highly doubt your hypothesis to be true.

      This post was going to be longer but I have the munchies. :)

  2. I have been smoking pot since I was 15 (I am 31 now). I have never gotten sick because of it… I smoke every day. I quit ciggies last year when I turned 30, and since then I am able to work out and not feel like I am hyperventilating all the time, I don’t get migraines, and I am not feeling anxious all the freaking time. Comparing pot smoking with tobacco smoking is like comparing a lip stick to a dog’s dick… not the same thing, nawsayin?

  3. No joke, I would be more excited about pot being legalized nationwide than gay marriage.

    Can I say that without my lesbian card being revoked?

    • Pot whether legal or not… we can still get it, but you can’t buy equal protection under the law for gay families and their children. There are a myriad of issues that ought to be dealt with before pot is even decriminalized.

  4. The exact opposite is happening in the UK. Marijuana was recently reclassified from a Class C (the least harmful illegal drugs) to a Class B (which is fairly harmful, but not as bad as Class A), and I doubt it’s going to be revised again for many years.

    I find it pretty silly – alcohol and cigarettes are both legal, and have conclusively caused lots of cancer and deaths, but marijuana isn’t? I’ve never heard of anyone dying of smoking too much pot… And if the government made it legal, they could tax it, thus gaining another source of revenue.

    • Smoking too much marihuana can give you an adiction. Its not very likely but it happens. Also, it gives you a higer chance to get a psychosis. I’ve seen this happening 3 times in the last year with people who smoked lots of weed.

      Also weed is sprayed with pesticide when it grows, to let it grow faster and because the crop has less illness when they use this poison. This isn’t good for your body when you smoke it.

      And it makes a difference if you smoke your weed pure or with tabacco. They should be more specific about that in the study.

      But i’m Dutch and I am all for legalized drugs. It gives the gouvernment reason to control the quality and it legalizes criminality. Also I think that all drugs should be legalized so it can be controlled better and there would be less criminality. People use drugs, and it’s hard to stop them. Why not control their behaviour.

  5. Even with the adjustements, comparing one joint a day VS 9 cigs a day still doesn’t feel very relevant to me. Wouldn’t it be better to compare the 9 daily cigs to 9 daily joints?
    There’s also the question of HOW the marijuana is being consumed, I used to smoke weed and knew a lot of weed smokers and none of us smoked it pure, we always mixed it with some tobacco – in this case I don’t believe the weed can magically cancel all the bad stuff caused by tobacco and the chemicals it contains. I know it’s been proven since a long time that marijuana (without tobacco) can indeed improve lungs function, but that’s not all there is to say about it and focus on.

    The other study is irrelevant too, and the AS article defending it illogical. Yeah people with higher IQ scores may smoke more weed, but it is in no way an indication that smoking weed is a smart thing or a sign of intelligence – the study also says that high IQs people take just as more cocaine too, and I think we can all agree that taking cocaine is rather fucking stupid. And being one of those persons with a higher IQ, I can tell you that I do as much stupid things or do stuff for stupid reasons as anyone else.
    I mean studies also show LGBTQ people are more likely to take drugs, it doesn’t mean that doing drugs is inherently queer – just like “smart” people doing drugs doesn’t make doing drugs inherently smart. It’s a matter of “side effects” – lifestyle, opportunities, stress, not fitting in our one-mold-for-all society etc.

    While I stopped weed for personal reasons I don’t have anything against smokers and totally support full legalization, but I wish both the hardcore “antis” and “pros” would stop with the misinformation, flawed arguments and useless focus on this or that particular aspect and instead stick to the facts and talk about the bigger picture.

    • Why would you compare 9 daily cigarettes to 9 daily joints when, on average, a person would not consume 9 joints a day?

      • Because the study aims to compare the health effects of tobacco VS the health effects of pot, period. In order to compare the effects between two products, it only makes sense if you compare them in roughly the same amounts.

        Consumer habits have nothing to do with the relative dangerousness of a product. If, say, people on average consumed a few cigarettes a year and 3 liters of soda a day, claiming “soda is worse for your health than cigarettes!” would be wrong. Those people would just be more likely to suffer from the soda than from the cigs because of their consumption habits, which is entirely different.

        • But serving size matters. No one I know would smoke nine joints in a day–and I know some very heavy users. But no one needs that much pot to feel the effects. However, a lot of people smoke a ton of cigarettes to feel their effects.

