A new study has suggested that like cigarettes, pot may contribute to the onset of gum disease.
Marijuana smokers have always maintained that smoking pot is far less harmful than cigarettes (assuming there is no tobacco in the joint). But, a new study, published today in JAMA Psychiatry, has suggested that while pot doesn’t have all harmful health effects of cigarettes, it may not be quite such a guilt free pleasure. There appears to be a clear link between smoking pot and suffering gum disease.
The study stated that people “who smoked marijuana for up to 20 years have more gum disease, but otherwise do not show worse physical health than non-smokers.”
The study, carried out in New Zealand, looked at over 1037 people born in 1972/1973 and monitored them until they were 38 years old. The study concentrated on whether they had smoked marijuana or cigarettes, in what frequency and quantity, and the state of their health when they reached 38. The bad news for the ‘tokers’ out there is that over half of marijuana smokers, 55.6% of those surveyed, had developed gum disease, (also known as periodontal disease). For those that had never smoked that number was a much lower 13.5%.
Although it was shown that marijuana smokers had a lower rate of regular brushing and flossing, (perhaps too stoned to remember its importance), this is not enough to explain the link to gum disease suggesting that the differential was the pot smoking.
Cigarette smoking has long been known to contribute to gum disease so perhaps it is not a surprise that pot smoking also can be a factor in increasing the likelihood of the disease, which sometimes lead to teeth falling out.
The study noted that those who had smoked cigarettes daily at some point in their life had a greater tendency towards problems with their lungs, blood sugar levels and inflammation versus their non-smoking counterparts. However, and the good news for marijuana enthusiasts, these symptoms were no more likely in pot smokers versus non smokers meaning that, at least up to the age of 38, cannabis does not seem to effect these internal organs and levels.
Lesser of two evils?
What we’re seeing is that cannabis may be harmful in some respects, but possibly not in every way,” said co-author of the study and professor of psychology and neurosciences at Duke University, Avshalom Caspi, “We need to recognize that heavy recreational cannabis use does have some adverse consequences, but overall damage to physical health is not apparent in this study,” he continued in the statement released.
As mentioned, the study only lasted up to the subjects 38th year of life. This means that longer-term problems, or issues that generally only rear their head in later life, such as cancer, have not been analyzed.
Also, like with teeth brushing, sometimes it may not be the actual marijuana that causes the problems, but instead lifestyle choices that may be more prevalent with pot smokers. Vice versa, people that have never smoked, may be more health conscious generally, and so it is the sum of all their actions that is leading to less health problems.
The debates surrounding the benefits and dangers of cannabis are a contentious issue. Use of the today’s much stronger grades of cannabis among minors has been linked to mental health problems as the powerful drug has a greater effect on developing brains.
Older research has suggested possible cause and effect relationships between cannabis and weight gain and impotency.
The study made clear that the findings “should be interpreted in the context of prior research showing that cannabis use is associated with accidents and injuries, bronchitis, acute cardiovascular events and, possibly, infectious diseases and cancer, as well as poor psychosocial and mental-health outcomes.”
Cigarette smoking is generally on the decline in developed nations. Large health warnings and gruesome pictures decorate most cigarette packets these days. There is no ambiguity on the effects, unlike in the 1960’s where doctors may have actually smoked a cigarette during medical consultations.
However, according to another study last year in the same JAMA journal, marijuana usage in the US has doubled in the last decade. Already the drug has been legalized in four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington), and as many as ten other states are due to hold statewide referendums on the legalization issue this November.
As greater marijuana consumption continues in the US, studies like these (and those that look even longer term) are certainly required to provide the public with all the information necessary to make informed choices.