While the harmful effects of smoking tobacco are well known, the consequences of long-term cannabis use aren’t as well studied. The biggest impediment to wide-scale cannabis research is the drug’s current legal status at the federal level. Cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act and therefore is illegal in most states.
While a growing number of states have voted to legalize the drug, the removal of cannabis as a Schedule 1 agent and its legalization at the federal level will undoubtedly pave the way for in-depth research and further study. This hopefully will eventually lead to many of the questions about the drug being answered.
There are a couple of key points to bear in mind before we have a look at whether or not mixing cannabis with nicotine is bad for your health. Firstly, smoke inhalation, regardless of the source has, a negative effect on cardiovascular function.
The extent of the respiratory harm it causes is, of course, dependent on many factors, such as the source of the smoke, how much of it you inhale, and how long you inhale it for.
Secondly, both cannabis and tobacco smoke contain carcinogens. According to Underner and colleagues, in their review, Cannabis smoking and lung cancer, “marijuana smoke contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) at a higher concentration than tobacco smoke.”
Is Mixing Tobacco with Weed Bad for You?
The link between tobacco smoke inhalation and lung cancer (as well as other forms of cancer) has been known for several decades. It stands to reason that if smoking tobacco is bad for your respiratory health, then naturally, smoking weed mixed with tobacco is also bad for your health.
Research into the area confirms that smoking cannabis is associated with compromised cardiovascular function and lung function abnormalities. However, there appears to be a difference between the pattern of lung function abnormalities associated with smoking cannabis as opposed to smoking tobacco.
Research has found that exposure to second-hand smoke from cannabis and smoke from tobacco has a detrimental effect on cardiovascular function. This is because second-hand smoke impairs the ability of blood vessels to dilate.
In fact, studies have shown that exposure to second-hand cannabis smoke is likely to be more harmful than second-hand tobacco smoke exposure as the cardiovascular function impairment it causes lasts longer.
What Does the Research Say?
Underner and colleagues, in their 2014 study, state that “the specific impact of smoking cannabis is difficult to assess precisely and to distinguish from the effect of tobacco” in terms of its impact on our respiratory health. This is because cannabis is usually mixed with tobacco when smoked.
However, Underner and colleagues do state quite emphatically that the combined use of cannabis mixed with tobacco has “severe pulmonary consequences.” The researchers draw on findings from cellular, tissue, animal, and human studies which “show that marijuana is a risk factor for lung cancer.” According to Underner and colleagues, “cannabis exposure doubles the risk of developing lung cancer.”
Joshi and colleagues conducted a review (2014) of studies which had looked at the impact marijuana smoke has on the respiratory system. In their review, Joshi and colleagues highlighted some of the findings from other studies into the subject:
- Smoking marijuana is associated with chronic bronchitis symptoms and large airway inflammation
- Occasional use of marijuana with low cumulative use is not a risk factor for the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- The heavy use of marijuana alone may lead to airflow obstruction
According to Joshi and colleagues, “the immuno-histopathologic and epidemiologic evidence” of marijuana users suggests a “biological plausibility” that marijuana smoking is a risk factor for the development of lung cancer. However, Joshi et al. do acknowledge that there is no conclusive link between marijuana smoking and cancer development.
A 2011 review of the literature by Lee and Hancox which looked at the effects of cannabis on lung function found that:
- There are consistent findings that smoking cannabis is associated with large airway inflammation, symptoms of bronchitis, increased airway resistance, and lung hyperinflation
- The evidence that smoking cannabis leads to features of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, such as airflow obstruction and emphysema is not convincing
Lee and Hancox say that “while there are numerous case reports of bullous emphysema among cannabis smokers, these findings have not been confirmed in systematic analytical studies and probably represent uncommon adverse effects in very heavy cannabis smokers.”
Martinasek, McGrogan, and Maysonet (2016) carried out a systematic review of the literature and focused in particular on the respiratory effects of inhalational marijuana. In total, Martinasek et al. looked at forty-eight different articles.
For them, the research indicates that:
- There is a risk of lung cancer from inhaled marijuana as well as an association between inhalational marijuana and spontaneous pneumothorax, bullous emphysema, or COPD
- A variety of symptoms have been reported by inhalational marijuana smokers, including wheezing, shortness of breath, altered pulmonary function tests, cough, phlegm production, bronchodilation, and other symptoms
Mitigating Against the Harmful Effects of Mixing Weed with Tobacco
It is important to understand that cardiovascular function impairment from smoking cannabis or cannabis mixed with tobacco is a result of smoke inhalation rather than the phytocannabinoids (e.g., THC, CBD, etc.) contained in cannabis themselves.
Also, there are alternatives out there to tobacco that you can mix with your weed when smoking it.
Real Leaf is one option. It is nicotine-free and considered to be a cleaner and purer smoke. Other natural alternatives include sage, as well as mint and eucalyptus leaves.
For a list of tobacco alternatives, click on this link:
Related article: Low-Cost Organic Tobacco Alternatives for Your Joint
Thankfully, there are more ways to consume cannabis apart from simply smoking it. Vaping has become increasingly popular over the last number of years, but it too has question marks over its safety.
There are concerns relating to the way that cannabis concentrates are extracted. Some extraction methods involve using solvents such as butane to remove the cannabis oil from the raw plant material, and there are fears that residual amounts of these solvents remain in the concentrate after the purging process. Supercritical CO2 extractions appear to be the cleanest way of extracting cannabis oil from raw cannabis plant material.
For more information about vaping, check out this article on our site: The Pros and Cons of Vaping Marijuana
Edibles are another way of consuming cannabis, and as the burgeoning cannabis industry continues to grow, more and more products are out there for cannabis lovers to try.
Final Thoughts on Mixing Weed and Tobacco
When you look at the research, some of the findings are concerning. However, it is important to bear in mind that there isn’t wide-scale literature on the long-term effects of smoking marijuana due to its Schedule 1 agent status under the Controlled Substances Act.
Also, as the researchers themselves acknowledge, it is hard to disentangle the respiratory harm caused by marijuana from the respiratory harm caused by tobacco, as it so often mixed with tobacco when smoked. To have definitive answers, there needs to be large-scale and long-term studies carried out which control for variables like tobacco use.
It is also clear from the research that an important factor is the level of marijuana use a person engages in. Most studies distinguish between light to moderate use and heavy use. Naturally, the impact on the respiratory health of heavy users is considerably greater than for light to moderate users.
The good news is that there are alternatives to tobacco out there for mixing with your weed, such as Real Leaf. There are also alternative ways to consume cannabis apart from smoking it. These include vaping and edibles.
It is also important to remember that it is the smoke itself, and not the phytocannabinoids like THC or CBD, which is harmful to our respiratory health.