Is There a Direct Link Between Cannabis Legalization and Rising Asthma Cases in Kids?


Asthma is a chronic airways inflammation that can cause wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing. It can also result in death or irreversible lung damage in extreme situations. Around 6 million children in the US are impacted by this illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Compared to white children, black and Hispanic children have a higher risk of developing asthma. In addition, males under 13 are more likely than girls of the same age to suffer asthma.


Researchers from The City University of New York and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that the prevalence of asthma among older children has increased in places where cannabis use is authorized for recreational purposes. The investigation into the link between cannabis laws and childhood asthma is the first of its type and was published in Preventive Medicine. One of the study’s co-authors, Renee Goodwin, revealed to Medical News Today that no prior studies had looked into this problem.


Analysis and Data From Asthma and Cannabis Study

In their study, the scientists analyzed data from the National Survey on Children’s Health (NSCH), a representative sample of minors in the United States. The team calculated the frequency of pediatric asthma based on data from 2018-2019, 2016-2017, and 2011-2012 using the NSCH. The study encompassed 227,451 American children with an average age slightly above 8. Among the participants, approximately 51% were male, while around 17% as Hispanic, 60% identified as non-Hispanic white, and 12% as non-Hispanic Black.


Based on their analysis, the researchers determined that the occurrence of pediatric asthma was almost 9% in 2011-2012. This rate declined to 8% in 2016-2017 and 7.8% in 2018-2019. The researchers observed that the decrease in asthma rates was more pronounced in states where cannabis was not legalized or had recently been legalized for medicinal purposes. However, according to the research paper, there was no statistically significant difference in the magnitude of the reductions based on whether a state had legalized recreational or medical cannabis use.


In adolescents aged 12 to 17, asthma frequency increased in states with cannabis regulations, notably in states where marijuana use was legalized for recreational purposes. In general, the incidence of pediatric asthma was significantly higher in children who identified as non-Hispanic minorities residing in states where cannabis was legal for both medicinal and recreational purposes compared to states where cannabis was not legal.


The most significant surge in pediatric asthma cases in states where recreational marijuana use is legal is primarily observed in Hispanic kids. However, the researchers explicitly note in their paper that their findings do not establish a direct correlation between marijuana laws and an increase in pediatric asthma.


What The Data Suggests

Dr. Brian Christman, a professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and a volunteer spokesperson for the American Lung Association, highlighted the reduction in the incidence of pediatric asthma illustrated in the study. He attributes this decline, in part, to the efforts to control tobacco smoking and secondhand smoke exposure. According to brian, the data suggests that our public health measures concerning tobacco control have been effective. In most states, asthma prevalence among children has decreased, which is excellent news.


The rise in pediatric asthma among adolescents aged 12 to 17 in states with cannabis legislation suggests that it’s being used in the home around adolescent children who have a higher incidence of asthma in the paper, and this is irritating their airways,” according to Christman, who was not involved in the study. He emphasized that the research had a significant number of participants. “Although the figures may not be enormous, when you’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of individuals and observing a couple of percentage shifts, it’s most likely significant,” he added.


The observed elevation in the prevalence of asthma among adolescents aged 12 to 17 in states with cannabis regulations implies that cannabis is being used in households around teenagers who are more prone to asthma leading to airways irritation. Although not involved in the study, Christman emphasized the significance of the research’s sizeable participant pool. According to him, while the figures are not huge, observing even a few percentage changes concerning hundreds of thousands of people is likely to be significant.


The Need For Public Health Guidelines.

According to Goodwin, she conducted this research because she observed how fast various states were legalizing the recreational consumption of marijuana. She believes there is a need for more and better public health messaging concerning cannabis.


Goodwin noted that pediatricians have questions they should ask about children’s homes. However, she claimed that the list does not include a question about whether anyone smokes cannabis indoors. She added that there is no advice for parents or clinicians. According to Christman, parents who smoke cannabis should smoke outside for the sake of their family, especially if they have children with developing lungs. Otherwise, this kind of exposure could have long-term effects.


Cannabis use by parents

A study conducted and co-authored by Goodwin in 2021 found that adults living in households with children were more likely to use cannabis in states where recreational or medical marijuana is legal than in states where it is not legal. This prevalence of cannabis use was highest among individuals aged 18 to 25 in states where recreational use of cannabis is legal and among those who identified as non-Hispanic Black in states where recreational use is legalized.


Goodwin emphasized the importance of informing parents about the potential risks of secondhand exposure to cannabis smoke, especially since more parents are using cannabis. However, she also noted that further research is necessary on this topic. Goodwin expressed concern that state legislatures may be making decisions without sufficient scientific evidence to guide them.


Although more research is needed on the subject, a 2016 study found that even one minute of exposure to cannabis secondhand smoke can significantly impair the function of blood vessel linings in rats for at least 90 minutes. Previous research also showed the presence of chemicals linked to respiratory diseases in marijuana smoke. According to Goodwin, there is increasing evidence that it is not harmless and may have even more harmful effects than tobacco.



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