Is inhaling marijuana smoke safer than inhaling smoke from tobacco? 

A majority of American adults say yes, according to a new survey, and they also believe there is less harm to adults and children from secondhand marijuana smoke than tobacco smoke.

However, those beliefs are just not true, said lead study author Dr. Beth Cohen, professor of medicine at the University of California – San Francisco.

“When you burn something, whether it is tobacco or cannabis, it creates toxic compounds, carcinogens, and particulate matter that are harmful to health,” she wrote. “It’s the combustion that’s the problem, so this idea that because cannabis is ‘natural’ burning and inhaling it is fine is just wrong.”

There are “plenty of toxins and tar” in cannabis smoke that can hurt the lungs, said Carol Boyd, founding director of the Center for the Study of Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking and Health at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. 

Growing Acceptance

The study surveyed more than 5,000 people with an average age of 50 about their attitudes toward the safety of smoking weed versus smoking tobacco. Conducted three times — in 2017, 2020 and 2021 — the surveys showed that people’s positive perception of marijuana was increasing. 

By 2021, the last year of the survey, more than 44% of those surveyed thought cannabis was somewhat or much safer, compared with 25.5% who thought cigarettes were safer.

When it came to potential harm to others who might breathe marijuana smoke, more than 40% thought smoke from weed was safer, compared with 23% who picked tobacco.