Intended for healthcare professionals


Comparing cannabis with tobacco

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 03 May 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:942

Smoking cannabis, like smoking tobacco, can be a major public health hazard

  1. John A Henry (, professor,
  2. William L G Oldfield, specialist registrar,
  3. Onn Min Kon, consultant
  1. Academic Department of Accident and Emergency Medicine, Imperial College School of Medicine, St Mary's Hospital, London W2 1NY
  2. Department of Respiratory Medicine, St Mary's Hospital

    Britain now has 13 million tobacco smokers. This number has been steadily decreasing due to public awareness of the harm caused by tobacco smoking. At the same time the number of cannabis smokers is increasing. Between 1999 and 2001, the number of 14–15 year olds who had tried cannabis rose from 19% to 29% in boys and 18% to 25% in girls, and a Home Office document estimates that 3.2 million people in Britain smoke cannabis. 1 2 However, the harmful effects of smoking cannabis are widely known and have recently been highlighted. 3 4 Although the active ingredients of the cannabis plant differ from those of the tobacco plant, each produces about 4000 chemicals when smoked and these are largely identical. Although cannabis cigarettes are smoked less frequently than nicotine cigarettes, their mode of inhalation is very different. Compared with smoking tobacco, smoking cannabis entails a two thirds larger puff …

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