What impact does cannabis use have on Indigenous oral health?

A team at the University of Toronto, working with Indigenous communities and health authorities, is looking to find out

Angela Stelmakowich, The Growth Op 2 minute read June 12, 2020

“Current evidence shows that smoking cannabis is harmful to the health of the periodontium.” / Photo: VladimirFLoyd / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Researchers at the University of Toronto are hoping to identify how cannabis use may influence oral health among Canada’s Indigenous populations.

To do that, a multidisciplinary team has been awarded a five-year, $1.5-million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, according to U of T. The goal is to provide first evidence of the oral health risks associated with cannabis use in the country’s Indigenous populations.

The university team will work in partnership with Indigenous communities and public health authorities in Manitoba, Ontario and Alberta. Study participants will be monitored for changes in their oral health and oral microbiome, including inflammation, pre-cancerous lesions and cancers of the mouth, head and neck, as well as changes in oral and facial sensory function.

Research findings indicate that there are oral health risks associated with using cannabis, including an increase in periodontal diseases, the university reports.

“Current evidence shows that smoking cannabis is harmful to the health of the periodontium,” notes a summary of 23 articles published by the Canadian Dental Association earlier this year. Noting that existing evidence of the association between smoking cannabis and other oral disease is sparse and inconsistent, “studies suggest that cannabis smoking is an underlying risk factor.”

The dry mouth that often accompanies smoking cannabis “can contribute to a number of oral health conditions,” notes the American Dental Association, adding that “THC, is an appetite stimulant, which often leads users to consume cariogenic snack foods.”


Using the Learning Circle model, which involves elders and other community members sharing their knowledge, U of T researcher hope to “raise awareness in these communities of the impact of cannabis on oral health, and to do so in culturally appropriate, Indigenous-focused ways,” the statement notes.

“The Circles will allow us to evaluate the research outcomes through the lens of the community,” says Herenia Lawrence, an associate professor in U of T’s Faculty of Dentistry.

“Knowing how big an impact the use of cannabis has on oral health indicators among the Indigenous population will be critical towards the development of new policies and guidelines in prevention and treatment of oral diseases,” adds Siew-Ging Gong, an associate professor at the university.

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