Is Smoking Marijuana Safe? Get a Doctor’s Take

New research is emerging all the time.

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The past couple of years have witnessed multiple states legalizing medical marijuana. Many doctors, researchers, and patients testify that medical marijuana can have a significant impact on many different types of chronic pain and other health conditions and complications. But what about smoking weed just for fun?

According to internist Paul Knoepfelmacher, MD, more research is needed to understand how marijuana affects your health. Recreational marijuana has historically been considered a Schedule 1 drug, the same category as heroin and LSD. This label is assigned to drugs that have no medical value and can be highly addictive. However, current research suggests this label may not be accurate for recreational marijuana.

The research on long-term health effects of marijuana are limited, but some findings suggest that heavy use of recreational marijuana could affect lung function, increase heart rate, or have psychological effects. (By comparison, here’s how smoking cigarettes affects the body.)

Any time you inhale something that is burning, you introduce some type of chemical into the lungs, which can cause complications, says Dr. Knoepfelmacher. Using recreational marijuana also increases exposure to tar; in fact, research shows marijuana smoke contains more tar than cigarette smoke.

The legal system may be shifting to a more tolerant view on cannabis, but be sure to make the choice that’s right for you when it comes to your health. The lack of research—particularly of long-term health effects or marijuana—might prompt you to hold off on recreational marijuana (or at least not make it a regular habit).