Up In Smoke: Weed, Social Media and Irreparable Vocal Cord Damage

Rihanna Smoking Blunt - H 2016

Miley Cyrus and Rihanna are just a few celebrities sharing their weed toking selfies on Instagram — but what long-term impact does the act have on their money-making voices? We investigate.

It’s becoming ubiquitous: A celebrity proclaims his affinity for marijuana by posting an image of himself surrounded by a halo of smoke on social media.

Miley Cyrus posted this on Instagram:


A photo posted by Miley Cyrus (@mileycyrus) on

Here’s one from Rihanna:


A photo posted by badgalriri (@badgalriri) on

Sometimes a pot proclamation comes in the form of a tweet, like this one from Wiz Khalifa:

(Sidenote: This tweet sparked a spat between Khalifa and Kanye West, who misinterpreted "kk" as Kim Kardashian, when it actually meant Khalifa Kush.)

An herb allegiance is one thing for, say, Seth Rogen, whose raspy voice and stoner image are part of the package. But if your career depends on your prodigal pipes, is toking a savvy move? What does it do to your vocal cords?

“It can be devastating,” says Dr. Joseph Sugerman, an ear, nose and throat doctor who treats top vocalists and whose office is lined with gold and platinum albums from Barbra Streisand, Paul Stanley and Steven Tyler. “You can’t have hot smoke hitting the vocal cords. It makes them swell and reduces their range.”

Swelling hinders vibration, which can make a voice raspy, hoarse and tough to control. So if Justin Bieber, for example, gets high leading up to a performance, he may have trouble reaching certain notes and his voice may fatigue sooner than usual.

But will a subpar performance here and there end a career?

It’s a tough call. Marijuana smokers can sustain irreversible damage. “It’s just like smoking cigarettes. It’s temporary at first, but over a period of time the thickening becomes more permanent,” says Sugerman. “If you listen to Frank Sinatra’s voice when he was in his 20s or 30s, it’s entirely different than when he was in his 50s and 60s.”

OK, even with damage, some vocalists thrive.

But others — Courtney Love, perhaps? — face complications that foil a rebound, like developing nodular polyps that need surgery. “Nowadays most surgeries are very effective,” says Dr. Randy Schnitman, a Beverly Hills ear, nose and throat doctor who treats multiplatinum recording artists. But Schnitman says there’s no guarantee it’ll restore the voice. Then there’s the risk of throat cancer — it’s likely carcinogenic, after all.

Cocaine can be a disaster too. Snorting it can damage nasal passages, which leads to throat complications. Smoking it is an even hotter mess. “It’s a hot, thermal burn as well as a chemical burn and can be very caustic to the lining of the throat and to the vocal cords,” says Schnitman.

Sugerman says pros who’ve been around long enough know smoking can destroy their voice, so they avoid it. But as social media suggests, not everyone heeds their docs' advice.

Some pop stars with a penchant for pot leap into a loophole: They stamp out the blunt and sink their teeth into an edible.