Effects of Smoking, Vaping, and Marijuana on the Vocal Folds.. because YES, there are several…
April 1, 2019
Without a doubt, smoking (anything) has a negative effect on the voice (larynx, vocal folds, respiratory system, etc.), as it can create change within the composition of the vocal fold tissues. Smoking promotes significant swelling (called edema) of the vocal folds because vapor of very high temperature is being sent up through the extremely delicate and fragile tissues of the vocal folds (remember—the voice is your instrument as an occupational voice user). Vocal fold tissue damage common to those who smoke is termed Reinke’s Edema; this is characterized by swelling (puffiness, accumulation of gelatinous substance) in the “Reinke’s space”. This space is important to the quality of the voice because it is in the “superficial lamina propria” (the layer just underneath the surface lining of the vocal folds), and this layer plays an integral role in vocal fold vibration (how you make a sound with your voice). Swollen vocal folds will not vibrate efficiently or effectively, and this will result in an impaired voice (voice quality and vocal use patterns will be negatively affected).
If you talk, teach, instruct, and/or sing on vocal folds that are swollen or irritated, they will be more at risk for vocal injury (read: polyps, nodules, hemorrhages, additional swelling/irritation etc.), and your brain will likely “tell” your body to use more effort/strain or muscle tension for producing voice. This inefficient use of voice will create a disconnect within the vocal subsystems and begin a pattern of overcompensation.
Even inhaling smoke at a theater/club/photoshoot can cause laryngitis (irritation of the larynx); this "special effect" smoke is called propylene glycol. Years of repeated smoking will result in accumulated damage, possible scarring of the vocal fold tissues (this is irreversible and progressive), and markedly decreased vocal range and vocal capabilities. As one may assume, the respiratory system is also negatively affected by smoke: lung irritation, chronic coughing, daily phlegm, bronchitis, shortness of breath, and/or difficulty achieving the most optimal respiratory capacity and/or breathing patterns can all be side effects of inhaling substances of any kind.
It is possible that e-cigarettes/vaping contains less carcinogens than “regular cigarettes”, but it’s important not to assume that to mean “zero carcinogens”. A preliminary study presented at the 2018 annual meeting of the American Chemical Society found that vaping could damage our DNA and eventually cause cancer. More importantly, it is crucial to remember that in using these methods, a manufactured/synthetic/toxic material is still being inhaled through the very fragile tissues of the vocal folds (and these tissues, and the sound they create by the ways that they vibrate, are what represent YOU and function as your “audible business card”). Others will perceive much about you based on how your voice sounds, and you (unknowingly) will express how you are feeling, the health of your body, and/or your emotions via your vocal quality.
Research suggests edibles (eating or drinking marijuana) may offer less of risk to the vocal mechanism, vocal fold tissues, and respiratory system. However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that edibles take longer to digest and produce a high—therefore, people may consume more to feel the effects faster, and this can lead to dangerous results. Higher THC levels can mean higher risk of addiction as well. And we do recognize the fact that marijuana can alter perception and possibly reduce awareness of voice use and voice injury symptoms (not to mention short-term and possible long-term effects on the brain).
If you must reach for recreational ways to be “high on life”, choose to avoid smoking/inhaling substances of any kind if you care about your voice (at the present time or when looking into your vocal future).