Stoner smile: How marijuana affects your mouth

When it comes to history, few plants touch as many eras as marijuana. With ties to ancient sailing, colonial America, World War II textiles, groovy headbands, jazz, reefer madness, international drug cartels, epilepsy treatments and pain alleviation (to name a few), just saying the word “marijuana” is likely to spark an argument. But due to recent law changes, the use of marijuana in the United States isn’t as taboo as it used to be. 

So… What is marijuana?

Marijuana is a common name for cannabis, a genus of flowering plants in the family Cannabaceae that have been cultivated by humans for around 5,000 years for a variety of purposes. Also known as hemp, grass, hash, pot or weed — is legal for adult recreational use in 11 states and for medical use in 33 states. According to a national survey, one in seven U.S. adults reported using marijuana in 2017. While it is consumed in a variety of fashions both internally and externally, the most common method of marijuana use is smoking. 

Are there health benefits for marijuana?

Though extended research and studies is still in early stages, marijuana has been linked to a variety of health benefits, including:

• Treating epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety

• Managing chronic pain and the side effects of chemotherapy

• Relieving migraine symptoms

• Improving sleep and reducing inflammation

Are there risks to marijuana?

The act of smoking marijuana does confer additional oral risks. Potential oral health problems may include:

• Dry mouth and an increased risk of cavities and gum disease

• Irritation, swelling and reddening in your mouth

• White or gray patches on your gums, inside your cheeks, on the bottom of your mouth or on your tongue

• Increased risk of mouth and neck cancers

Oral problems can also exist with alternative forms of marijuana consumption. Some people use it by vaporizing, brewing it as a tea, or eating it in food such as brownies and gummies. Beyond the effects of marijuana itself, some edible products can expose your already-dry teeth to additional sugar and promote tooth decay. What’s more, consumption and vaping of marijuana products from unlicensed sellers can pass along harmful byproducts and non-FDA-approved substances, such as vitamin E acetate and even butane. 

The verdict: Consult with your physician before making any decisions regarding marijuana use. It is still illegal to buy, grow, possess or use marijuana in many states. Follow the laws of the state you live in and be aware of the potential effects on your oral and overall health. If you choose to use marijuana, only buy products from a reputable, licensed seller in a place the drug’s sale and use are not prohibited.