Marijuana may not only protect against lung damage, but also help nicotine product users regulate or quit their product, and has the potential to aid with other chemical dependencies.

Marijuana may not only protect against lung damage, but also help nicotine product users regulate or quit their product, and has the potential to aid with other chemical dependencies.

One of the most persistent reasons that people favor marijuana use, legalization, and regulation is due to the assertion that smoking marijuana does not do damage to the lungs, while tobacco smokers have a high certainty of dying from their habit. While the claims have been modulated to some extent, this assertion has held true in cohort studies of medical and recreational marijuana use in California, and attempts to determine causality actually found that the smoke from marijuana offers a protective effect to the lungs of users.

Something that has not been addressed as fully, is the impact of THC on the brain and fighting addiction. Nicotine is among the most addictive substances in the world when taken in amounts of 15-20 mg per day and greater for an extended period of time, the threshold for chemical dependence. It has also been shown to do damage to the dentate gyrus of the brain, which contains about 90% of the brain’s memories, at these levels of intake.

Marijuana smokers experience an increase in functional connectivity in the brain, which has been causally associated with an increase in IQ. The dentate gyrus is among the parts of the brain which experience elevated levels of neurogenesis as a result of exposure to an active compound in marijuana, THC. Recent research conducted at Duke University found that tobacco smokers who were able to quit experienced elevated levels of connectivity in the brain as well, while those who relapsed or became heavier smokers tended to lack this connectivity.

This research is of extreme importance as both nicotine products and other addictive substances or pharmaceuticals grip many users in this country. While it is important to make these activities less addictive, for example by limiting the amount of nicotine in a dose, ironically enough the opposite of what manufacturers of cigarettes did decades ago (though to be fair this may have been a simple reaction against hyperbolic at the least and malevolent or unfounded research at the worst targeted at tobacco), or educating people about what level of intake can be diagnosed as chemically dependent, and should be seen as a warning sign of addiction (as a good doctor will do with any prescription), it is also important to develop methods of ensuring successful recovery in the event of chemical dependence.

While marijuana has been prescribed before prohibition, and has a cultural connotation as a substituting product allowing people with chemical dependence to recover past withdrawal for centuries, the nature of its medical value is just starting to be explored now. Of particular interest is whether the factors affecting recovery for nicotine can contribute to recovery from other substances; research carried out suggests that the underlying genetic factors behind addiction are “highly correlated” at the least. Using brain scan technology to see this effect will be exciting at the least, and this particular vein of research is among the most enticing for public health.

Works Cited:

Abrous, Djoher Nora, et al. “Nicotine self-administration impairs hippocampal plasticity.” The Journal of neuroscience 22.9 (2002): 3656-3662.

Addicott, Merideth A., et al. “Increased Functional Connectivity in an Insula-Based Network is Associated with Improved Smoking Cessation Outcomes.” Neuropsychopharmacology (2015).

Filbey, Francesca M., et al. “Long-term effects of marijuana use on the brain.”Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111.47 (2014): 16913-16918.

Fried, Peter et al. “Current and Former Marijuana Use: Preliminary Findings of a Longitudinal Study of Effects on IQ in Young Adults.” CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal 166.7 (2002): 887–891.

Doweiko, Harold. Concepts of chemical dependency. Cengage Learning, 2011.

Hashibe, Mia, et al. “Marijuana use and the risk of lung and upper aerodigestive tract cancers: results of a population-based case-control study.” Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention 15.10 (2006): 1829-1834.

Jiang, Wen, et al. “Cannabinoids promote embryonic and adult hippocampus neurogenesis and produce anxiolytic-and antidepressant-like effects.” Journal of Clinical Investigation 115.11 (2005): 3104.

Kempker, Jordan A., Eric G. Honig, and Greg S. Martin. “Effects of Marijuana Exposure on Expiratory Airflow: A Study of Adults who Participated in the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Study.” Annals of the American Thoracic Society ja (2014).

Kendler, Kenneth S., John Myers, and Carol A. Prescott. “Specificity of genetic and environmental risk factors for symptoms of cannabis, cocaine, alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine dependence.” Archives of General Psychiatry 64.11 (2007): 1313-1320.

Ling, H. W., and CB Wynn Parry. “The amount of nicotine absorbed in smoking.” British journal of pharmacology and chemotherapy 4.3 (1949): 313-314.

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