Marijuana has been a very controversial topic for many years. With a strict federal ban but very lenient regulations on the statewide level, the legalities of this natural herb create a political conundrum. Not to mention the ongoing debate about the mental benefits and risks of marijuana use. Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of medical marijuana, and recreational marijuana is legal in four states and is up for election to be legalized in 11 additional states including California and Maine. A recent article explored the physical risks from smoking marijuana, although it did not explore the legalities and the mental risks and benefits.
A long-term study published in JAMA Psychiatry followed 1,037 individuals in New Zealand for 39 years who were tobacco smokers, marijuana smokers or nonsmokers and found that the only long-term health risk that affected marijuana smokers compared to the other groups was the development of periodontal disease (gum disease).
Gingivitis is the mildest form of periodontal disease. Signs include swollen, tender or bleeding gums. Good oral hygiene including bi-daily tooth brushing and flossing is one way to prevent gingivitis. Diabetes, HIV, stress and poor nutrition can also result in gingivitis. Gingivitis can be reversible with proper professional dental care as well as daily oral care.
Untreated gingivitis can lead to periodontitis, which affects the tissues and bones beneath the gums. Teeth will eventually become loose and will need to be replaced.
The researchers examined lung function, systemic inflammation and metabolic syndrome and found that these were all negatively affected in tobacco smokers but not in marijuana smokers.
“We can see the physical health effects of tobacco smoking in this study, but we don’t see similar effects for cannabis smoking,” said Madeline Meier, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University and lead author on the study, in an interview with Duke University.
This article does not take into account the long-term cognitive effects marijuana can have on the brain. The long-term effects of cannabis on cognition are not well-known, as studies of this drug have been fairly new due to the fact that legalization has been occurring over the past decade, increasing the use of this drug.
Short-term effects have been published, on the other hand, and studies have shown that declines in acute cognition and visuomotor skills do occur. Many of the declines depend on the age when cannabis use begins, as the brain does not fully mature until approximately 24 years of age; the younger a person is at first use, the more likely the brain will be affected and the more likely the individual may become addicted, according to published data.
“Cannabis has a negative impact on cognition; however, the current body of research literature does not provide evidence of significant, long-term effects due to cannabis use. Several acute effects are noted and some are suggestive of negative mental health consequences,” wrote researchers in a study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry.
Marijuana is known to have some benefits on both the mind and the body. It has shown to be helpful in reducing inflammatory disorders, easing chronic pain, alleviating anxiety and curbing nausea. It is well-known that marijuana stimulates hunger and has been used for years in patients undergoing chemotherapy due to cancer. New research suggests that marijuana also may have tumor inhibiting growth properties in patients with certain types of cancer.
The controversy surrounding marijuana may never dissipate, as it controls many political, and mental and physical health realms. It is important for individuals to be aware of what they are consuming in their bodies, because it can have effects on both physical and mental well-being.
Sovereign Health of Texas stays up-to-date on the latest research to provide our patients with the best evidence-based treatments possible. Our El Paso treatment center offers programs for substance use disorders and co-occurring disorders. If you or a loved one is struggling, please do not hesitate to contact us via our 24/7 helpline.
Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a medical writer at Sovereign Health, who enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author, who teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is also an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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