Although cannabis is increasingly recognized for its medicinal properties, it should only be used after considering its side effects too. This comes especially as researchers from the University of Western Australia have found that smoking cannabis may accelerate the aging process, making users biologically older than those who do not use the substance.
For the study, the researchers examined 11 people who exclusively smoke marijuana, 504 who only smoke tobacco, 114 who smoke both cannabis and cigarettes and 534 who don’t smoke at all between 2006 and 2011. Prior to the study, each participant was screene to ensure none had underlying cardiovascular disease nor consumed large quantities of alcohol or amphetamines, heroin or methadone. Then, using a technique called ‘radial pulse wave tonometry’, they tracked each person’s cardiovascular health, an often-used metric for understanding one’s biological age.
In the end, the researchers found that those who smoke marijuana regularly were an average of 11.84% older than their actual age, as demonstrated by the stiffness of their arteries. This effectively means that a 30 year old who regularly smokes cannabis could have a biological age of around 33.
Co-author of the study, Stuart Reece, said, “We found that for those who used cannabis over a long time, not only does it age you, it increases ageing at an exponential rate over time which is alarming...The level of cannabis exposure in the group studied was much higher than we have seen reported before in other studies for developed nations.”
In particular, the researchers hope that these findings may go on to inform public health practices and regulations, especially as the substance becomes more commonly used. Reece added, “It is important to the health of populations worldwide that such research be continued, with the study highlighting the large-scale costs to the health system from cannabis use.”
Despite this however, the study has limitations. Although significant numbers of people smoking cannabis and tobacco, alongside cigarette smokers and non-smokers were analyzed, as only 11 people smoked cannabis exclusively, the findings may be a little skewed. Furthermore, as the study only managed to recruit one exclusively cannabis-smoking female, the findings may only be relevant for men.