Tobacco users in the study were found to have gum disease as well as reduced lung function, systemic inflammation and indicators of poorer metabolic 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 Madeline Meier, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University in the US.
The international research team assessed a dozen measures of physical health, including lung function, systemic inflammation and several measures of metabolic syndrome, including waist circumference, HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), triglycerides, blood pressure, glucose control and body mass index.
To measure cannabis use, the researchers asked study participants to self-report their use at ages 18, 21, 26, 32 and 38.
While study participants who had used marijuana to some degree over the last 20 years showed an increase in gum disease from age 26 to 38, they did not differ from non-users on any of the other physical health measures.
“We need to recognise that heavy recreational cannabis use does have some adverse consequences, but overall damage to physical health is not apparent in this study,” study co-author Avshalom Caspi, Professor at Duke University in Durham, said.
The findings were published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
“Physicians should certainly explain to their patients that long-term marijuana use can put them at risk for losing some teeth,” Terrie Moffitt, who is also from Duke University said.