Willie Nelson takes a drag off a joint while relaxing...

Willie Nelson takes a drag off a joint while relaxing at his home in Texas, 2000s. A large amount of marijuana is spread out on the table before him. Credit: Getty Images / Hulton Archive

Country music legend Willie Nelson, who gave up cigarettes in 1978 and became an iconic force for the legalization of marijuana, says health issues have compelled him to stop smoking the herb with which he has long been associated.

"I had abused my lungs quite a bit in the past, so breathing is a little more difficult these days," the 86-year-old musician told San Antonio's KSAT-TV while on a two-night concert stand in that Texas city Nov. 25-26. "And I have to be careful. I've mistreated myself since I was this big," he said, indicating the height of a youth. "I started smoking cedar bark, and it went from that to cigarettes to whatever. And that almost killed me."

The Country Music Hall of Famer and nine-time Grammy winner added, "I don't smoke anymore. I take better care of myself today than I did" in younger days.

Nelson has recalled first smoking marijuana in 1954, and told Rolling Stone magazine in April that it had "saved my life, really," contending that he would not still be alive "if I'd have kept drinking and smoking like I was when I was 30, 40 years old. I think that weed kept me from wanting to kill people. And probably kept a lot of people from wanting to kill me, too — out there drunk, running around."

Perhaps the most prominent face of the cannabis industry — which includes smokable and edible marijuana, and such infusion products as CBD or Cannabidiol, a nonintoxicating chemical compound found in cannabis and hemp that is sometimes used medicinally — Nelson launched the company's Willie's Reserve in 2015. Last year it won the trade magazine Cashinbis' Best of Cannabis Award for pre-rolled marijuana joints.

Nelson — who wrote such classics as Patsy Cline's "Crazy" and has written and performed such hits as "On the Road Again" and his and Waylon Jennings' "Good Hearted Woman" — continues a full schedule of touring, though he has canceled several shows since 2017 due to health issues. The icon performed with his friend, Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves, at last month's CMA Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. He last played Long Island with a Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater concert on Sept. 9, 2017, as headliner of Willie Nelson and Blackbird Present: Outlaw Music Festival.

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