Beware of bong lung: new research shows risks faced by heavy cannabis users

Researchers in New Zealand found that heavy cannabis users are prone to bronchitis—and worse

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The wisdom of the ages tells us that moderation in all things is advisable, and recent research out of New Zealand’s University of Otago suggests that this includes smoking cannabis.

This is especially true when you consider that the alternatives include bronchitis and something called “bong lung”.

In their study—the results of which were published in the journal Addiction—respiratory specialists from Otago and Waikato Hospital reviewed research from New Zealand and elsewhere involving thousands of subjects. What they found was that heavy cannabis users are prone to bronchitis, which tends to improve if the subject stops smoking.

Those heavy users who continue to smoke, however, can end up with bong lung—characterized by irreversible damage to lung tissue.

This research comes to light just as debate around the legalization of recreational cannabis is ramping up in New Zealand. When Kiwis go to the polls on September 19, they will vote yes or no in a referendum on the subject.

If passed, the country’s new legislation would allow people aged 20 and older to buy up to 14 grams of dried cannabis per day from licensed outlets. They will also be able to grow up to two plants (with a maximum of four plants per household), and share up to 14 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) with another person aged 20 or over.

Study author and University of Otago Professor Bob Hancox said in statement that any policies around cannabis use should take into account the impact on the lungs: “Whether liberalizing availability will lead to further increases in cannabis use remains to be seen, but it is likely that patterns of cannabis use will change, with resulting health consequences.”

The study noted that cannabis and tobacco have different effects on smokers’ respiratory health. In spite of the risk of bronchitis, researchers found no compelling evidence that smoking cannabis could lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is something associated with smoking tobacco.

The researchers did not look at the health impact of vaping cannabis.

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