For decades, marijuana has been promoted to be a dangerous drug with the DEA giving it a Schedule I classification, rating it to be as perilous as heroin with a high abuse rate and no medical benefits. However, as more research is done, the negative effects of marijuana seem to diminish. Researchers conducted a study with an aim to test cannabis use over a 20 year period, assessing the health effects of prolonged use at early midlife. The scientists involved were moved to investigate the potential health effects of marijuana after so many states have changed their policies regarding the herb. Policymakers, health care professionals and the public at large are now wanting to have a better understanding about marijuana and its impact.
Details on the Study
The study was conducted by a research team led by Madeline H. Meier PhD. They studied 1,037 New Zealanders born in 1972 and 1973. 51.6 percent of the research group was male, so the study was fairly balanced between the potential risks to both genders. Subjects were studied between the ages of 3 to 38. Approximately 65 percent of participants had smoked marijuana after the age of 18. The study allowed researchers to observe non-marijuana smokers and marijuana smokers of varying degrees. Assessments were conducted at 18, 21, 26, 32 and 38 years of age. Scientists reviewed both the usage and dependence of marijuana in the subjects at each age group.
Assessing the Negative Effects of Marijuana on the Body
The research focused on studying the physical systems of the body in the subjects. This included observing metabolic health, blood pressure, lung function, systemic inflammation and body mass index to observe weight management. Researchers attempted to find a link between smoking marijuana and various health issues in order to see what the negative effects of marijuana are on the physical body.
The results were published in JAMA Psychiatry. The study concluded that after prolonged cannabis use for up to 20 years, there was a slight increased risk of marijuana smokers developing periodontal or gum disease. Usage is not associated with any other medical conditions in early midlife.
Results Specific to Smoking
Terrie Moffitt of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina said “Anything you smoke heats up your gums and causes inflammation and inflammation is bad for your teeth.” This may imply that if marijuana is consumed using a vaporizer, which cuts out 95 percent of harmful smoke, then the outcome may be different. It also indicates that marijuana oils, ointments, edibles and pills may not carry this same increased risk.
Tobacco Much More Hazardous Than Marijuana
Observations were made about tobacco use as well. The researchers noted that it was connected to a large number of health issues, including inflammation, poorer metabolic health, higher cholesterol, lung function, gum disease and blood sugar. A general health decline is noted between the ages of 26 to 38. Meier said “we can see the physical health effects of tobacco smoking in this study, but we don’t see similar effects for cannabis smoking.”
This research will be useful to many people, such as policymakers, when it comes time to decide on whether to make marijuana safely available to adults. Having some definitive understanding about the negative effects of marijuana is important to health care professionals as well. Many states, such as California and Nevada, decide on whether or not to join Alaska, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and D.C. in legalizing recreational marijuana this November. Perhaps this new study will help the residents of these states make up their mind on which way to vote.