Marijuana smoking raises levels of potentially hazardous compounds, although to a lower extent than tobacco smoking; cigarette smoking increases exposure to a toxic chemical linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
New evidence of the possible health hazards of compounds in tobacco and marijuana smoke has been discovered by scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Researchers report in a study published today in EClinicalMedicine that persons who just smoked marijuana had lower levels of numerous smoke-related harmful substances in their blood and urine than those who smoked both tobacco and marijuana or simply tobacco. At high concentrations, two of those compounds, acrylonitrile and acrylamide, are known to be hazardous. The researchers also discovered that acrolein, a chemical generated by the burning of a range of materials, increased with tobacco smoking but not marijuana use, and that it leads to cardiovascular disease in tobacco smokers.
High acrolein levels may be an indication of an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the results, and limiting exposure to the chemical may help to reduce that risk. Given the high prevalence of cigarette smoking and the increased risk of heart disease in those infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, this is especially relevant.
“Marijuana usage in the United States is on the rise, with an increasing number of states legalizing it for medicinal and nonmedical uses, including five more states in the 2020 election. The rise has reignited worries about marijuana smoke’s possible health consequences, as it is known to include some of the same harmful combustion products found in tobacco smoke, according to Dana Gabuzda, MD, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “This is the first research to evaluate acrolein and other hazardous smoke-related chemicals exposure over time in just marijuana smokers vs tobacco smokers, and to investigate if such exposures are linked to cardiovascular disease.”
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In three HIV infection investigations in the United States, 245 HIV-positive and HIV-negative people took part. (Studies with HIV-positive persons were selected since this population had high cigarette and marijuana smoking rates.) The researchers examined blood and urine samples for chemicals generated by the breakdown of nicotine or the burning of tobacco or marijuana, using information from individuals’ medical records and survey responses. They were able to tie the presence of individual hazardous compounds to tobacco or marijuana use and determine if any were linked to an elevated risk of heart disease by combining these databases.
Participants who just smoked marijuana had greater blood and urine levels of numerous smoke-related hazardous compounds such naphthalene, acrylamide, and acrylonitrile metabolites than non-smokers, according to the researchers. However, in marijuana-only users, these chemicals were found at lower quantities than in tobacco smokers.
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Tobacco smokers had higher levels of acrolein metabolites, which are chemicals produced when acrolein is broken down, while marijuana users did not. Regardless of whether or not people smoked tobacco or had other risk factors, this rise was linked to cardiovascular disease.
“Our findings imply that high acrolein levels might be utilized to identify people with elevated cardiovascular risk,” Gabuzda said, “and that lowering acrolein exposure from cigarette smoking and other sources could be a risk-reduction strategy.”