Bong Lung could be for Life, Says Otago Study

Bong Lung could be for Life, Says Otago Study

Pass the respirator on the left hand side

A long-running University of Otago study has found that smoking weed long-term could lead to a distinct type of lung damage, which may be permanent. 


As part of the “Dunedin Study,” Otago researchers have tracked 1,037 individuals in Dunedin since they were born in 1972/73 and monitored their health along the way. Because at least 75% of particpants experimented with weed at least once since the 70's, this study comprises what co-author Professor Bob Hancox thinks could be “the world’s most complete data on lifetime cannabis use and lung function in a large population sample."


Included in the study was a discussion of the mysterious condition known as “bong lung”. Bong lung is a distinct form of lung damage seen in patients who smoke a lot of weed, identified by “over-inflated lungs, impaired airway resistance and impaired oxygen extraction”, i.e. it’s harder to get air in. Critic Te Arohi’s extensive medical experience and expertise indicates that additional symptoms may include a sudden need to throw up mandala tapestries everywhere and a keen and lasting interest in Tame Impala (or the Grateful Dead in patients over 50).


Professor Hancox said that the concept of bong lung is “controversial”. While “many respiratory doctors, including myself, have seen conditions matching this description,” he said that official data remains scarce, meaning it’s not an officially recognised condition by most of the medical establishment.


The NZ Drug Foundation Executive Director, Sarah Helm, said that bong lung is best described as a severe form of emphysema, the lung damage commonly caused by smoking. While it’s pretty shit on its own, Helm noted that it also makes you more likely to be “seriously ill if you end up catching a bacteria or virus, like the flu or Covid-19”.


As for the long-lasting effects of heavy cannabis use, the results of the study were suggestive but inconclusive. Professor Hancox said that those who quit cannabis did not seem to have any improvement in their lung function. While cautioning that more research is needed to confirm this, he said that this finding could indicate permanent lung damage, adding that “for heavy users who get as far as developing ‘bong lung’, there is no realistic chance that this is reversible”. 


The findings should not be taken too far, Helm said. “It is also important to note this impact [on the lungs] only occurs when smoked. You can avoid this harm by using it in edible form, or reduce the harm by vaping it. It is misleading to say that ‘cannabis use’ as a whole is worse for your lungs – rather it is worse when smoked as a joint or in a water bong.” 


Michael Britnell, President of the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, doubted the findings of the study. “More research needs to be done, but generally for the amount of people who consume cannabis in this country, we do not hear of many adverse health effects if any. Inhalation of burning herbs is a very ancient method of delivery used by many cultures of the world throughout the ages”, Britnell said.


No students interviewed by Critic Te Arohi were shocked by the findings. One, Charlotte, said that “it doesn’t surprise me that it damages your lungs because you’re still inhaling smoke. But it’s surprising if it’s to the same extent as tobacco smoking.” Stew, meanwhile, sarcastically commented “next they’ll say vaping is bad.” Spoiler alert: it is.


Despite cannabis being commonly used and easily accessible, Professor Hancox explained that cannabis-related health research is scarce, because “it has been difficult to study a drug that remains illegal in most parts of the world.” A report by the Helen Clark Foundation agreed, stating that “access to [cannabis] for research can be costly and time consuming… while cannabis is the most-used illegal drug in New Zealand and globally, existing scientific literature about it is limited.” 


Until cannabis is legalised and testing more accessible, feel free to take notes on your flatmate’s deteriorating condition. Observe the onset of any coughs and their timing relative to the appearance of plush beanbags and incense burners. All this is valuable data in the fight against bong lung.

Posted 11:52am Friday 4th February 2022 by Sean Gourley.