Smoking Marijuana vs. Tobacco – Short & Long Term Differences

In this article, we’re diving into smoking marijuana vs. tobacco – short and long-term effects on your health and what it means for your insurance rates. 

Let’s get started. 

Quick Summary

The biggest problem with studying the long-term effects of marijuana smoking is scientists and doctors have often found concurrent use with cigarette smoking. Also, the longstanding federal prohibition of marijuana made medical research incredibly expensive and complicated.

While new studies are starting to draw conclusions as legalization progresses, we know mountains more about the long-term effects of tobacco use than we do about cannabis. 

While we’re not doctors, we specialize in helping folks who smoke for medical and recreational reasons find the best life insurance at the lowest rates – without unfair penalization for cannabis. To find out if you qualify for a non-smoker policy, even while smoking cannabis, give us a call at (888) 987-8447.

Health Risks of Cannabis

Most risks associated with cannabis focus on lung health, mental health, and detrimental behavior. 

Studies regarding long-term lung health in both infrequent and regular smokers disagree on their conclusions. 

We know that cannabis likely links with chronic bronchitis and more coughing in general. The evidence is not scientifically conclusive yet – but there is a strong correlation. 

What’s interesting about the chemical makeup of cannabis is that some chemicals vaporized in the smoke kill several types of cancer cells, including lung cancer and breast cancer.

For more information on the health effects of eating versus smoking cannabis, go here.

Long-Term Effects of Marijuana Use

Very little is known. Older studies tend to assume that people are either lying about their usage because of prohibition or were smoking both cannabis and tobacco, making the differences impossible to study. 

There are suggestions of cellular lung damage, although not the cancer-causing kind. 

We have even less data on the long-term use of non-inhaled cannabis products. It would seem odd if edibles somehow managed to cause lung damage, right? 

The mental health effects are starting to show results in some studies, but we’ll need several more decades before we have anything conclusive. Although addiction treatment centers are starting to offer programs for cannabis use disorder, even if THC does not cause a chemical dependency.

Health Risks of Tobacco

Tobacco has many decades of study under its belt. It’s proven to cause lung cancer and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

The depressing thing about lung cancer is that it gets the least donations for research in the United States. Likely because people tie it too closely to smoking (a choice) rather than all of the other things that can cause it, even in people who don’t smoke. 

There are also throat and mouth cancers, yellow teeth, and less serious lung issues like higher susceptibility to bronchitis and smokers cough. 

But you know all that. 

The Center for Disease Control states that over 400,000 Americans die every year from tobacco-related illnesses. They also classify it as a preventable cause of death.

How Do They Compare?

Your lungs are sensitive. Putting anything in them is less than ideal. Of course, living in an area with poor air quality – smog and the like – is also terrible for your lungs. 

differences between cannabis and tobacco

Notable differences between marijuana cigarettes and regular cigarettes start with the amount smoked. Cigarette smokers, on average, consume 20 cigarettes a day. Recreational marijuana smokers might smoke 2 or 3 times a month. U.S. adults who smoke more regularly show a greater number of unhealthy respiratory symptoms than their occasional use counterparts.

Tobacco products seem to pose a greater risk of health problems later on in life. Cannabis has more chemical compounds than tobacco, making it more challenging to study. So far, it seems to be less harmful to you than tobacco in terms of long-term health

When in doubt, there are always edibles. That should eliminate any harmful effects on your lungs.

Marijuana vs. Tobacco for Life Insurance

Which brings us to the big question, how do life insurance companies consider the two? 

Life insurance companies aren’t particularly interested in anything other than their mortality tables. If it doesn’t kill you, it’s generally a non-issue for life insurance. 

That should tell you a lot about the mortality differences between cannabis and tobacco. 

Most life insurance companies consider cannabis a moral hazard. It’s federally illegal, so they won’t insure someone with THC in their system. 

However, 12 companies will insure recreational cannabis smokers and marijuana patients.

The underwriting guidelines vary, but the good news is most of them don’t charge tobacco rates for recreational consumers who smoke a few times a week or less

That quickly tells you that the health effects aren’t as serious as tobacco cigarettes, where insurance companies may double your rates for cigarette consumption. 

To read further on how THC affects your life insurance rates, click here.

Health Outlook After Quitting

Good news. There is promising research. 

Recent studies on quitting tobacco indicate that a former cigarette smoker who quits before age 40 can regain most of their lung function by the time they retire. The lungs are extremely slow to repair themselves, but it is possible. 

Quitting cannabis has benefits too. Aside from the possible lung impairment and predisposition to mucus and infection, the neurochemistry of THC causes downregulation in regular smokers. 

When the chemicals bind to receptors in your brain, they send signals that work like exclamation points to your brain – everything is prettier, better, more relaxing, or more exciting. After repetition of this exclamation point overload, normal life can seem less pretty, great, relaxing, exciting, etc. 

In short, quitting cannabis for recreational use may ease up on coughing and smooth out life a little for some people. Although using it to manage chronic pain, kick an opioid or other addiction, or handle anxiety may lead to researchers finding evidence of certain health benefits.


Future studies on the use of marijuana will hopefully provide the general public with strong evidence for the different effects, both positive and negative health effects. Particularly as different ways of consuming cannabis grow in popularity, it will make long-term studies easier.

Health officials will likely always tout abstinence from any drug (be it tobacco, alcohol, or cannabis) as the safer alternative. But with health research findings in replicable studies, we can all feel a little more confident in understanding what we put in our bodies. 

How Marcan Insurance Can Help

We specialize in helping recreational consumers, and medical marijuana patients find the right life insurance for their families at the lowest possible price. 12 companies offer non-smoker rates for different levels of consumption. 

A medical patient’s best option is to work with a company that looks at the condition and not the treatment. 

Let us help answer your life insurance questions. Give us a call at (888) 987-8447 today.