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Is cannabis harmful to oral health?

Dec 10, 2012

Photo Source: Ghana News Agency

Now that Washington state and Colorado have cleared the smoke concerning the legalization of cannabis for recreational use, what is the oral health risk factor for those planning on exercising their newfound freedom by smoking it?

Dr. Elena Davidson, San Leandro, California, says there are conflicting studies concerning oral cancer related to marijuana but little doubt about risks associated with smoking in general, not just marijuana.

“Most of my patients see me more than they visit their doctor so we make sure to urge everyone to get an oral cancer screening while they’re here,” she said last month. She added that her office insists on it  “if there are any intra-oral irregularities or if they have any risk factors such as smoking or drinking alcohol.”

Much research on the harmful effects of cannabis have focused on links to schizophrenia and other mood-altering emotions triggered by THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot; however, the more pervasive issue may be lung and oral disease.

Smoking is still the primary method cannabis users consume the drug, and its high tar content is especially harmful to younger smokers.

“When we see younger patients with progressing periodontal disease we try to probe for the root cause, and in some cases have concluded that frequent marijuana smoking may contribute to the condition,” Dr. Davidson says.  She adds that both diabetes and heart disease have been linked to gum disease.

An Australian health group also says cannabis and tobacco have drying effect on saliva production and this also leads to dental decay and gum disease.

Proponents of cannabis counter that while tobacco contains carcinogens such as NNK and NNAL, cannabis does not. They also cite studies claiming the use of cannabis may decrease potential cancer risks by providing a protective effect.

Opponents of cannabis counter that the drug contains a high concentration of chemicals and that smoking one joint has the same effect on the respiratory system as smoking 20 tobacco cigarettes. They also cite a 2007 study that claims someone who smokes five joints a week may absorb as much cancer-causing chemicals as a pack-a-day cigarette smoker.

Time will tell which side is right, but with the legalization of cannabis in two states and its medicinal use in 16 others plus the District of Columbia, researchers will have plenty of new data to examine regarding the harmful claims and reported benefits of cannabis.

Sources:, South Eastern Sydney Ilawarra NSW Health, WebMD

Copyright 2012, Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC

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