Miller School Study Finds Marijuana Users Have Lower Rate of Metabolic Syndrome

Marijuana users have a significantly lower rate of metabolic syndrome than non-users, according to a recent study by researchers at the Miller School of Medicine. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and abdominal fat, linked to increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as other health problems.

“These findings have important implications for the nation as marijuana use becomes more accepted and we simultaneously face multiple epidemics of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes,” said Denise C. Vidot, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow in the Behavioral Medicine Research Group who has been studying the health effects of marijuana for more than three years. “As marijuana use becomes legal in more states, it is important to understand both the health risks and benefits of this substance.”

Dr. Vidot was lead author of the study, “Metabolic Syndrome Among Marijuana Users in the United States: An Analysis of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Data,” published recently in the American Journal of Medicine. Miller School co-authors were Guillermo Prado, Ph.D., Miller Professor of Public Health Sciences and professor of nursing and health studies; WayWay M. Hlaing, Ph.D., associate professor of public health sciences; Hermes J. Florez, M.D., professor of medicine and public health sciences; Kristopher L. Arheart, Ed.D., associate professor of public health sciences; and Sarah E. Messiah, Ph.D., research associate professor of pediatrics and public health sciences.

The researchers examined data from approximately 8,500 adults age 20 to 59 who participated in National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 2005 to 2010. Survey participants were classified as having metabolic syndrome if they had more than three of the following symptoms: elevated fasting glucose levels, triglycerides, systolic or diastolic blood pressure, waist circumference, or low HDL cholesterol.

Next, the researchers divided the participants into three groups: marijuana non-smokers, previous smokers and current smokers. “We found that 13.8 percent of those who currently smoked met the criteria for metabolic syndrome, compared with 17.5 percent of previous smokers and 19.5 percent of non-smokers,” Dr. Vidot said. “We were surprised by the findings, because marijuana users have been documented to have higher levels of food intake.”

Among younger adults, current marijuana users were 54 percent less likely to have the indications of metabolic syndrome than non-users, the researchers said. Marijuana users in the study also had significantly lower mean fasting glucose levels than non-smokers, and men who currently smoked had smaller waist circumferences than nonsmokers.

“Our study provides a cross-sectional snapshot of the association between marijuana use and metabolic syndrome,” said Dr. Vidot. “Our next step will be to look at the biological pathways of this association. We are also interested in how diet, exercise and lifestyle factors vary among marijuana users and non-users.”

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