Scientists Found a Link Between Marijuana Use and Your Gums

The list of physical health problems associated with long-term marijuana use has been whittled down to one: a new study found that stoners experience higher rates of gum disease.

Published in JAMA Psychiatry this month, the study looked at the physical health impact of long-term marijuana use and, well, researchers couldn't really find any — except gum disease, that is. So basically smoking pot over a long period of time carries the same risk as not flossing your teeth, The Washington Post reports.

This wasn't some small, one-off study, either. Researchers at Arizona State University followed 1,037 New Zealanders from birth to middle age, assessing the physical health of study participants who smoked cannabis for up to 20 years. They wanted to know if long-term marijuana use negatively impacted lung functioning, systemic inflammation, metabolism, and dental health.

"We can see the physical health effects of tobacco smoking in this study, but we don’t see similar effects for cannabis smoking," said Dr. Madeline Meier, the lead author of the study, in a press release.


That raises an important point. When you compare the physical health effects of long-term tobacco and marijuana use, the difference is stark. Smoking tobacco was "associated with worse periodontal health, lung function, systemic inflammation, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and glucose levels in early midlife, as well as health decline from ages 26 to 38 years," the study found.

In other words, tobacco users fared worse on every single physical health indicator that the researchers studied. Marijuana use, in contrast, actually appeared to have some physical health benefits. Marijuana smokers had "slightly better metabolic health," according to the study, which includes "smaller waist circumference, lower body mass index, better lipid profiles, and improved glucose control." (ATTN: has previously reported on studies showing that marijuana use improves users' metabolism.)

Why do marijuana users experience higher rates of gum disease?

gum disease

This question has researchers a bit baffled. While they were able to determine that heavy marijuana users flossed and brushed less often than non-users, the result was consistent even after they controlled for dental hygiene, the Washington Post reports.

Just because this study shows that marijuana doesn't appear to be associated with other substantial physical health problems, gum disease isn't insignificant. A 2012 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control found that nearly 50 percent of American adults have mild, moderate, or severe gum disease. The disease is linked to serious health concerns, including increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and rheumatoid arthritis, according to the National Health Service.

"Physicians should certainly explain to their patients that long-term marijuana use can put them at risk for losing some teeth," Dr. Terrie Moffitt, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, said in a press release.

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