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Marijuana Use Linked to Increased Asthma Risk in Youth

— February 14, 2024

Studies warn of cannabis-related respiratory issues in young users.

The legalization of cannabis in various states across the United States has sparked debates not only on legal grounds but also on potential health implications, particularly for adolescents. A recent study conducted by the City University of New York (CUNY) sheds light on a concerning association between marijuana use and asthma risk among children and teenagers.

Published in the journal Preventive Medicine, the CUNY study analyzed data from the 2011-2019 National Survey on Children’s Health, including a representative sample of children aged 17 and below in the United States. The findings suggest a significant link between cannabis legalization and the prevalence of asthma among youth.

Renee Goodwin, professor at CUNY School of Public Health and lead author of the study, emphasizes a notable correlation between:

  1. How frequently cannabis or its paraphernalia are used and
  2. Asthma prevalence, especially when it comes to the youth and younger adults.

Interestingly, this relationship remains consistent even after accounting for confounding factors such as cigarette smoking. Of particular concern is the heightened risk associated with blunt smoking, a practice involving hollowed-out cigars filled with cannabis.

The study looks into the limited information available regarding the health risks that the use of cannabis or related products present, especially for the respiratory system. While public awareness of the detrimental effects of cigarette smoking has grown over decades, similar attention to cannabis-related health risks remains lacking. Goodwin highlights the need for caution, especially among individuals with asthma, suggesting that smoking cannabis may pose risks comparable to those of smoking cigarettes.

Marijuana Use Linked to Increased Asthma Risk in Youth
Photo by Los Muertos Crew from Pexels

Despite the surge in accessibility and promotion of cannabis products, Goodwin warns against assuming they are risk-free. The absence of public health education on cannabis-related health risks, coupled with widespread commercialization and promotion, perpetuates misconceptions about its safety. This, in essence, brings to light the critical importance of informed decision-making and regulatory oversight to ensure public health and safety.

Dr. Eric Heffelfinger, a staff physician at Caron Treatment Centers, emphasizes the significance of the study’s findings. He highlights the substantial increase in asthma risk, particularly among frequent marijuana users, as revealed by the research. Drawing from his extensive experience in pulmonology and critical care, Heffelfinger underscores the need for caution during the rising accessibility of cannabis products.

Heffelfinger points out that the risks extend beyond direct marijuana users to include individuals exposed to secondhand smoke. Notably, the health impacts of marijuana and cannabis products extend beyond asthma to cover a wide range of mental health issues. From the development of base psychiatric symptoms, all the way to mild or even extreme psychosis, and long-term cannabis use disorder. He warns against underestimating the long-term health implications associated with these products.

As the accessibility of marijuana and cannabis products continues to increase, so do the potential health risks, particularly for vulnerable populations such as youth. The findings of the CUNY study underscore the importance of evidence-based policymaking and public health initiatives to address the growing concerns surrounding cannabis use.

The study serves as a timely reminder of the need for comprehensive research, education, and regulation in the complex world of cannabis legalization. As policymakers, healthcare professionals, and communities struggle with the implications, prioritizing informed decision-making and proactive measures is essential to safeguarding the health and well-being of youth in an evolving legal and social world.


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