As the community learns more and more about the dangers of smoking tobacco, it would appear that we have a generation of young people who are turning to cannabis, believing it to be the healthy alternative. How many times have you heard that cannabis is a herb, it’s good for you and it’s a medicine?

Cannabis is by far the most popular of all the illicit drugs, with a third of the Australian population ever having tried it. Of those, almost 13 percent have used in the last 12 months. What we do know about cannabis is that the drug is not without risk. Smoking the drug holds many of the same risks associated with smoking any drug, including cancer and respiratory disease.

Smoking anything is bad for you. The act of smoking involves burning a substance and inhaling that burnt matter. Whatever that substance is is irrelevant -“ when you burn the substance, tar and other carcinogens are formed and the smoker inhales them into his or her respiratory system.

Recently there have been warnings issued about a condition known as vanishing lung syndrome which some experts believe is increasing among young people due to cannabis smoking. Treatment of such respiratory disorders in younger patients who have seldom, if ever, smoked normal cigarettes, appears to be on the increase. Although it is not normally a common condition, there is a possibility that it is common in heavier cannabis smokers, with an increase in the number of people in their early 30s being diagnosed with the condition.

The disease causes the alveoli -“ the air sacs in the lung which permit the transfer of oxygen into the blood -“ to be displaced by big cysts, called giant bullae, cutting the lung’s function by up to a third and crowding the chest cavity. One of the greatest problems is that often the disease goes undetected for some time before the person becomes symptomatic.

Doctors believe that the problem with vanishing lung syndrome might not be so much to do with the content of the drug as with the way it is smoked. The condition has also been reported in heroin smokers. People who smoke drugs, other than tobacco, tend to do so in a far different way. They inhale the smoke far deeper into the lungs and then hold the smoke for much longer. They do this as they believe it will aid in intoxication, i.e. it will get them stoned faster. We know this is a far more risky way of smoking and actually quite unnecessary as any drug will be able to transfer into the bloodstream just as effectively as nicotine does when the smoke is held in the mouth. There is no need for the big deep breaths.

Remember: if you do not want any negative consequences, do not use the drug, and no matter how many times you have used a substance, never be blas?

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