Most people with emphysema are older men.

Marijuana abuse should be considered as a reason for development of emphysema in young people, according to researchers from University Hospital Berne, in Switzerland.

First, the details.

  • Researchers reviewed the medical records of 17 young patients (group 1; 16 male, age 19-43 years old) with spontaneous pneumothorax and bullous lung emphysema who were systematically evaluated over 30 months.
    • Pneumothorax is the accumulation of air around the lung, leading to collapse of the lung.
    • In severe emphysema, the presence of bullae impair breathing, diminish the ability to exercise, and can cause acute respiratory distress.
  • All were regular marijuana smokers.
  • Their medical findings were compared to non-marijuana smokers (group 2), and other patients (group 3) with pneumothorax.

And, the results.

  • All but 1 patient in group 1 smoked marijuana daily for about 9 years and tobacco for 12 years.
  • They had severe lung emphysema and inflammation with bullae.
  • The presence of lung emphysema in group 1 was significantly different from groups 2 and 3.
  • There were no significant differences among the groups in clinical, laboratory, and histopathological (lung tissue) findings.

The bottom line?
The authors concluded, “The period of marijuana smoking seems to play an important role in the development of lung emphysema. This obviously quite frequent condition in young and so far asymptomatic patients will have medical, financial, and ethical impact, as some of these patients may be severely handicapped or even become lung transplant candidates in the future.”

5/1/08 11:45 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.