With the increasing number of both federal and state governments around the world decriminalizing or legalizing medicinal and/or recreational use of marijuana, researchers and medical experts are showing concerns about its impact on health and lifestyle in users. Recently, the United States federal government declared hemp derived cannabinoid as a legal substance and removed it from the list of Controlled Substances Act in December 2018.
Since cannabis is most commonly smoked inside, it is important to identify the possible outcomes that could result from smoking indoors, especially the potential effects of passive smokers, particularly children.
As of 2016, it has been estimated that over 24 million people in the U.S. are cannabis users. This number has risen exponentially and people have shown significant interest since court rulings in Washington D.C. and 8 other states that have legalized cannabis use for both medicinal and recreational purposes.
Cannabis smoking is the most common form of consumption, that often occurs indoors, which can lead to a high concentration of particulate matter to be released and inhaled by those present in its proximity. Elderly people, young children and pets are the most sensitive and vulnerable to any such environmental changes.
In fact, young children, below the age of 14 are often considered to be the most susceptible population to the harmful effects of environmental tobacco smoke; therefore, the fact that up to 8 million children in the U.S. live with a parent who is a current cannabis smoker raises the concern that inhalation of second hand smoke as a passive smoker can cause detrimental health effects.
In addition to this, there is a lack of research and in-depth study about the potential health correlation between cannabis and its long-term effects on health. There also remains no legal restrictions in the United States that protect children from exposure to second hand cannabis smoke in their residential house.
The health effects resulting from second hand tobacco smoke (STS) are well documented, which ultimately leaves no doubts that smoking any kind of tobacco plant can negatively impact and produce fatal consequences if exposed for a prolonged period of time.
Although the marijuana plant differs greatly from the tobacco plant, the smoke from both of these plants consist many of the same chemicals, such as nitric oxide and aldehydes, both of which are known to cause critically deteriorating health effects to exposed individuals.
Several studies have been conducted to investigate the chemical composition and properties of marijuana smoke alone. The components have also been compared to that of tobacco smoke in order to understand the differences and similarities between both which could impact the health of people who inhale them indirectly. It has been found that cannabis smoke contains higher levels of benzo [α] pyrene than tobacco smoke, but these studies are limited in their sample size and variety of cannabis strains tested which does not help us to draw out specifics.
Effects of Cannabis Passive Smoking on Children
A 2019 Preventive Medicine Reports study investigated the link between second hand cannabis smoke (SCS) and adverse health effects in exposed children. The study was significantly larger as compared to any other performed in this domain, it monitored air particle concentrations in almost 300 homes of families with at least 1 smoker and 1 child under the age of 14 using a customized Dylos DC1700 particle monitor. The study categorized families on the basis of the following categories:
- Cannabis only home
- Cigarette only home
- Dual smoking home
- Non smoking home
Special devices for monitoring the particles were used in the study that were capable of obtaining continuous data on the presence of air particles within the diameter size range of 0.5 to 2.5 micrometres (µm). The study revealed that there were no real differences in the particle concentrations present in cigarette only homes and cannabis only homes. Both cigarette only and cannabis only homes exhibited a significantly higher concentration of particles than the ones present in the non-smoking homes.
In order to further investigate and determine the health outcomes of children living in different types of homes with different air concentration in this study, the researchers considered the frequency of emergency department visits, ear infections, asthma, skin allergies and bronchitis/ bronchiolitis in all home types.
The data showed that children living in homes with indoor cannabis smoke were 83% more likely to exhibit adverse health effects as compared to those living in non-smoking households. Though this was not found to be solid information as per statistical data, it was an important observation made by researchers.