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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Breathe Easier: Study Reveals Why Marijuana Smoke Opens Airways

Posted By on Thu, Jan 30, 2014 at 7:54 AM

click to enlarge Feels great -- and now we know why
  • Feels great -- and now we know why

Like laughing at a funeral or soiling yourself that one time in third grade, some things are hard to live down. And like a 40-year old Mr. Crappy Pants, marijuana has had a tough time shaking a bad reputation.

The ding on pot is that it's just as bad as tobacco when it comes to causing lung cancer and other breathing ailments. Weed has more carcinogens, more tar, and generally more weapons with which to kill you than cigarettes, according to official government messaging in the United States and U.K.

This bad rap persists despite research done at UCLA and elsewhere that debunked any link between cannabis use and lung cancer or Chronic obstructive

pulmonary disease (COPD). Add to that a new study released this week in the British Journal of Pharmacology, which reveals that marijuana smoke actually opens airways, known as bronchodilation -- and also reveals why.

It's the same reason why cannabis use has killed off tumors in lab rats -- and in people.

French researchers, seeking to understand why marijuana smoke leads to expanded or normal-size airways, exposed lung tissue to synthetic marijuana as well as the real deal, according to the study.

They found that the lung tissue exposed to delta-9-tetrahydracannabinol -- that is to say, good old THC, which makes you high but also activates receptors located throughout the human body -- was less likely to experience "cholinergic bronchial contraction," or the tightening of lung pathways.

"This feature may explain the acute bronchodilation produced by marijuana smoking," the researchers say (the link is only to the article's abstract; ask a friend in the research field for a login).

The receptors are the CB1 endocannabinoid receptors. If the word "endocannabinoid" is still alien to you, no problem -- it's still not in medical textbooks. But do take a peek for yourself.

Nobody is arguing that smoked cannabis makes you into a world-class athlete: inhaling combusted plant material is a lung irritant. However, there's not much science behind the idea that smoked marijuana is inherently harmful to you. Notably, these researchers in whacked-out France take the notion that weed use expands lung pathways as a matter of course.

And since it bears repeating as many times as possible, it's UCLA medical school professor emeritus Dr. Donald Tashkin who authored the biggest and longest-term study on marijuana smoke's effect on the lungs -- and found instead that marijuana possibly has a "protective effect" on lung function.

This stuff is still illegal, you guys.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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