Cannabis advocate Willie Nelson quits smoking, saying it ‘almost killed him’

Country music legend and cannabis activist Willie Nelson has quit smoking, revealing that it “almost killed him” after consuming it for 65 years.

The humble 86-year-old admitted that he has “abused his lungs quite a bit” over the years, which has made breathing increasingly difficult. As a result, he has decided to put down the joint and pick up a vape pen instead, despite initial rumours claiming he had quit weed completely.

“I started smoking cedar bark, went from that to cigarettes to whatever,” he said. “And that almost killed me. I don’t smoke anymore. I take better care of myself.” He told KSAT Radio.

While fans were initially shocked at the prospect of Willie Nelson, a self-proclaimed pot head, quitting weed, his spokesperson came out to say the reports were false and that he is now just consuming cannabis via edibles and vapes.

“That said, Willie does what he wants, when he wants, when it comes to smoking” she revealed.

Willie’s relationship with cannabis has been well documented, as he has been a campaigner for the legalisation of cannabis and an avid user for around 65 years, as well as owning his own weed company, Willie’s Reserve, which sells cannabis products.

He is a co-chairman of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) advisory board, and has worked for the organisation for years in promoting the legalisation of cannabis in America. He also attempted to get involved in the politics of weed further by creating a ‘teapot party’ and coining the motto “tax it, regulate it and legalise it”.

Poster boy

Willie Nelson earned his name as the poster boy for cannabis way before modern day cannabis legends such as Snoop Dogg did, living by the statement ‘my stash is your stash’ while his band toured across the country sharing joints throughout the shows between him, the band and the crowd.

Snoop Dogg even admitted he had to “hit the timeout button”, something he had never had to do before, as Nelson was the only person who had ever managed to out-smoke him.  They both went on to work together on a number of cannabis related songs afterwards including hits such as Roll Me Up and My Medicine.

Nelson has a multitude of songs detailing his love for the plant and has been arrested a number of times for cannabis possession, starting in 1974 and dating up to as recent as 2010.

The recent revelation of lung problems Nelson has been dealing with is the latest in a long string of lung-related issues he has suffered, with a lung collapsing for the first time in 1981. He stopped smoking cigarettes during treatment but ultimately continued smoking them once the initial congestion had cleared. 

After experiencing multiple instances of breathing problems, pneumonia and emphysema throughout the years, he eventually went through stem-cell therapy in 2015 to attempt to improve his lung function, which he put down to his heavy use of cigarettes.

Nelson was forced to cancel a tour earlier this year due to breathing issues, which raises the question of whether it was actually his rampant cannabis use that caused the issue.

Cannabis and the lungs

There have been numerous studies on cannabis and its relationship with respiratory issues from a medical standpoint. The NHS states that the lung health risks are “underestimated”, although reports claiming that it is “20 times” more likely to cause lung cancer than tobacco could be misleading or basing evidence on cannabis smoked alongside tobacco.

“One third of people think cannabis is harmless despite the fact that smoking it is 20 times more likely to cause cancer than tobacco,” The Daily Telegraph reported, while the Independent stated that young cannabis users “do not realise the huge danger to their health”.

While there certainly is some truth behind such statements due to the way that cannabis is smoked, as typically it is taken with a deeper inhale and held in the lung for longer, it can lead to a much higher deposition of tar when compared to cigarette smoking.

However, while both tobacco and cannabis affect the lung function of those who use them, cannabis was not associated with airflow obstruction or impairment of gas transfer, as reported by scientific journals, whereas tobacco was associated with both of these issues as well as lower transfer factors.

Well-designed studies into cannabis use have found that although the smoke contains a number of carcinogens and cocarcinogens, which should always be avoided if possible, findings have suggested there is no increased risk for the development of either lung or upper airway cancer from light or moderate use.

Anti-tumour effects

This could be due to the possible anti-tumour effects of both THC and CBD which have been found in various reports to modulate tumour growth. However, the tests have mostly been carried out on animals and cell cultures so further research needs to be done to verify these claims.

It should be noted though that regularly smoking cannabis can cause visible and microscopic injury to the large airways which is associated with an increased likelihood of symptoms of chronic bronchitis, which will subside after ceasing the use of it.

For people who may be heavy, long-term users, such as Willie Nelson, the evidence is still mixed concerning carcinogenic risks.

Evidence in the report demonstrates far lower risks for pulmonary complications of even regular heavy use of cannabis when compared to the grave pulmonary consequences of smoking tobacco.

The complexity of comparing the two is evident in the fact that many users ingest both tobacco and cannabis together and at the same time, demonstrating the need for further research surrounding the topic before concrete answers can be formed apart from the obvious; smoke in general is not good for the lungs.

Any time smoke or contaminants enter the lungs there will undoubtedly be some type of negative effects associated with it, so if someone is adamant on using something where smoke is created, it is always advised from a medical standpoint to opt for the ingested version or alternative means of administration as opposed to smoking.