Public Perception of Cannabis Safety vs. Reality: Implications for Health
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Public Perception of Cannabis Safety vs. Reality: Implications for Health

In the wake of evolving cannabis legislation across numerous U.S. states for both medical and recreational use, a surprising new report reveals a growing misconception among adults regarding the safety of cannabis compared to tobacco. Despite the rising popularity of cannabis, a study spanning 2017 to 2021, involving over 5,000 adults, highlights a concerning shift in public perception, with over 44% of respondents believing that smoking cannabis daily is safer than inhaling tobacco smoke.

Public Perception of Cannabis Safety vs. Reality: Implications for Health
Source: Medical News Today


What is Better: Tobacco or Cannabis?

The findings, however, stand in stark contrast to scientific evidence and carry potential ramifications for public health. Dr. Beth Cohen, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and the study’s author, emphasizes the overlap in toxins and carcinogens found in both cannabis and tobacco smoke. She underscores that recent research has deepened concerns rather than alleviating them. Despite these scientific insights, the study discovered that the belief in the safety of daily cannabis smoking grew from 37% in 2017 to 44% in 2021, mirroring a similar pattern for perceptions about secondhand smoke. Researchers caution against this misconception, reiterating that the harmful impact of any kind of smoke on lung health remains consistent.

Both have Harmful Effects

Cohen clarifies that the harm caused by cigarettes extends beyond their chemical composition, as the combustion of any material produces particulate matter that can deeply penetrate the lungs. Although the study does not delve into the reasons behind these skewed perceptions, Cohen offers possible explanations. Tobacco smoke’s adverse effects have been studied extensively, and public health campaigns have consistently warned against its dangers. In contrast, the dearth of comprehensive data on cannabis is partly due to its federal illegality, impeding rigorous research efforts.

What Should One Smoke?

With medical cannabis legal in 38 states and recreational use allowed in 23 states, Washington, D.C., and two territories, perceptions are further influenced by the evolving legal landscape. Concurrently, while tobacco usage faces increasing restrictions, cannabis enjoys greater legalization. Dr. Albert Rizzo, Chief Medical Officer for the American Lung Association, notes that age and changing legal perspectives contribute to varying perceptions. He points out that the rising use of cannabis by younger generations and its increasing legality may contribute to the notion of safety. However, Rizzo emphasizes the dangers of inhaling substances that cause airway inflammation, drawing parallels to the slow recognition of tobacco’s link to cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Health Risks

The study’s implications underscore the pressing need for robust education campaigns on cannabis’s potential health risks. Rizzo calls for intensified efforts by public health agencies to ensure awareness among both young individuals and their parents. Furthermore, the call to facilitate comprehensive cannabis research echoes Cohen’s sentiments. While limitations on cannabis research persist, animal studies offer glimpses of potential risks, with findings suggesting comparable cardiovascular effects from marijuana and tobacco in rats.

Public Perception of Cannabis Safety vs. Reality: Implications for Health
Source: Boston Magazine

Despite the evolving legal landscape and shifting perceptions, the study reinforces the importance of informed decisions based on scientific evidence. It highlights the necessity for accurate education and risk communication to guide individuals in making health-conscious choices. As perceptions continue to evolve, the health implications of cannabis use call for vigilant attention and comprehensive research initiatives.


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