Brain and Body

Long-Term Study Links Marijuana Use to Gum Disease

June 6, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Marijuana in a glass jar
Photo credit: Dank Depot/flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Even after accounting for other factors like cigarette smoking and alcohol use.

Marijuana advocates argue that, when it comes to the scientific evidence, there’s not a lot out there that shows that smoking pot poses severe health risks among users.

Now, a long-term New Zealand study has linked marijuana with a higher risk of gum disease, but the other physical effects of smoking pot were slight. The researchers say they found no link between long-term marijuana use and a number of other health problems that are associated with cigarette smoking.

"What we're seeing is that cannabis may be harmful in some respects, but possibly not in every way," study co-author Avshalom Caspi, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, said in a press statement. "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.”

SEE ALSO: Study of over 27,000 Adults: Marijuana Smokers 5X More Likely to Develop Alcohol Problem

The study traced the health of over 1,000 New Zealanders from birth to age 38, and all were either marijuana or tobacco smokers or abstainers. The team assessed a dozen measures of physical health, including lung function, systemic inflammation, and various measure of metabolic syndrome, like blood pressure, body mass index, glucose control, waist circumference, HDL cholesterol, and more.

To measure cannabis use, the volunteers were asked to self-report their weed habits at ages 18, 21, 26, 32, and 38.

According to the findings, which appear in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, 55.6 percent of the 38-year-olds who regularly smoked pot for 15 to 20 years had gum disease, also known as periodontal disease. Conversely, only 13.5 percent of the volunteers who had never used marijuana had gum disease.

Interestingly, the results showed that the long-term marijuana smokers brushed their teeth and flossed less frequently than non-smokers, but this didn’t explain the link between marijuana use and gum disease.

The research team’s statistical analysis also found that the decline in gum health was not explained by smoking cigarettes or alcohol abuse, suggesting that marijuana use itself was what led to the gum disease.

However, it’s important to note that the researchers only looked at the volunteers’ health markers at the specific ages assessed in the study. This means that marijuana use could be linked to other problems that tend to occur later in life, they told Live Science.

“We don’t want people to think, ‘Hey, marijuana can’t hurt me,’ because other studies on this same sample of New Zealanders have shown that marijuana use is associated with increased risk of psychotic illness, IQ decline and downward socioeconomic mobility,” study researcher Madeline Meier, assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University, said in the release.

Nonetheless, Terrie Moffitt, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke, concludes, “Physicians should certainly explain to their patients that long-term marijuana use can put them at risk for losing some teeth.”

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