Pubdate: Sat, 04 Jun 2016
Source: Timaru Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2016 Timaru Herald


Gum disease is one of the few physical health problems associated 
with cannabis use, according to new research on more than 1000 New Zealanders.

As the most widely used illegal drug in the world, understanding the 
long-term effects of cannabis is a global priority. However, lead 
author Madeline Meier cautioned recreational users.

"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."

The study tested associations between cannabis use over 20 years and 
physical health problems later in life. The research was a follow-up 
from Arizona State University and others on the Dunedin 
Multidisciplinary Health and Developmental Study, which follows 1037 
people born in Dunedin in 1972-1973.

Of those, 947 individuals completed at least three of the five adult 
cannabis assessments from ages 18-38.

The assessments tested whether cannabis use from ages 18-38 years was 
associated with physical health at age 38, even after controlling for 
tobacco use, childhood health, and childhood socioeconomic status.

It also tested whether cannabis use from ages 26-38 years was 
associated with health decline using the same measures of health for 
both ages. Of the 1037 participants, 52 per cent were male, 484 had 
never used tobacco daily, and 675 had never used cannabis.

Results showed cannabis use was associated with poorer gum health, 
while tobacco use was associated with worse lung function and 
systemic inflammation.

Cannabis use for up to 20 years was "unrelated to other physical 
health problems". Previous research found the more years of cannabis 
dependence or regular use, the worse the economic and social problems.

"This finding stands in contrast to popular and expert opinion, which 
states that heavy alcohol use imposes more economic and social costs 
than does heavy cannabis use," the study's authors said.

Cannabis dependence is often thought to occur alongside dependence on 
other substances such as alcohol or hard drugs, and the study supported this.

"Dunedin Study members who were dependent on cannabis were more 
likely during the course of their lives to be dependent on alcohol." 
They were also more likely to be dependent on "hard drugs".

According to the Ministry of Justice, 7 per cent of Dunedin Study 
members were convicted of cannabis-related offences. This did not 
account for the association with persistent cannabis dependence with 
economic and social problems.

With its increasing legalisation, comparisons of its economic and 
social impact with that of alcohol  the most commonly used, and 
legal, substance  was of "critical policy importance", the study's 
authors said.

- -Fairfax NZ
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