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Insights from a Nurse: Risks and Benefits of Cannabis Inhalation

Pop icon Lady Gaga openly discussed her marijuana use during a 2011 60 Minutes interview, unapologetically sharing, "I smoke a lot of pot when I write music. So I'm not gonna, like, sugar coat it for 60 Minutes."

Highlighting the versatility of this plant, her use of marijuana came to include a reliance on it after a serious hip injury and for managing her chronic fibromyalgia pain. Using cannabis often for both creative endeavors and medical needs underscores the need for information, not just on how to use cannabis, but on how to use it wisely.

This is especially true when it comes to smoking pot because it comes with inherent downsides. Smoking has such a direct effect on the respiratory system that today’s creatives, health enthusiasts and cannabis users should have a basic understanding of cannabis inhalation to make informed choices. Authored by a cannabis nurse, this blog explores the risks and benefits associated with smoking weed.

The Inhalation Process: Understanding the Basics

Before we explore the risks and benefits of smoking weed, a quick tutorial on the foundations of cannabis inhalation. When you smoke flower, your lungs absorb cannabinoids and terpenes, and send those molecules straight to the bloodstream where cannabis-friendly receptor proteins await. 

Bottom line: Inhaling cannabis molecules efficiently spreads potentially beneficial molecules throughout the body, offering quicker relief compared to other methods of cannabis consumption. 

The Absorption of Inhaled Cannabinoids via Combustion

The effects of cannabis inhalation occur within minutes. Rapid relief comes with a flaw: smoked cannabinoids have high peaks that may make you want to light up often. Striving to balance smoking frequency is crucial for long-term lung health. Combining consumption methods and using a quality smoking kit are other ways to support long-term health with cannabis. 

Benefits of Cannabis Inhalation

The number one benefit of smoking weed for those seeking relief, is its rapid onset of effects. This quick action is really important for individuals dealing with episodic conditions or sudden flare-ups of symptoms, like a migraine headache, acute on chronic pain, breakthrough pain (a flare of pain that breaks through your regular pain medication), chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting, just to name a few.  When else do you need fast relief? Lots of times. Endometrial and period pain, or the intrusive thoughts and nightmares of PTSD. 

People need better options. Many are struggling to get their health on track naturally and efficiently while minimizing downtime. Despite its own stigma, smoking weed does provide therapeutic benefits. Here’s some insight into a few medical symptoms that inhalation addresses efficiently.

Pain Management and Breakthrough Pain

Breakthrough pain refers to a sudden, severe spike in pain that surpasses both your chronic pain and your chronic pain medication regimen. It affects many with chronic conditions, even if their pain is typically well-managed. Staying in tune with your body to anticipate when a flare is about to happen and intervening promptly are crucial for managing breakthrough pain. 

Inhalation for breakthrough symptoms may help prevent overmedicating with pills, reducing the risk of serious side effects associated with long-term pharmaceutical pain medication. Additionally, smoking provides relief for several other conditions without the wait of traditional medications, which can feel like an eternity during a painful episodic flare. Smoking cannabis offers swift relief, making it easier to manage unexpected or severe symptoms. 

Anxiety Relief

Sometimes, pain triggers nausea and anxiety—smoking acts swiftly here too. A quick puff can ward off a stress crisis, known as an "acute stress reaction." Having an option to prevent an outburst in traumatic or highly stressful situations makes debilitating emotional and physical reactions avoidable. Inhaling may stave off a wide range of emotional and psychological crisis symptoms - from restlessness to severe panic and everything in between. 

Consider using a Type II or Type III chemotype to take the edge off a doom spiral to ease associated symptoms like anxiety, depression or stress. Adding this cannabinoid provides a glimmer of hope and relief for many, highlighting the therapeutic potential of CBD in managing mental health challenges. A significant note of caution: When you are in a mental health crisis, the first and most crucial step is to acknowledge that you need help and reach out for it immediately. 

