As marijuana becomes increasingly accepted for its medical uses, scientists have become more interested in its possible side effects. While most research focuses on the drug’s effect on our lungs or even brains, a new study from The University of Western Australia has suggested that smoking marijuana may accelerate the aging process and make users biologically older than non-users.

The study found that hardening of the arteries caused by long-term marijuana use increased the biological age of users by 11 percent, which could make a 30-year-old user biologically closer to 33 years old. They concluded that marijuana use was associated with accelerated cardiovascular aging.

"We found that for those who used cannabis over a long time, not only does it age you, it increases ageing at an exponential rate over time which is alarming," explained study co-author Professor Stuart Reece, as reported by IFL Science.

To obtain this information, the team compared 11 marijuana-only users, 504 tobacco users, 114 individuals who used a combination of both tobacco and marijuana, and 534 non-smokers over a five-year period. The team specifically looked at the volunteers' cardiovascular health, and were shocked at the effect that marijuana alone had on the arteries. However, they noted that the level of marijuana use in the group studied was much higher than that seen in other studies for developed nations, according to a release from the University of Western Australia.

While the study alone does not suggest that marijuana is too dangerous to be used, according to Reece, "It is important to the health of populations worldwide that such research be continued, with the study highlighting the large-scale costs to the health system from cannabis use.”

This is not the first time that marijuana has been associated with less-than-favorable side effects, as a 2016 study suggested that heavy marijuana use at a young age could increase the risk of early death. This study found that men who began using marijuana heavily in their late teens were 40 percent more likely to die by the time they reached 60 compared to those who hadn’t used the drug. This remained true even after researchers controlled for other factors such as alcohol use, mental illness, and social problems. However, some suggest that this early death may not be due to marijuana alone, but rather the type of individual most likely to use the drug, CBS News reported.

Source: Reece AS, Norman A, Hulse GK. Cannabis exposure as an interactive cardiovascular risk factor and accelerant of organismal ageing: a longitudinal study. BMJ . 2016

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