Marijuana smoking and head and neck cancer

Mia Hashibe, Daniel E. Ford, Zuo Feng Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


A recent epidemiological study showed that marijuana smoking was associated with an increased risk of head and neck cancer. Among high school students and young adults, the prevalence of marijuana use was on the rise in the 1990s, with a simultaneous decline in the perception that marijuana use is harmful. It will be a major public health challenge to make people aware of the harmful effects of marijuana smoking, when some people viewit as the illicit drug with the least risk. The carcinogenicity of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is not clear, but according to laboratory studies, it appears to have antitumor properties such as apoptosis as well as tumor-promoting properties such as limiting immune function and increasing reactive oxygen species. Marijuana tar contains similar carcinogens to tar from tobacco cigarettes, but each marijuana cigarette may be more harmful than a tobacco cigarette since more tar is inhaled and retained when smoking marijuana. More molecular alterations have been observed in bronchial mucosa specimens of marijuana smokers compared to nonsmokers. Field cancerization may be occurring on the bronchial epithelium due to marijuana smoking exposure. Several case studies were suggestive of an association of marijuana smoking with head and neck cancers and oral lesions. However, in a cohort study with 8 years of follow-up, marijuana use was not associated with increased risks of all cancers or smoking-related cancers. Further epidemiological studies are necessary to confirm the association of marijuana smoking with head and neck cancers and to examine marijuana smoking as a risk factor for lung cancer. It will also be of interest to examine potential field cancerization of the upper aerodigestive tract by marijuana and to explore marijuana as a risk factor for oral premalignant lesions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)103S-107S
JournalJournal of clinical pharmacology
Issue number11 SUPPL.
StatePublished - Nov 1 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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