Smoking THC for its anti-nausea properties has proven to be highly effective. Since it's next to impossible to swallow anything during episodes that include nausea and vomiting, smoking provides relief to numerous cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. But ask a cannabis nurse if any of these ideas are right for you. There are a lot of 24 hr-cannabis nurses hotlines available.

Sleep Aid

When it comes to better sleep, Dr. Jean Talleyrand, a Cannabis Specialist in San Francisco recommends a chemovar with lower terpene levels since the monoterpenes seem to be stimulating. He further states, “chemovars rich in pinene and myrcene [together] appear to have a focussed but calming effect, but it’s important to note that up to one third of consumers will have the opposite of these desired effects.” 

Smoking cannabis 15-30 minutes before bedtime can help some (definitely not all) fall asleep faster. Some are going to try this and stay up all night, no lie. Best practice would be to test effects on nights when poor sleep wouldn't be a problem. Smoking 15-30 minutes before sleeping may tame Restless Leg Syndrome. With cannabis though, you always have to keep in mind, effects vary significantly among individuals. 

Nightmares can stick with you, haunting your day long after they've interrupted your sleep. Some studies found that THC might help you get deeper, more restorative sleep. THC also reduces REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, where vivid dreams occur. If you have PTSD your vivid dreams often turn into nightmares. In theory, a shortened REM may lead to less nightmares. 

However, this is not universal. If nightmares are tough on your nights and days, talking to a medical cannabis expert could help. They can guide you on adding THC to your care plan most effectively. 

Fast Relief is Good and Bad: We Have the Solution: Combining Cannabinoids

With smoked cannabis, the relief you experience can leave the body very quickly. So, as wonderful as THC works via inhalation, sometimes smokable THC won’t offer long-term relief. Here’s the thing: many who get relief from chronic health conditions with cannabis use two or more delivery methods. They often mix and match, finding a combo that works best for them.

Whether it's adding edibles for sleep or using a longer acting tincture during the day to keep pain at a dull roar, the key to deep symptom management with cannabis seems to be in layering cannabis products along with traditional smoking for the greatest efficacy.

Before you decide on your approach, seek guidance from a cannabis nurse or physician and always tell your primary health provider that you have decided to try using cannabis for your health condition. No discussion on cannabis is complete without acknowledging the potential risks associated with its use. It is essential to stay informed about how cannabis inhalation might affect you, both in the short and long term.

The Other Side of the Cloud: Risks Involved

Respiratory Health

The act of smoking anything can have detrimental effects on the respiratory system. Some studies find no change in lung function of cannabis smokers based on simple lung function tests that reliably measures airflow. While other studies definitely state that prolonged exposure the combustion of cannabis does release byproducts that can contribute to respiratory issues. 

Since traditional weed pipes often burn too hot, what if you could get your relief delivered on demand (which is what smoking provides) and decrease respiratory complaints? Wouldn’t that be a game-changer for the combustion naysayers? For safer inhalation explore the Maze-X Pipe by Weedgets. This gentle-hitting pipe is specially designed with patented filtration and cooling technology that gives you an incredibly smooth smoking experience. 

Smoking joints is a respiratory challenge that Weedgets tackles head-on. Here's the problem, joints are often smoked without a filter (FYI, crutches do not filter anything). Weedgets' "Doob Tube Kit'' filter tips are smoking accessories that reduce tar and harmful substances, offering a smoother inhale to reduce coughing, and preserve herb flavors. A totally suitable option for those who need to inhale but are super health-conscious. Using activated carbon-filtered devices may support lung health in Cannabis smokers, Weedgets has those as well. 

Dependence and Tolerance

The risks associated with developing a dependence on cannabis from chronic smoking, without breaks, will lead to respiratory issues and tolerance. Since inhalation of cannabis is rapid so are rewarding effects of cannabis on dopamine levels, the chemical that motivates us to seek out more. Identifying signs of dependence early and modifying practice can establish a balanced and beneficial long-term relationship with the plant.

