A direct link to lung cancer has not been found, but long-term use of the drug could have consequences for lung health, doctors warn.
Early in his career operating on lung cancer patients, Dr. Raja Flores knew most were cigarette smokers. But through the years, Flores, a thoracic surgeon at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, noticed a startling pattern: Some of his patients had never smoked a tobacco cigarette. They smoked a different drug: marijuana. And they had developed a much more aggressive form of lung cancer.
Initially, Flores didn’t consider there could be a connection between marijuana and lung cancer. The research linking pot smoking with cancer was scant and largely inconclusive. But as the numbers grew, Flores wondered if he was seeing some kind of grim new trend.
“I said to myself, ‘wait a minute, here’s another person in his 40s who never touched a cigarette and the cancer is all over the place,” Flores told NBC News. “It’s so bad I can’t even operate.’”
Flores first raised his concerns about harms from smoking marijuana in SurvivorNet, an online community for cancer patients and experts. He acknowledges there isn’t scientific proof that smoking cannabis causes lung cancer. But he worries that the combination of widespread legalization and marketing of marijuana’s potential health benefits are contributing to the belief that cannabis is an entirely benign drug. In fact, a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults published last summer found that nearly a third thought that smoking or vaping weed could protect a person’s health.