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What are the effects of secondhand exposure to marijuana smoke?

People often ask about the possible psychoactive effect of exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke and whether a person who has inhaled secondhand marijuana smoke could fail a drug test. Researchers measured the amount of THC in the blood of people who do not smoke marijuana and had spent 3 hours in a well-ventilated space with people casually smoking marijuana; THC was present in the blood of the nonsmoking participants, but the amount was well below the level needed to fail a drug test. Another study that varied the levels of ventilation and the potency of the marijuana found that some nonsmoking participants exposed for an hour to high-THC marijuana (11.3 percent THC concentration) in an unventilated room showed positive urine assays in the hours directly following exposure85; a follow-up study showed that nonsmoking people in a confined space with people smoking high-THC marijuana reported mild subjective effects of the drug—a "contact high"—and displayed mild impairments on performance in motor tasks.86

The known health risks of secondhand exposure to cigarette smoke—to the heart or lungs, for instance—raise questions about whether secondhand exposure to marijuana smoke poses similar health risks. At this point, very little research on this question has been conducted. A 2016 study in rats found that secondhand exposure to marijuana smoke affected a measure of blood vessel function as much as secondhand tobacco smoke, and the effects lasted longer.87 One minute of exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke impaired flow-mediated dilation (the extent to which arteries enlarge in response to increased blood flow) of the femoral artery that lasted for at least 90 minutes; impairment from 1 minute of secondhand tobacco exposure was recovered within 30 minutes. The effects of marijuana smoke were independent of THC concentration; i.e., when THC was removed, the impairment was still present. This research has not yet been conducted with human subjects, but the toxins and tar levels known to be present in marijuana smoke (see “What are marijuana’s effects on lung health?”) raise concerns about exposure among vulnerable populations, such as children and people with asthma.

This page was last updated August 2017

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NIDA. (2017, August 30). Marijuana. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana

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