Marijuana smoke exposure as harmful as tobacco smoke, scientists say

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(Meredith) -- New research is claiming that secondhand exposure to marijuana smoke is as bad for you, as tobacco smoke. 

The study from the University of California found that the arteries of rats exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke had a harder time to expand and allow a healthy flow of blood.

The research put a lit cigarette or marijuana joint in a special box with anesthetized rats. According to the report, when exposed to tobacco smoke, the rats' arteries didn't properly expand for about 30 minutes. However, when exposed to marijuana smoke, the arteries took closer to 90 minutes to return to their normal function.

[Related: Health effects of secondhand smoke] 

Dr. Mathew Springer of the University of California study told NPR News that while marijuana has fewer chemicals than cigarettes do, the level of smoke inhaled still is bad for the lungs, heart and blood vessels. Springer added that people shouldn't view his research as an anti-THC, but rather an anti-smoke conclusion. 

While there is ample research on the short-term effects of marijuana, the research on long-term effects is few and far between, according to Springer. He told NPR that this lack of research makes people think secondhand marijuana smoke is okay. 

Springer added a word of warning about vaping as an alternative. He explained to NPR that vaping devices don't produce smoke, but they do release a cloud of aerosolized chemicals which may be harmful.

[Related:  E-Cigarettes could double your risk of a heart attack] 

NPR noted that cannabis is becoming more common across the country, with more than 20 cities or states legalizing it in some form.In California, smoking pot is prohibited anywhere tobacco smoking is prohibited.  

Cigarette smoking is the greatest preventable cause of premature death in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health. It can lead to heart disease, strokes, heart attacks and blood clots.

Cigarette smoking is responsible for 87 percent of lung cancer deaths and at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths every year, the NIH reported.

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