Most people wrongly believe that smoking cannabis is less risky to their health than smoking tobacco cigarettes, reveals a report published today by the British Lung Foundation. The charity has called for a public health campaign to educate people about the impact of cannabis on their lungs and their wider health.
The BLF found that although the risk of developing lung cancer is nearly 20 times higher from a typical cannabis cigarette than a tobacco cigarette, 88% of people said they thought that tobacco cigarettes were a greater threat to health. Nearly a third (32%) of people thought that cannabis does not harm health at all – which rose to 40% of people aged under 35, who are also the most likely to have used the drug. This, says the charity, is “despite established scientific links to TB, acute bronchitis, lung cancer and other health problems”.
The BLF says that its report, The impact of cannabis on your lungs, is the most comprehensive review of research data ever compiled. It documents the strong associations between smoking cannabis and many lung and respiratory illnesses, including tuberculosis, acute bronchitis and lung cancer, and with suppression of the immune system and heart disease.
But it warns that its research “shows an alarming disconnect between the public perception of cannabis as a relatively safe drug, and the serious, even fatal impact it can have on the lungs of people who smoke it”.
The charity’s chief executive Dame Helena Shovelton said: “It is alarming that, while new research continues to reveal the multiple health consequences of smoking cannabis, there is still a dangerous lack of public awareness of quite how harmful this drug can be.
“Young people in particular are smoking cannabis unaware that, for instance, each cannabis cigarette they smoke could increase their chances of developing lung cancer by as much as an entire packet of 20 tobacco cigarettes.
“This is not a niche problem – cannabis is one of the most widely-used recreational drugs in the UK, with almost a third of the population having tried it. We therefore need a serious public health campaign – of the kind that has helped raise awareness of the dangers of eating fatty foods or smoking tobacco – to finally dispel the myth that smoking cannabis is somehow a safe pastime.”
Authors of the report call for:
- a public health education programme to dispel the myth that smoking cannabis is relatively safe
- increased investment in research to further establish the health consequences of using cannabis (particularly in COPD).