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How Does Marijuana Compare to Smoking Cigarettes?

It’s tough to know these days what people think when it comes to cigarettes vs. marijuana. There are opposing viewpoints on the legalization of marijuana, as well as those that feel marijuana is actually safer than smoking cigarettes.

Many people believe that marijuana is less dangerous or less addictive than smoking traditional cigarettes. The truth is that both drugs have potent effects and can lead to long-term lung or other damage. Today, let’s compare smoking both drugs directly to see what you can expect if you currently smoke or if you decide to take up the habit.

THE EFFECTS OF SMOKING MARIJUANA

Marijuana gains its effects primarily through a compound called tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.

It’s similar to compounds that are already natural in the human body called cannabinoids. THC absorption by the body and brain can cause effects in the spheres of memory, pleasure, cognition, and the perception of time, as well as coordination. For instance, this is why those who smoke marijuana sometimes experience impaired memory, general relaxation, and occasional euphoria.

Some people who smoke marijuana report experiencing mild hallucinogenic effects due to their altered perceptions. In addition, some people have negative effects from smoking the drug, including irritability, increased appetite, or sudden anxiety.

There is no guarantee as to which effects a given person will experience. It is all determined by your genetics and the specific marijuana plant that you smoke. It may also depend on how frequently you’re smoking it.

THE EFFECTS OF SMOKING TRADITIONAL CIGARETTES

Traditional cigarettes’ primary ingredient is called nicotine. This is a stimulant that boosts the dopamine levels in the human brain. Dopamine is a hormone that causes pleasure and is often activated with reward centers. Neural activity and energy are also increased, which makes people feel more productive or more alert.

Addiction to nicotine can happen very quickly, as the brain becomes tolerant to increased levels of dopamine after only a short while. This can result in troubling withdrawal effects if you fail to intake higher and higher levels of nicotine, including anxiety, irritability, depression, and lack of sleep.

Some people have more non-traditional reactions to nicotine and experience a sedative effect, causing them to become sleepy or unfocused. This is rare, but a potentiality for every individual based on genes.

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THE DANGERS OF SMOKING

It should be noted that smoking any substance is dangerous and harmful to the lungs to some degree. While smoking is a very effective way of bringing drugs to the brain quickly, it also damages lung tissue and can cause long-term problems regardless of general health or age. This can develop into cancer at some point or incur other lung-based health risks.

Specifically, marijuana use can lead to wheezing, acute bronchitis, and the suppression of one’s immune system. This can be particularly dangerous for those who are HIV positive, as their immune systems are already at risk of disease.

Marijuana smoking can also lead to depression and anxiety, as well as delayed brain development in young people whose minds are not yet fully formed. Memory loss and cognitive regression are also common among long-term users of marijuana.

Traditional cigarettes, in addition to their lung cancer risks, have their problems. They can lead to reproductive difficulties in both men and women, and women who smoke can cause issues with their baby’s weight and health. Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are also common among cigarette smokers, as it lowers general health and cardiovascular efficiency.

Furthermore, the nicotine in cigarettes can lead to anxiety and depression, nervousness, agitation, and cravings. Those who smoke may have a higher risk for developing a mental illness of some sort, as well as incurring a lower threshold for developing other addictions.

IS ONE MORE DANGEROUS THAN THE OTHER?

You may wonder if smoking a marijuana joint or regular cigarette is necessarily worse than the other.

Not necessarily. It may be true that traditional cigarettes have more carcinogens – cancer-causing compounds – than marijuana, although the discrepancy is not that high. Furthermore, one might be more susceptible to certain adverse effects from one or the other depending on the genetic makeup and personal history.

Overall, both forms of smoking are inherently risky. Which is worse is dependent on the individual.

WHICH IS MORE ADDICTIVE: MARIJUANA OR CIGARETTES?

Based on current research figures and a lack of comprehensive studies, it appears that marijuana is slightly less addictive than regular cigarettes. This is likely due to the effects of both drugs; cigarettes deliver dopamine hits to the brain, which are incredibly easy to become tolerant of. It’s easy to require more of the same nicotine to get the same pleasure.

However, whether or not someone is particularly vulnerable to marijuana addiction heavily relies on their genetic makeup and the particular strain of marijuana smoked.

Marijuana smoked today is much more potent than that which was smoked in decades past, so the argument could be made that marijuana will quickly catch up to tobacco in terms of pure addictiveness.

In short, most people will find tobacco more addictive, at least in the short term. In the long term, there is likely not much difference, and any one person’s subjective experience may vary drastically from this trend.

A lit joint in someone's hand

Marijuana may become more addictive in the future such that it catches up to cigarettes in addictiveness.

LEGALITY

Right now, smoking is legal in all U.S. states. However, smoking tobacco is heavily regulated by specific areas and circumstances. For instance, most airports and airlines do not allow smoking, and many restaurants or public places do not permit smoking unless it is in designated areas.

By contrast, marijuana is illegal in some states and legal in others, although it is gaining traction in many public and online discussions. It is likely that marijuana will become legal everywhere, like traditional cigarettes, but face restrictions on the time and place of their usage.

Already, states that permit marijuana smoking only allow it to be done in certain areas or times.

CONCLUSION

Overall, smoking marijuana and cigarettes are similar in some ways and drastically different in others. They provide very different effects, and marijuana may not be legal in your state as of yet. Be sure to be informed and cautious when deciding whether or not to take up smoking in any form, as both drugs can have lasting health effects regardless of your caution.

Sources

Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute. Respiratory Effects of Marijuana. from http://adai.uw.edu/marijuana/factsheets/respiratoryeffects.htm

U.S. National Library of Medicine. Damaging Effects of Cannabis Use on the Lungs. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27573646

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Is Nicotine Addictive? from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/tobacco-nicotine-e-cigarettes/nicotine-addictive

(March, 2019). Marijuana and Lung Health. American Lung Association. from https://www.lung.org/stop-smoking/smoking-facts/marijuana-and-lung-health.html

Kelly, T, (March,1990). Smoked marijuana effects on tobacco cigarette smoking behavior. PubMed. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2319477

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