Study Finds Cannabis Creates as Much Particulate Matter as Cigarettes

A new study from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco shows that you don’t have to smoke cannabis to produce dangerous levels of particulate matter. Inhaling heated cannabis produces levels of dangerous particulate matter that are equal to those seen with conventional tobacco cigarettes.

By Katherine Greiner

October 12, 2021

Following the trend of states legalizing the use of cannabis, indoor smoking bans are being updated to include banning the use of cannabis. Users of cannabis need new places to consume it. California and several other states have legalized its use in licensed stores, raising concerns about potential exposure of customers and workers to particulate air pollution.  

A research team, including Thirdhand Smoker Research Consortium member Suzaynn F. Schick from the University of California, San Francisco, investigated this potential source of pollution in a licensed store where customers could vaporize or dab cannabis. Unlike smoking cannabis, vaporizing and dabbing uses heat to create an aerosol which the user then inhales. Aerosol is nothing more than air that contains a substance, in this case cannabis oils. Aerosols may contain fewer harmful substances than traditional tobacco smoke, but they create fine particles just like smoke does. These fine particles can damage lungs and cause heart disease. 

To better understand the effect of vaporizing and dabbing cannabis on air quality, the researchers set up pumps which collected and filtered the air in a local dispensary where customers vaporized and dabbed cannabis. The dispensary was a single room, with a retail counter at one end and tables for vaporizing and dabbing at the other. Smoking of any substance was not permitted in the establishment. Data from the air monitors show that there is a clear relationship between cannabis use and elevated concentration of particulate matter; in fact, the particulate concentrations in the dispensary are similar to those seen in indoor spaces where smoking occurs.  

The negative impacts of secondhand smoke are well-documented, and this important research shows that the absence of traditional “smoke” doesn’t make it any less dangerous. The researchers note that “in healthy nonsmokers, even 30 minutes of exposure to cigarette smoke increases risk of heart attack and death, and even brief increases in particulate exposure can have the same impact, even without the additional toxic substances found in cigarettes”. As vaporizing and dabbing become increasingly popular alternatives to smoking, it is important that we fully understand the risks involved to ourselves and those around us, especially because these alternatives are commonly assumed to be safer.

Click here to read the research study.

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