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Weed: Good for the Bones?

Marijuana might take a cue from the famous advertising slogan for milk. A new study suggests that weed might be good for the bones.

The compound cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD), which is a nonhallucinogenic chemical in marijuana plants, helps heal bone fractures, the research finds. The study was done in rats, but rodents have proven to be useful models for human bone treatments in the past, said Yankel Gabet, a bone researcher at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine.

“All the current clinical treatments for osteoporosis [have] been successfully tested in rodents prior to clinical settings,” Gabet wrote in an email to Live Science. “While there is no certainty, these findings hold promise for the potential clinical applicability of using CBD for fracture healing in humans.”

Marijuana produces its effects by triggering the receptors that respond to compounds called endocannabinoids, cannabislike molecules that the body synthesizes naturally. In the brain, pot acts on these receptors to cause mind-altering effects. But cannabinoid receptors are found all over the body, leading some researchers to think that pot compounds might have medical applications beyond helping cancer patients regain their appetites or get relief from pain.

Gabet said he and his team were particularly interested in looking at the effects of cannabis on bone healing, because pot use and broken bones are both fairly common.

“It is likely that many patients suffering from bone fractures consume cannabis that may have beneficial or adverse effects on the healing process,” Gabet said.

The researchers had previously found that cannabinoid receptors can stimulate bone formation. In the new study, the team injected rats that had broken thighbones with either CBD alone, or a combination of CBD and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the hallucinogenic ingredient in marijuana).

The researchers found that CBD enhanced bone healing by strengthening the cartilage “bridge” that forms when a bone is on the mend. This bridge is called the fracture callus; it’s made of collagen, which then gradually mineralizes and hardens into new bone.

In rats treated with CBD, this collagen tissue was stronger, and the collagen molecules more tightly cross-linked with one another, compared to rats not treated with the marijuana compound. What this means, researchers wrote online May 10 in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, is that the healed bone in CBD-treated rats is less likely to break in the future compared to the healed bone in untreated rats. In fact, the treated bone is between 35 percent and 50 percent stronger. [11 Odd Facts About Marijuana]

THC was not necessary to get this bone boost, the researchers also found.

“There is no need to be exposed to the euphoric effects of cannabis/THC to get the beneficial functions of CBD on bone,” Gabet said.

The CBD compound has potential for treating osteoporosis, said Dr. Deborah Kado, a bone health specialist at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, who is also on the scientific board of Kalytera Therapeutics, a company investigating the medical use of cannabinoids. Kado was not involved in the current study.

Osteoporosis, a condition of weak or brittle bones, often occurs with age. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 54 million Americans have osteoporosis or low bone density, and the disease causes approximately 2 million bone fractures each year.

“As we currently have no FDA-approved medications on the market to help with fracture healing, this study concept is exciting,” Kado told Live Science.

Marijuana may help bone fractures heal, a new study in animal suggests.

Heavy Marijuana Use May Be Bad for Your Bones

People who regularly smoke large amounts of marijuana may be more susceptible to bone fractures than people who don’t use the drug, according to a new study conducted in the United Kingdom.

Researchers also found that the people in the study who used marijuana regularly tended to have thinner bones than the people who did not use pot. Having thinner bones might put people at higher risk for osteoporosis, a condition in which a person’s bones become brittle and fragile, the researchers said.

“Our research has shown that heavy users of cannabis have quite a large reduction in bone density compared with non-users, and there is a real concern that this may put them at increased risk of developing osteoporosis and fractures later in life,” study co-author Dr. Stuart Ralston, a professor of rheumatology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, said in a statement.

In the study, the researchers looked at 170 people ages 18 and older who smoked marijuana regularly and 114 people who had never used the drug. All of the participants were patients at a single, general-practice health facility in the U.K., according to the study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of The American Journal of Medicine. [Marijuana Could Treat These 5 Conditions]

The researchers asked the participants if they used marijuana or any other drugs, and whether they had ever had a fracture. The researchers also asked the people about their diets, to see how much calcium they consumed. (Calcium has been shown to play a role in bone health.) The researchers also measured the people’s bone densities with X-ray tests.

It turned out that the people who had smoked marijuana on 5,000 or more occasions in their lives had 5 percent lower bone density than those who had never smoked pot. Moreover, the regular marijuana users had experienced more fractures throughout their lives, on average, compared with the people who had never used marijuana, the researchers found.

The findings suggest that there may be a link between heavy marijuana use and thinner bones, but they do not prove that smoking marijuana causes bones to become thinner, said Dr. Matthew Hepinstall, an orthopedic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital Center for Joint Preservation and Reconstruction in New York City who was not involved in the study. [11 Odd Facts About Marijuana]

The authors of the new study found that “factors such as age and body mass index [BMI] had much larger effects on bone mineral density than cannabis in this clinical study,” Hepinstall noted.

The researchers said they don’t know for sure how the link between marijuana use and lower bone density might be explained. But they also observed that the people who used marijuana a lot tended to have lower BMIs than those who did not use the drug. Having a lower BMI might make these people’s bones more prone to thinning, the researchers said.

The new study “builds on prior animal research demonstrating complex interactions between cannabinoid receptors,” which mediate the many effects that cannabis has on body cells and activity of bone cells, Hepinstall told Live Science.

For example, one previous study conducted in mice suggested that CBD (cannabidiol), one of marijuana’s compounds, might actually help to heal fractures. However, it is not clear whether the findings of that study would apply to humans.

Smoking a lot of pot may be linked with a higher risk of fractures, a new study finds.