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Marijuana Use Lowers Metabolic Syndrome

Marijuana is one of the most widely used drugs in the United States and many states have legalized the medical use of cannabis. Marijuana is legal for recreational use in Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon.  Despite an increasing use of marijuana in different forms, good scientific studies are not often done. A new study on the effects of marijuana on the metabolic syndrome was published inThe American Journal of Medicinein February, 2016. This is the first study that examined relationships of marijuana use with the metabolic syndrome across stages of adulthood. 

The Metabolic Syndrome is a dangerous combination of hypertension, obesity, high triglycerides, high glucose and low HDL (good) cholesterol. It is a significant risk factor for cardiac disease and diabetes. Until now we have not understood the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in cannabis on cardiovascular health. 

The study analyzed marijuana use in persons 20-59 years old, including past and present use and how much marijuana they used. They also looked at race, socioeconomic level, cigarette and other drug use and age. They found that 60% of the subjects used marijuana at some point in their lifetime, 20% used within the last 30 days. The majority (53.2%) of middle-aged adults were past users.

The results showed a lower mean waist circumference (a measure of dangerous obesity) among marijuana users compared to those that never used. Despite the fact that marijuana contains cannabinoids and appetite-stimulating compounds that attach to receptors in the brain and other parts of the body, weight gain was not increased in users. The study also showed higher (good) HDL cholesterol levels in users compared with never users and lower glucose levels in past and current users. The one element that differed was systolic blood pressure that was higher in marijuana smokers, compared to non-smokers.

 In summary, current and past users of marijuana were associated with a lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome and most of its components, except for systolic blood pressure. Older adults that previously used cannabis had significantly less metabolic syndrome and younger adults who currently used were 54% less likely than never users to have metabolic syndrome.  

This study does not answer the big question "Why". We need to look at biologic pathways to figure out those relationships. But the more we know about the effects of this commonly used plant on our health, the better decisions can be made about legalization or medical use. 

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