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Marijuana, E-Cigarettes and Vocal Health

Marijuana, E-Cigarettes and Vocal HealthCould it be true that smoking marijuana and vapor cigarettes will not damage the vocal folds? Speech Language Pathologist Kristie Reece Knickerbocker investigates…

I like science. I find a certain solace in knowing that a randomized control trial was completed in order to prove that I’m not just making you hum through a straw for fun.

On the other hand, not everything can be explained or rationalized. Some very important moments in my life, especially in my speech-language pathology career, cannot be measured and explained scientifically.

So, over the next few weeks I am going to look at some common beliefs about the voice, search for scientific answers and be open to the unknown – you might be surprised by some of the things that are unearthed…

Myth: Smoking marijuana and vaping is not damaging to the vocal folds like cigarettes are.

Reinke’s Edema, tissue damage in the form of gelatinous goo just below the top layer of the vocal folds, commonly occurs from smoking. A study discusses the effects of cigarette smoke on the delicate tissues of the vocal folds.

Even the vocal folds of rats changed after passive inhalation of smoke. So that sets you straight… right?

Not quite. A student told me that an alarmingly high number of voice performance students at her school claimed smoking marijuana and vapor cigarettes will not damage the vocal folds.

Although there are not yet any published studies specifically about the effects of vaping on the vocal cords, a study found that electronic cigarettes contain less carcinogenic ingredients than their tobacco counterparts, however less does not mean none.


E-cigarettes contain less carcinogenic ingredients than their tobacco counterparts, however less does not mean none

There is also concern that propylene glycol, an ingredient in some vapors, irritates the respiratory tract. (PG is just a fancy word for stage smoke.)

Despite more than 1,000 studies on electronic cigarettes, conclusions cannot be made on their safety or danger because of contradictions and inconsistencies in methodology. Get it together people…

I think people are learning this and deciding ECs are safe to smoke because of the lack of evidence.

Perhaps they are fishing for an excuse. Perhaps they are avid consumers of research.

In my clinical opinion, you are still inhaling something that is manufactured and exposing your most delicate tissues to foreign materials that may or may not be toxic.

An article in the Guardian states that those who smoke ECs think the water vapor is safe, they brush off the PG as an irritant, and smoke them anyway.

As for the marijuana, aside from altering perception and most likely performance, it is heated just like cigarette smoke and any smoke will irritate your tissue.

Bottom Line: Smoke can change the composition of your fragile vocal fold tissues. If you don’t inhale foreign material, your vocal folds will likely maintain their health.

This is the first in a series of articles by Kristie Knickerbocker.
Next article: Are Throat Coat Tea and Entertainer’s Secret A Sore Throat Cure-All?

Kristie Knickerbocker

Kristie Knickerbocker, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and singing voice specialist in Fort Worth, Texas. She provides voice, swallowing and speech therapy in her own private practice, a tempo Voice Center, LLC. She also lectures on the singing voice to area choirs and students. She belongs to ASHA’s Special Interest Group 3-Voice and Voice Disorders. She keeps a blog on her website at www.atempovoicecenter.com

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This article is adapted from Kristie’s blog which first appeared on The American Speech Language Hearing Association site www.Asha.org

  • James Cox

    Dudes. Particulates (very small particles) in smoke can damage your vocal bits and lungs. That’s ANY smoke. Weed, tobacco, vape, etc… Do what you want with your equipment, just be aware of the risk. Peace.

  • fubar_saunders

    I dont disagree with the PG part or with the overall thrust of the article but not all EC’s contain PG. Some contain vegetable glycerin, which is probably splitting hairs a bit but nonetheless, in the interests of accuracy….

  • Slighter

    I have been vaping for almost six years after smoking for thirty. That this has allowed me to rediscover my voice is but one benefit. If this is damaging my “vocal folds” I gladly accept that as opposed to the option of returning to smoking and killing myself swiftly. As for the lack of evidence argument – the fact I am making this comment is all the evidence I need.

  • Dimitri Milewicz

    I gave up tobacco for ten years then through a series of events got back on the fags for about 6 months. During that 6 months my voice suffered badly, then I discovered vaping and switched. Now I have NO problems performing on demand and can sing longer and stronger than when I was combusting tobacco and inhaling 4,000 chemicals some of which are known carcinogens. Yes I would prefer to have NOTHING going over my vocal chords but I see it as harm reduction. It’s like an alcoholic with cirrhosis of the liver having a light beer compared to a whole bottle of Scotch. I know which would be much more forgiving for his liver!

  • xrzx

    “There is also concern that propylene glycol, an ingredient in some vapors, irritates the respiratory tract.” — so don’t use PG based e-liquids — use VG (vegetable glycerin) based liquids. VG is well known for being smoother compared to PG in the vaping community; PG is often associated with “harshness” when vaping. I prefer a 50/50 blend myself (half PG, half VG). I’m not going to say either is 100% safe on your voice, but compared to smoking tobacco, or anything else for that matter, the amount of harm you are reducing is in the orders of magnitude. That should be the big takeaway here — harm reduction. Even if you smoke weed — don’t. Vaporizing marijuana not only gets you more bang for your buck but it also reduces the smell, and the amount of crap you’re breathing in…since you’re vaporizing it and not lighting it on fire (combusting), again, you’re making it so much better for your health and voice.

  • Robert Louis Jones

    I will not argue for or against the safety of vaping but you are wrong to include vape in a list of smoke products. Vape is NOT smoke it’s, well like the word implies, vapor. There is no combustion, there is no smoke, there is no heat, because nothing is burning.

  • James Cox

    Your point is well taken Robert, thank you. I do believe that the compounds suspended in the vapor pose a risk to your vocal tissues. Time will tell the degree of harm from vape.