Marijuana Users Have Good Lungs (for Transplanting)

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It was a very big deal when results of a major, long-term study into marijuana use and lung health revealed no link between cannabis use and respiratory ailments like lung cancer or COPD.

Lifelong marijuana users had no significant increased risk for breathing problems; indeed, cannabis use might even be beneficial and carry some “protective effect,” a team lead by UCLA researcher Donald Tashkin found.

And now, it appears weed smokers’ lungs, no worse off for the smoker, are also good for other people.

The Joint Blog took note of a study published in the European Journal of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery that examined the results of 302 lung transplants over a six-year period. Medical researchers at the UK’s largest lung-health institution—part of the country’s publicly funded National Health Service, cough-cough single-payer healthcare, cough-cough—found that there was no appreciable difference in short and medium-term outcomes between the 19 donors who had smoked weed and the 283 that hadn’t.

“Intraoperative and post-[transplant] variables including 1- and 3-year survivals were comparable in both groups,” the researchers wrote.

In other words, if you needed a lung and received one that had been used to smoke marijuana, you had just as good a shot of survival over a 1-to-3-year period than if you’d received a “fresh” lung (of which there is really no such thing). This led researchers to declare lungs that had smoked cannabis should be considered for donation.

Keep in mind that this study originated in the U.K., where most cannabis is consumed with tobacco via the ubiquitous spliff. Indeed, every cannabis user in the study was also a tobacco user. This would explain why, according to these researchers, Tashkin’s findings do not apply and marijuana users are just as much at risk of lung cancer as cigarette smokers.

Then again, 43 percent of the marijuana non-users who donated lungs also smoked tobacco. So it’s apparently somewhat difficult to score a lung in the UK that hasn’t been used to smoke something—but not that there’s anything wrong with that, evidently.

That said, if you want to receive a lung, you shouldn’t be smoking anything. Among the criteria for transplant recipient candidates in the U.S. is whether a candidate can abstain from smoking, drinking alcohol and other behavior associated (rightly) with negative health outcomes.

The average wait-time for a lung in the U.S. is four months, and to get one, you need to be suffering from one of a series of intractable lung diseases, including—but not necessarily—one associated with smoking. 

The lesson? Ditch the cigarettes, keep the weed and hang onto the lungs you have. They’ll be good to you, and maybe someone else. 

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1 comment
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