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News : Study suggests smoking cannabis could have a long-term impact on the voice


New research provides some preliminary evidence that smoking cannabis can negatively impact one’s voice. The findings have been published in the Journal of Voice.

“Marijuana use has been common among rock and popular singers for decades, but it also occurs among other professional voice users including classical singers, teachers, politicians, clergy and many others,” said study author Robert T. Sataloff, a professor and chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Drexel University.

“Until very recently, it was not possible to study the effects of marijuana on voice prospectively because the substance was illegal. It still is in many states. Nevertheless, anecdotally laryngologists have seen adverse effects from marijuana,” explained Sataloff, who is also a professional singer and conductor of the Thomas Jefferson University Choir. “I have written about the voice problems it can cause since 1981. With legalization, its use is likely to become more common.”

In the study, the researchers surveyed 42 adult patients from Sataloff’s clinical voice center. About 77% of the participants reported having tried some form of cannabis during their lifetime and these participants were asked to report their beliefs about any perceived changes to their voice as a result of consuming the substance.

About 42% of cannabis users believed that smoking the substance produced immediate changes to the voice, while approximately 29% reported that they believed it had long-term effects, including hoarseness and vocal weakness. In addition, those who believed that cannabis had resulted in long-term hoarseness were more likely to report using cannabis monthly vs annually.

Only one cannabis user believed that using edibles had impacted their voice, suggesting that the method of administration rather than cannabis itself is the culprit.

“Smoking marijuana can cause voice dysfunction. For high-level voice users such as opera singers, intoxication or alteration in cognitive function from any cause can alter fine motor control and result in voice injury. This is true of marijuana, as it is of alcohol,” Sataloff told PsyPost.

“Physicians need to learn the facts and to ask about marijuana use in appropriate circumstances. In addition, because the substance is not quality-controlled in states in which it has not been legalized, it contains contaminants and harsh byproducts in some preparations; and these can cause substantial laryngeal inflammation,” he added.

“People concerned about their voices should be wary especially of smoking marijuana directly because of its heat, unfiltered impurities and other factors, Sataloff said. “Smoking through a water pipe is somewhat better, but still not good for the voice. Incidentally, neither is smoking tobacco!”

Only one other study, published in 1980, has examined the potential impact of cannabis use on the voice. That research provided some evidence that cannabis-smokers tended to have darkened vocal folds. But scientists still have much to learn about how cannabis effects the voice.

“As the product becomes more readily available and legal, prospective studies may be possible; but they will be challenging to get approved by institutional review boards. Smoked marijuana has the highest likelihood of damaging the voice,” Sataloff said.

The study, “The Effect of Marijuana on the Voice: A Pilot Study“, was authored by Bailey Balouch, Ghiath Alnouri, William Valentino, and Robert T. Sataloff.

(Photo credit: Elsa Olofsson)

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