Cognitive Function

Research underscores the importance of adolescents postponing the use of cannabis until after puberty. The reasons for this delay are many, involving the interaction of hormones, neurotransmitters, endocannabinoids, and the overall development of the brain. This is not about  adopting a "Just Say No" stance, but rather advocating for a delay. Many teens, under strict medical supervision, do use cannabis as part of a carefully managed treatment plan. This, however, is a distinct situation that requires professional oversight.

In a surprising twist of fate, animal studies show that for seniors, cannabis enhances cognitive performance on tasks. For seniors any cognitive side effects from cannabis, like forgetfulness, appears temporary, with cognitive functioning mostly returning to normal after cessation.

Safety Tips for Cannabis Inhalation

Maximizing the benefits of cannabis inhalation while minimizing the risks hinges on adopting safe practices. This section offers an introductory roadmap to ensure safety. 

Dose Responsibly

Before you decide on your approach, seek dosing guidance from a cannabis nurse or physician and always tell your primary health provider that you have decided to try using cannabis for pain relief. 

Understanding THC and CBD content, as well as individual tolerance levels, can help consumers gauge their dose effectively. Beginners are advised to start low and go slow. The most effective strategy for smoking cannabis is one that improves outcomes while mitigating or even totally avoiding the well-known adverse effects of cannabis: short-term memory impairments, tolerance, altered judgment, coordination challenges, increased heart rate, and in some cases, anxiety or paranoia.

Choose Quality 

Opting for high-quality, lab tested cannabis that comes with a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) and using clean smoking accessories can reduce exposure to harmful compounds. Invest in a great pipe like the Maze-X Pipe with a reputation for excellence.

Seek Medical Advice

It's crucial to weigh these potential risks with a cannabis specialist against the benefits when considering cannabis for symptom management. And always notify your primary care provider that you have decided to try cannabis. This is especially important if you have a preexisting condition or are using other medications. A medical professional well-versed in cannabis can provide personalized advice on whether cannabis is safe for you.

Smoke to Your Health: In Moderation, of Course

The decision to use cannabis is personal, and while inhalation carries stigma and risk, it can offer natural and immediate relief for various symptoms. Education, intent and a Cannabis Specialist’s support that go beyond these words, create a tailored approach for enhanced well-being. Whether it’s a puff to de-stress, a hit to manage pain, or a toke to promote sleep, the role of cannabis in your life is your choice. Taking a responsible stance on cannabis inhalation empowers healthcare autonomy. 

That’s my dive into the risks and benefits of cannabis inhalation with an eye towards responsible use to ensure every breath you take is for your health and a more informed approach to wellness.

Information mostly sourced from legit scientists like this one by Ribeiro, L.I., and Ind, P.W. called "Effect of cannabis smoking on lung function and respiratory symptoms" I read it so you don’t have to but if you want, read it all here. 🌿🔬 

Contributed to Weedgets LLC by Maureen “Mo” Smyth, BSN RN - a cannabis content writer for Health Revolutionary, Founder of Cannabis Public School at Smyth Med.

As a registered nurse, it's important that I clarify smoking cannabis is not a replacement for medicine or medicinal options. Always consult your chosen healer or physician before use. Excessive inhalation can lead to lung issues. Weigh your options. Use with caution. Be intentional. 

Brown, Q. L., & Winterstein, A. G. (2020). Cannabis and the developing brain: insights into its long-lasting effects. Journal of Cannabis Research, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s42238-020-00051-z

Ozmen, O., Milletsever, A., Tasan, S., Selcuk, E., & Savran, M. (2024, February 22). The effects of cannabidiol against Methotrexate-induced lung damage. Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1111/bcpt.13992

Ribeiro, L. I., & Ind, P. W. (2016). Effect of cannabis smoking on lung function and respiratory symptoms: a structured literature review. NPJ primary care respiratory medicine, 26, 16071. https://doi.org/10.1038/npjpcrm.2016.71

Sutherland, S. (2017, May 10). Marijuana May Boost, Rather Than Dull, the Elderly Brain. Scientific American.

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