Research links marijuana usage to a higher incidence of asthma in children: "Worrisome" health consequences

A new study published in the journal Preventive Medicine found that in states where marijuana is legal, the share of teens with asthma is slightly higher than in states where it remains illegal.

Research links marijuana usage to a higher incidence of asthma in children: "Worrisome" health consequences

Where there’s smoke, there’s … asthma?

That’s the concern among some experts, as a recent study from the City University of New York (CUNY) identified a link between cannabis legalization and asthma among kids and teens.

The research, published in the journal Preventive Medicine in its Feb. 2024 issue, found that in states where marijuana is legal, the share of teens with asthma is slightly higher than in states where it remains illegal.

The recreational use of cannabis is now legalized in 24 states.

In the study, a research team at the CUNY School of Public Health (SPH) analyzed data pulled from the 2011-2019 National Survey on Children’s Health, which comprises a "representative sample of the population of minor children in the U.S.," according to a press release from the university.

The sample consisted of 227,451 U.S. children 17 years old and younger, with an average age of 8.56. 

"In the first nationally representative study of cannabis use and asthma in the U.S., a consistent positive linear relationship (dose-response) was observed between frequency of cannabis use and asthma prevalence among both youth and adults," Renee Goodwin, CUNY SPH professor and lead author of the study, told Fox News Digital.

"The relationship was not explained by confounding cigarette smoking, and an even stronger relationship between the frequency of blunt smoking and asthma was found," he added. (Blunts are hollowed-out cigars filled with cannabis.)

Exposure to secondhand smoke has historically been a key factor in childhood asthma, the researchers noted.

There are currently some 4.5 million children under age 18 living with asthma in the U.S., according to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America.

As Goodwin pointed out, there is "very little information available" on the potential respiratory health risks associated with cannabis use. 

"It took decades for the public to receive information on the impact of cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke on respiratory and lung health," he pointed out.

Goodwin recommends people consider that smoking cannabis may have health risks similar to those posed by cigarettes, especially for people with asthma. 

Just because there is "no public health education" on the potential health risks of cannabis use doesn’t mean they don’t exist, Goodwin warned. 

"The commercialization and advertising of cannabis use by cannabis companies and state and local governments' promotion of cannabis use for all adults is the only information the public is receiving, which may lead people to believe it is risk-free," he said. 

"That is not based on science or any data on long-term outcomes."

The researcher also indicated that today’s cannabis may pose a greater risk than that of decades past.

"Products commonly sold in vapes and other forms of cannabis administration have THC concentrations upwards of 90% versus the ‘joints’ of decades ago, which were approximately 2.5% THC," Goodwin said.

Cannabis oils and waxes are also chemically manufactured substances, which pose their own risks, the expert warned.

"The potential short- and long-term effects of exposure to this level of THC on the human brain, respiratory or other aspects of physical health have never been studied," he said. 

"Consumers should demand that information on safety and purity — as well as dose, potency, and health and safety risks — be available in any commercial cannabis retail outlet, and that the state governments enforce the laws their states have passed," Goodwin went on.

Dr. Eric Heffelfinger, staff physician at Caron Treatment Centers, an addiction center in Pennsylvania, was not involved in the research but commented on the findings.

"This study is significant not just in its size, but in its findings that asthma risks increase significantly for those who smoke marijuana, especially those who smoke blunts for more than 20 days per month," he told Fox News Digital. 

This was not surprising, the doctor noted, as previous studies have shown that nicotine is linked to asthma risk.

"We expected this to be the case for marijuana, but now we have the data to prove it," said Heffelfinger, who spent more than 25 years specializing in pulmonology and critical care before transitioning to addiction medicine.

The actual increase in asthma risk could be even higher than the study implies, he noted, as the data was collected in 2020 and likely underestimates current exposure.

"The accessibility of marijuana and other cannabis products has increased exponentially in the last three years," he said. "We anticipate that the number of people impacted with asthma because of marijuana use will also have increased significantly."

This applies not only to those who use marijuana directly, but also to people who have increased secondhand exposure, Heffelfinger added.

"The known health impacts from marijuana and cannabis products – increased asthma, psychiatric symptoms, psychosis and cannabis use disorder — are just the tip of the iceberg," he warned. 

"There is so much we don’t know because these are genetically and chemically enhanced products with delivery methods such as smoking or vaping that cause lung damage," he went on. 

"Because these products are so easily accessible, the long-term health implications are worrisome and likely to increase in frequency and severity across the spectrum of occurrences."

When contacted by Fox News Digital for comment, the National Cannabis Industry Association responded by stating that it is a business trade association and does not have a medical expert immediately on hand to discuss the new report.

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