Heavy cannabis use linked to osteoporosis, study says

13 Oct 2016

A new study has suggested that people who regularly smoke cannabis are damaging their bones and could get osteoporosis in later life.

The study, conducted by researchers at Edinburgh University, saw 170 regular recreational users of cannabis tested alongside 114 non-users. Heavy users were defined as those who reported smoking cannabis on 5000 or more occasions in their lifetime.

However, in this study, the average heavy cannabis user took the drug more than 47,000 times during their lifetime. It was found that fractures were more common in heavy users compared to non-users.

However, moderate users – who on average had taken the drug on more than five, but less than 5000 occasions – showed no differences from non-users.

Scans of their bones showed heavy users had a bone density that was five per cent lower than cigarette smokers.

Lead researcher Professor Stuart Ralston, of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine, said:  “This is an important finding. 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.

“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.”

Dr Terry Aspray, Consultant in Metabolic Bone Disease and clinical advisor for the National Osteoporosis Society, said: “These are interesting results on the effects of recreational cannabis use on bone health. The Edinburgh team found that heavy cannabis users had experienced more fractures and had a lower bone density than those who did not use cannabis.

“Using statistical techniques, the researchers concluded that some of the effects of cannabis on bone health were likely to be indirect, for example via an association of heavy cannabis use with lower body weight.”

“However, an independent negative effect of cannabis on bone health also appeared likely.

“This work has important clinical implications, as heavy cannabis use has been identified as a potential cause of low bone mineral density and increased fracture risk.

“However, more research is needed to clarify which mechanisms are responsible for these effects.”

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