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The Effects of Marijuana on the Voice

About Dr. Reena Gupta

Dr. Reena Gupta is the Director of the Division of Voice and Laryngology at OHNI. Dr. Gupta has devoted her practice to the care of patients with voice problems. She is board certified in otolaryngology and laryngology and fellowship trained in laryngology, specializing in the care of the professional voice.

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Does marijuana affect the voice?

Question: I smoke marijuana casually.  When I heard that smoking a joint might damage my voice, I switched to a vaporizer.  My voice does feel better now that I’ve made that switch.  Is smoking marijuana through a vaporizer safe or am I still doing damage to my voice?

The left image is a pre-cancerous mass on the vocal cord of a marijuana smoker. The image at right is one year after surgical removal, with continued smoking (via vaporizer). The mass has recurred.

Answer: The “textbook” answer is that regardless of how it is inhaled, every inhaled agent has an ability to damage the voice.

The reality is that many people will continue to consume the drug and they are seeking to minimize the potential for damage.  Given this, the lowest likelihood of voice injury comes when the marijuana is consumed (eaten), instead of inhaled.   There is a higher risk of drug overdose with this method, though.

Among inhalation options, studies have shown that drug delivery is comparable among the various methods.  However, when a vaporizer is used, because the drug is not burned, fewer toxins are produced.  This means that the inhaled “smoke” is less injurious to the vocal folds.

Studies have not yet been done to determine if the risk of developing cancer decreases when a vaporizer is used.  Given that there are some toxins that are still inhaled, even with a vaporizer, it is logical to assume there is still a cancer risk. Further evidence of this is that pre-cancerous changes on vocal cords only disappear when all marijuana smoking (including via vaporizer) is stopped.  A patient’s pre-cancerous mass will decrease in size when the change is made from smoked to vaporized marijuana.  However, even after surgical removal, the pre-cancerous changes recur unless all forms of inhalation are stopped (see pictures above).

This suggests that while there is less damage to the voice, there is still injury occurring with a vaporizer.   This damage is almost always irreversible, even after inhalation is stopped.  It will result in hoarseness, decreased voice (singing) range, and other voice side effects. Also, a cancer risk exists regardless of method of inhalation.

Key Points

  • Vaporizer use does decrease the voice risks associated with smoking marijuana.
  • However, there is still evidence of irreversible damage to the vocal lining and a risk of cancer with any inhalation of marijuana.

Video:

For additional information about the effects of marijuana use on the voice, click here.

 

Read patient stories about Dr. Reena Gupta from The Division of Voice at the Osborne Head and Neck Institute.

To learn more about Dr. Reena Gupta, click here.

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