About a year ago, researchers reported that cannabinoid compounds may help heal bone fractures. This year, a new study contradicts the previous findings, arguing that heavy marijuana use weakens bone structures leading to increased fracture incidences.
The newest study, conducted by researchers at the University of Edinburg, found that people who smoke pot excessively are more than twice as likely to suffer from broken bones as those who smoke cigarettes.
"Our research has shown that heavy users of cannabis have quite a large reduction in bone density compared with non-users, and there is a real concern that this may put them at increased risk of developing osteoporosis and fractures later in life," said Stuart Ralston, a professor of rheumatology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and the study’s co-author.
The team examined 170 people who were regular marijuana smokers and 114 people who have only ever smoked cigarettes. They then compared bone fracture incidences and analyzed bone densities with X-rays between the two groups. Diets, calcium intake, and other factors influence bone health were also analyzed.
Indeed, those who smoke pot had a 5 percent lower bone density than those who have never smoked pot. Fractures were also reported at a higher rate in those who smoke pot. In addition, the team noted that body weight and body mass index – factors associated with bone health – were also lower in the marijuana users.
"We have known for a while that the components of cannabis can affect bone cell function, but we had no idea up until now of what this might mean to people who use cannabis on a regular basis,” said Ralston.
However, it’s important to distinguish that the findings only pertained to those who were classified as “heavy cannabis users.” And that was defined as those who have used the substance greater than 5,000 times during their lifetime. Furthermore, the average number of cannabis use from participants in the study was nearly 10 times that threshold, at greater than 47,000 times.
Finally, it’s also equally important to note that the study found an association between heavy cannabis use and decreased bone health. It does not offer causal evidence that cannabis use leads to thinner bones.
In any case, moderation may be best even if a causal relationship hasn’t been established, especially since pot use has been increasingly tied to other adverse health risks, such as periodontal disease and impaired blood vessel functions.
Additional sources: Live Science, MNT, CBS News