- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2016

Scientists who studied the effects of marijuana use among the same group of people over the course of 20 years have determined that long-term weed smoking may be linked to gum disease and little else, a new study suggests.

A research team led by Madeline H. Meier of Arizona State University asked a group of 1,037 New Zealanders to self-report their own marijuana habits between the ages of 18 and 38, then looked for correlations between prolonged pot smoking and a dozen common health measures, including blood pressure, lung function, mass body index and waist circumference.

The results, published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry, indicate long-term marijuana use may increase the likelihood of developing periodontal, or gum, disease, but no other medical conditions of note.

“The general lack of association between persistent cannabis use and poor physical health may be surprising,” the researchers wrote.

Specifically, the researchers wrote that “cannabis use for up to 20 years is not associated with a specific set of physical health problems in early midlife,” with the “sole exception” being periodontal disease.

“We can see the physical health effects of tobacco smoking in this study, but we don’t see similar effects for cannabis smoking,” Mrs. Meier, an assistant professor of psychology at ASU, said in a statement.

To conduct the study, the researchers asked participants born in 1972 and 1973 to document their marijuana use periodically during early- through middle-adulthood.

Close to 700 of the 1,037 participants admitted to using marijuana between the ages of 18 and 38, and those who smoked pot for about 20 years couldn’t be statistically linked to any adverse conditions concerning lung function, systemic inflammation and several measures of metabolic syndrome, including risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, like cholesterol and triglycerides levels.

Despite yielding results that may be reassuring for chronic pot smokers, the researchers warned that weed isn’t by any means innocuous.

“We don’t want people to think, ‘Hey, marijuana can’t hurt me,’ because research based on this same sample of New Zealanders has shown that marijuana use is associated with increased risk of psychotic illness, IQ decline and downward socioeconomic mobility,” Mrs. Meier said.

“What we’re seeing is that cannabis may be harmful in some respects, but possibly not in every way,” added co-author Avshalom Caspi, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke. “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.”

According to pot proponents, however, the research reinforces the notion that marijuana isn’t the dangerous narcotic it’s often made out to be.

“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,” Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML, a marijuana legalization advocacy group, told HealthDay.

Although the study doesn’t positively prove that smoking pot causes dental problems, Terrie Moffitt, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke, said in a statement that “physicians should convey to patients that their cannabis use puts them at risk for tooth loss.”

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