In discussions about substance misuse, the focus today is often on drugs such as opioids, the drugs that are responsible in large part for the addiction and overdose crisis. However, other drugs that seem less dangerous to the public at large nonetheless need to be given consideration as well. Drugs such as marijuana can have serious long-term health impacts, including cancer, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health.

What Causes Cancer?

In Colorado, more than 20,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year. One-third of those diagnosed eventually die from the disease. There are a number of different behaviors that increase the likelihood of getting cancer in your lifetime. These include exposure to chemicals or radiation, a poor diet, obesity, alcohol use, and smoking. Cancer risk also comes from factors that people cannot control, such as their family history and their age.

Marijuana Use and Cancer

Marijuana contains many of the same chemicals as tobacco, so it is prudent for those interested in public health to examine the possibility that it could also be a factor in cancer diagnoses and deaths.

Studies that look at the potential links between marijuana use and cancer calculate the number of “joint years” that people use marijuana. A joint year is an average smoking frequency of one joint a day per year. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health, those who have smoked fewer than 10 joint years usually do not have an increased risk of most cancers, while those who have smoked more than that may have an increased risk of cancer. This does not mean that you need to have smoked for 10 years; you could accumulate joint years more quickly because you smoke more than one joint per day.

The studies do not link marijuana use in a strict cause-and-effect format. Instead, they recognize that there are a number of factors that influence cancer risk, and this could be one of them. For instance, it is difficult to draw out data specific to marijuana use if people also eat poorly, drink alcohol, or smoke tobacco.

During the Colorado study’s literature review, they discovered data that suggests a link between nonseminoma testicular cancer, prostate cancer, and marijuana use. Marijuana use was definitely associated with nonseminoma testicular cancer and there was some evidence for a link between marijuana use and prostate cancer.

The Long-Term Effects of Cannabis

While cannabis might seem like a lighter drug to some, the long-term effects of cannabis can potentially be serious. According to Dana Farber, even though marijuana is still illegal at a federal level, “the expansion of state laws decriminalizing or sanctioning its use is likely to renew the debate over whether smoking marijuana increases the risk of developing cancer.” As marijuana use becomes a more legal part of society, it is still important to remember that, like alcohol and tobacco, a substance is not healthy simply because it is legal. Men who are considering using marijuana should be forewarned that there could be a link between testicular and prostate cancer and marijuana use.

At The Recovery Village Columbus, we understand the struggle it can be to move into recovery. If you want to address your long-term marijuana use, contact us today to discuss how we can help.

Editor – Melissa Carmona
As the content manager at Advanced Recovery Systems, Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more

NIDA. “Marijuana DrugFacts.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, December 24, 2019. Accessed June 16, 2021.

Aldington, S et al. “Cannabis use and risk of lung cancer: a case-control study.” The European respiratory journal, February 2008. Accessed June 16, 2021.

Marijuana Use and Cancer.” Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, 2017. Accessed June 16, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.