          It’s like comparing two different cold medicines and rather than going off the recommended dosage to see which is more effective, just taking the same amount of both. They are two different animals you don’t measure them in the same way.

  6. This entire study seems to be loaded with too many assumptions to be accurate. Best case scenario, pot isn’t as bad for your lungs as tobacco…it is still bad just by the sheer fact that you are burning it; products of (incomplete) combustion (CO, nitrogen oxides, ash, etc)are always present in small amounts and over time will have detrimental health effects. I would think consuming or at least vaporizing the THC directly would be the best options.

  7. Meh. I have nothing against Marijuana use, but I honestly find it kind of stupid. Of course, I find any drug use that takes dramatic control of your mental facilities stupid, but that’s just me, and I don’t think anyone would argue that the (immediate) effects of weed are far higher than those of cigarettes or (limited amounts of) alcohol. So yes, I most certainly support decriminalization of marijuana, but legalization seems like a step too far for something that causes such dramatic, albeit relatively minor and temporary, effects.

  8. My DARE officer was an Elvis impersonator on the side. I guess I never was destined to take it seriously.

  9. like the last article on pot, I don’t understand the relevance of this.

    Also, Carmen, what is a young person (let’s say under 22, whose brain hasn’t yet fully developed) who reads this website meant to do with this information? Smoke pot more freely? Huh?

  10. As a young person (seventeen, what up), I can assure you that even though my brain may not be fully developed, I am quite capable of rational thought. No AS writer has ever said “Go forth and do all the drugs!” In fact, let me quote you from the last article on marijuana:
    “Before we go on let’s be clear — we’re not endorsing using drugs or saying drugs are a sign of intelligence. Especially cocaine, uppers, downers, acid and heroin, we are not endorsing those. ESPECIALLY heroin. That being said, we do think that when you look at everything else that’s legal in this country, it’s silly that cannabis isn’t. ”
    You’re angry because a twenty year study has now undermined something that you saw as a deterrent for young people, like myself, to smoke pot. But hell, our PRESIDENT (in the USA, at least) has admitted to smoking pot. So teach kids about the legal and physical consequences of drug use. Go forth and educate. But if we’re going to take you seriously, you’re going to have to assume that if we are presented with the opportunity to do drugs, we will be informed enough to make a rational decision. And yes, thank you, we CAN make those.
    Also, with regards to “the relevance” of this: you don’t have to read every article. If you come for the LGBTQ content, then read the LGBTQ content. But this is not a website specifically catered to your wants and passions. This is a website created by a team of dedicated individuals, and they can put whatever fucking content they want on it, because it is their website, and they are badasses. So if you don’t want to read a highly interesting and informative article about marijuana, or listen to an awesome playlist, or browse Riese’s favorite long-form journalism essays from around the web, then don’t fucking read those articles.

  11. “Officer, if I don’t smoke this pot right now, twenty years of research goes down the drain! Is that what you want?”

  12. thanks carmen for this article! i’ve just recently become a regular pot user for medical reasons, and, mildly concerned about the effects on my lungs, have taken other measures to ensure my breathing is still normal. probs ’cause of years of misinformation. it’s good to have the facts.
    i’ve been suffering from a lifelong physical disability that lead me to be dependent on a wide range of pills over the years to relieve the symptoms. they were just damaging my body and whole life so badly that i quit them and tried pot. also, last year i became injured and experience daily chronic pain that caused me to quit a job and, y’know, feel like shit.
    thanks to my stuff, my life is SO much better. i’m functional at work, in my relationships, sleep way better and my pain is super manageable. my doctor is very happy for me.
    did i mention this stuff is ILLLEEGGAAAL??!!?!

  13. If you’re really still concerned about smoke inhalation, it’s better to use a hemp wick than a lighter. Still concerned? It’s called a vaporizer. It doesn’t burn the weed, so there’s no smoke, only vapor. And no damage to your lungs. :)

  14. LOVE IT! Vaporizer deff gives the body the most useful part of marijuana while also giving you a very natural and great high.

  15. p.s. everyone on here kept saying compare apples to apples yet the researchers are. no one would smoke 9 joints a day… They are comparing how much the AVERAGE person smokes of weed vs the AVERAGE amount of cigs a person smokes. I THINK THEY SHOULD CRIMINALIZE CIGS(NOT TOBACCO)and legalize weed. To many cutting if you will has been done to cigs and we all know what “cutting” does in the drug game… (increase profits, while potentially hurting or killing your clients)

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