Unlike smoking cigarettes, which is linked to cardiovascular disease, diminished lung function, and high cholesterol, researchers show that extended use of marijuana is not responsible for the same effects.
A longitudinal study shows that people who smoke cannabis are at a higher risk for gum disease, but not much else. The research compared the negative effects of long term cannabis and tobacco use and found cannabis to be safer than cigarettes.
“We can see the physical health effects of tobacco smoking in this study, but we don’t see similar effects for cannabis smoking,” said Mrs. Meier, an assistant professor of psychology at ASU who led the research team.
Researchers looked at 1,037 people born in New Zealand in 1972 or 1973. The study follows the participants intermittently, with the group being studied at age 18, 21, 26, 32, and now 38. Along with a number of other factors, the study looked for cannabis use during that time and examined health issues within the group.
Among those who smoked marijuana for 15 to 20 years, researchers found that 55.6 percent of them had gum disease. This is compared to a rate of gum disease of 13.5 percent in those who didn’t smoke marijuana. Similar findings were discovered when the group was last tested in 2005 at age 32.
The study showed that those who smoked marijuana were less likely to brush their teeth or floss regularly, which could be a cause of the gum disease. However, some researchers say this lack of dental hygiene alone was not enough to create such a high rate of incidence of gum disease.
Cigarette smoking has also been linked to gum disease. The study looked at the 484 participants who smoked cigarettes on a daily basis at some point in their lives, and the connection between smoking and gum health was evident there as well. However, tobacco use carries its own health risks that cannabis does not.
“By comparison, tobacco use was associated with worse periodontal health, lung function, systemic inflammation, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and glucose levels in early midlife, as well as health decline from ages 26 to 38 years,” the study found.
Contrary to cigarette smokers, marijuana smokers experienced none of the other negative health effects, like decreased lung function and impaired cardiovascular health, that were linked to smoking cigarettes.
“Unlike tobacco smoking, cannabis smoking is associated with few physical health problems in midlife, with the exception of periodontal disease,” said lead researcher Meier.
Cannabis advocates have long pointed to the fact that tobacco causes more health problems than marijuana as a reason for legalization, hinting at the hypocrisy of marijuana’s illegal status.
“These findings affirm what cannabis law reformers have known for some time: that the use of cannabis, even long term, poses far less risks to health than do tobacco, and therefore it ought to be legalized and regulated accordingly,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, which advocates for the legalization of marijuana.
In a twist, certain cannabinoids, the active compounds in cannabis, have been shown to be antibacterial, meaning that they can be used to fight gum disease. Medical Marijuana, Inc. subsidiary AXIM Biotechnologies is developing a complete line of dental care products with cannabigerol (CBG), a largely unknown cannabinoid, because it’s been suggested to fight the bacteria that builds up through the day and can cause gum inflammation and bleeding.