MyView: Marijuana Use and Oral Health

By Dr. Melissa Beadnell

Cannabis, pot, hash and weed are just a few of the names used worldwide for marijuana. As you probably already are aware, Oregon legalized the possession of marijuana in 2015 to citizens who are 21 years or older. Even though this legislation is new, let’s face it: people have been growing, using, selling and distributing marijuana for decades or more. It’s interesting to note culturally how marijuana use has changed over the years. We’ve gone from taboo to table. Literally gone from not talking about it to having it right on the table. We need to tweak our perspectives just a bit to understand marijuana use and how it affects us as dental professionals.

Marijuana is derived from the cannabis plant. The main active ingredient is commonly known as THC (tetrahydro-cannabinol) and is the part of the plant that gives the “high.” There is a wide range of THC potency between different cannabis products.

Heavy use of marijuana has been reported to cause respiratory problems, bronchial complaints, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, tachycardia, acute panic and paranoia, and impairment with short-term memory and motor skills. The most beneficial use of marijuana is its antiemetic properties, especially for patients receiving chemotherapy and its ability to reduce intraocular pressure in the treatment of glaucoma. It is used widely for cancer patients, AIDS patients and those with other chronic diseases.

Marijuana use can lead to several oral problems. Of most concern to dental providers are the development of xerostomia and an often dramatic increased rate of caries. Additionally, irritation, edema and erythema of the oral tissues have been seen. A limited number of studies have linked a correlation between marijuana use and the risk of periodontal disease. As far as a link to the development of oral cancer, the high intraoral temperature from marijuana smoking can cause changes in oral tissues and cellular disruption. Although these changes likely could lead to oral cancer, the link has not been established.

Overall, we need to educate ourselves about the changing social environment. Marijuana is the new cigarette, the magical herb or the prescription needed for a subset of our patients. Whatever the reason, the cause or the cure, we need to be able to have an open dialogue with patients. Some visit us while they are trying to quit, and we may be the mentor needed helping them on their journey.


This editorial, reprinted with permission, first appeared in the April 2016 issue of the Multnomah Dental Society Hotline Newsletter, and more recently in the ADA News on Feb. 20, 2017. Dr. Melissa Beadnell is the editor of the newsletter and practices as a general dentist in Portland, Ore.