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Study links heavy cannabis use with bone disease

By Ryan Maass
Study links heavy cannabis use with bone disease
Heavy cannabis users are more at risk for developing osteoprosis later in life, research finds. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

EDINBURGH, Scotland, Oct. 12 (UPI) -- People who frequently smoke large amounts of cannabis may face a higher risk of reduced bone density and fractures, researchers suggest.

In a study examining the effects of cannabis on body mass index, researchers from the University of Edinburgh determined heavy cannabis users are more likely to experience osteoporosis later in life. The research was published in The American Journal of Medicine.

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"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," lead researcher Stuart Ralston said in a press release.

During the study, researchers analyzed 170 individuals who smoke cannabis regularly alongside 114 non-users using a specialized x-ray technique called a DEXA scan, which measures bone density. Regular smokers were found to have a 5 percent lower bone density than non-users. Moderate cannabis users, however, showed no difference from non-users. Fractures were also found to be more common in heavy users.

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Heavy users in the study were defined as those who reported smoking cannabis on 5,000 occasions or more in their lifetime. Moderate users were defined as those who had used the drug around 1,000 times. However, the average heavy user reported smoking cannabis over 47,000 times.

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Researchers were surprised to find a lower body mass index in heavy users due to the drug's association with an uptick in appetite.

Cannabis is considered to be illegal for use almost everywhere in the world. The National Institute on Drug Abuse ranks the drug as the most commonly-used illicit substance. It is typically associated with impaired short-term memory and decreased overall awareness.

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