Introduction and objectives Cannabis (or marijuana) is the world’s most widely-used illicit drug, according to UN drug report 2012 prevalence of cannabis use between 15–64 years of age is around 1.7% in Europe and 2.6% in USA.1 It is particularly prevalent amongst adolescents and young adults. As societies reconsider the legal status of cannabis, policy makers and clinicians require sound knowledge of the acute and chronic effects of cannabis. There has been surprisingly little research into its effects on respiratory health. In a rural region of North Wales we have noticed an increasing number of young patients presenting with precocious bullous emphysema associated with very high tobacco and cannabis usage.
Methods A series of 8 patients presenting through the Emergency Department with an exacerbation of COPD were noted to have precocious COPD associated with high cannabis use. The age was between 35–48, all had both physiological and radiological signs of advanced emphysema. All had at least 10–20 years of cannabis usage smoking more than 5 ‘joints’ per day. Of these, 4 patients were significantly impaired to require long term oxygen therapy, and one is actively listed for a single lung transplant. All had normal levels of alpha 1 antitrypsin and chymotrypsin.
Results We found young patients with debilitating COPD secondary to cannabis use i.e. as less as 10 years of use.2 We postulate that cannabis smoking leads to severe COPD in young patients independent of genetic susceptibility, which is on the verge of increase.
Conclusions The addition of cannabis to the tobacco, and high usage at a young age is leading to increase in the incidence of COPD in general and bullous emphysema as a phenotype in particular. We are concerned that the dangers of cannabis inhalation and these risks are not being appreciated by the wider health community. More research is needed to know the mechanisms of the inflammatory response secondary to cannabis smoking.
UN drug report 2012, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
Tashkin DP. Effects of marijuana smoking on the lung. Annals of the American Thoracic Society. 2013;10(3):239–47
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