Do Stoners Live Longer? What Science Says on Cannabis and Longevity

Do Stoners Live Longer?
By Anthony Pellegrino Updated June 11th

Fact-checked by Alexandra Arnett, MS

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Kessler, MD

These days, many are aware of cannabis’s many potential medical benefits, but can cannabis possibly hold the key to a longer, healthier life?

Life expectancy isn’t a one-size-fits-all metric. There’s a slew of critical factors that influence your longevity; genetics, lifestyle choices, diet, exercise, and healthcare access all contribute to the ultimate length of a person's life.

Substances such as alcohol and tobacco take their toll, but is the same true of cannabis?1 Can smoking cannabis on occasion or regularly eating some cannabis-infused goodies affect longevity, for better or worse? Do stoners live longer?

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How Does Cannabis Work Within the Body?

Before discussing cannabis and longevity, it's key to understand how cannabis interacts with the body – and that has everything to do with the endocannabinoid system.

The endocannabinoid system is a collection of bodily processes, receptors, enzymes, and cannabinoids. The human body produces cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids, similar to those found in the cannabis plant, which are called phytocannabinoids.

Phytocannabinoids like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) interact with the receptors in our endocannabinoid system, leading to the cascade of effects known as “getting high.” This interaction influences areas of the body and mind that govern everything from mood and pain perception to appetite and sleep.2 

What are the areas where cannabis's influence is particularly prominent? 

1. Pain Management: The endocannabinoid system has an intricate relationship with pain perception. Cannabis and its two primary compounds, THC and CBD, have garnered attention for their potential to alleviate chronic pain, offering a potential avenue for improved quality of life and comfort.3

2. Stress Reduction: In a world teeming with stressors, the ability of cannabis to modulate stress responses is nothing to sneeze at. By interacting with receptors in the brain, cannabis compounds might help ease the burden of stress and anxiety, which could contribute to mental well-being.4
3. Sleep Quality: The endocannabinoid system also affects sleep quality. Cannabis's influence on sleep patterns and insomnia has intrigued researchers and consumers alike for its ability to induce sleep.5

Does Weed Make You Live Longer? 

does weed make you live longer

One study that recently caught the attention of the scientific community explored the relationship between cannabis use and epigenetic aging, a process that plays a significant role in how the body ages at a molecular level. The findings revealed a substantial link between lifetime levels of cannabis use and two distinct measures of epigenetic aging, assessed when participants reached the age of 30.

The researchers discovered that cannabis use was a predictor of accelerated aging, possibly due to hydrocarbon inhalation among those who smoke cannabis.6 Nevertheless, more studies are needed before we can make definitive conclusions.

Keep in mind that while cannabis’s potential to mitigate pain, anxiety, and other conditions might contribute indirectly to a better quality of life, the direct correlation between cannabis use and extending life expectancy isn’t yet etched in stone.7 The complex interaction of genetics, lifestyle, and external factors still holds significant sway over the ultimate length of a person's life.

The Effects of Cannabis and Their Possible Benefits

So, does weed make you live longer? While there may not be a crystal-clear answer, there are intriguing possibilities.

The potential impact of cannabis on anxiety reduction may play a pivotal role. When life can feel overwhelming, the idea of a natural stress reliever is like a breath of fresh air. Research suggests that cannabis might play a role in alleviating stress and anxiety.

Considering chronic stress can significantly reduce one’s lifespan, it’s conceivable that a life with less stress (thanks to cannabis) could pave the way for longer, healthier years.8

Take CBD, for instance, a prominent compound found in cannabis. It’s been the subject of research exploring its potential to address conditions like anxiety and depression. As these mental health concerns can exert significant tolls on overall well-being, finding effective ways to manage them could potentially contribute to improved longevity.

The benefits of cannabis extend beyond mental health. Chronic pain could potentially meet its match in the form of cannabis-based treatments. Studies have delved into the use of cannabis for pain relief, and while the direct impact on lifespan isn’t crystal clear, easing the burden of chronic pain might allow a person to live a more active and fulfilling life.9

Then, there’s the connection between cannabis and neuroprotection. Recent research investigated the potential of certain compounds in cannabis, like CBD, in promoting autophagy, a cellular cleaning process that may play a role in slowing down aging.10

Cannabis compounds might contribute to longevity, which researchers still need to explore.

Risks of Long-Term Cannabis Use

risks of long-term cannabis use

While cannabis does seemingly offer many potential benefits, there are also risks involved that might negatively influence a longer lifespan.

One notable concern revolves around the method of consumption. Inhaling the smoke from burning cannabis, whether in joints, pipes, or bongs, can have adverse effects on lung health. So the question of whether smoking weed makes you age faster becomes relevant here; respiratory health plays a significant role in overall well-being.11

Individuals should also consider the link between cannabis use and cardiovascular health. While research in this area is ongoing, some studies suggest that heavy cannabis use might have implications for cardiovascular disease.12 As the heart and blood vessels are integral to the body’s functioning, potential disruptions in these systems could indirectly impact longevity.

One topic that merits close attention is cannabis use disorder (CUD). This condition, characterized by problematic patterns of cannabis use, can have far-reaching effects on a person’s life.13 Just as excessive alcohol consumption can lead to alcohol use disorder, prolonged and heavy cannabis use may result in CUD.

It’s not just about physical health – CUD may also have cognitive and psychological implications as well. While it is well known that cannabis compounds like THC have a dose-dependent impact on memory and motor inhibition, the long-term effects of cannabis are not as well known, and much of the research has conflicting results.14,15 One study published in the journal Nature Reviews Disease Primers highlights the potential cognitive impacts of heavy cannabis use, particularly on functions like memory and attentional control.

As with any substance, moderation and informed decision-making are crucial. If you’re considering cannabis use as part of your lifestyle, exploring alternative consumption methods, such as non-smoking options, might help mitigate certain risks.

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Other Factors That Can Influence Lifespan

At the end of the day, life expectancy is an incredibly complex thing. Unique aspects of genetics, environment, and lifestyle play a role in ways that aren’t always clear. Attempting to attribute the length of life solely to cannabis use would be like crediting the beauty of a painting to a single brushstroke.

Many factors beyond cannabis usage influence lifespan. Genetics, in particular, play a substantial role, along with environmental factors. A person's surroundings, from the quality of the air to the accessibility of healthcare, can tip the scales of lifespan.

A study published by the Harvard Gazette identifies five risk factors — body mass index, systolic blood pressure, cholesterol, triglyceride level, and smoking while young — that collectively contribute to shorter life expectancy. Ultimately, these factors overshadow the influence of any single element, including cannabis.

Let's take a closer look at the primary components of longevity: 

1. Genetics

Genetic makeup is a blueprint that influences every aspect of the body. Genetic predispositions can determine vulnerability to certain diseases, the efficiency of the immune system, and the ability to process various substances. Ultimately, genes set the stage for how the body responds to the external world.

2. Environment

Environmental factors contribute significantly to lifespan. Air quality, access to clean water, exposure to toxins, and the prevalence of infectious diseases all play roles in determining overall health and well-being. 

3. Lifestyle

Daily choices shape the course of life. Healthy habits, such as regular physical activity and maintaining a balanced diet, can help lead to a longer, healthier life. On the other hand, indulging in unhealthy behaviors like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and poor dietary choices can negatively affect well-being.

4. Social Connections

Our social networks and relationships profoundly impact our emotional and psychological well-being. Meaningful connections can buffer against stress, promote mental health, and provide a sense of purpose. As such, it shouldn't be all that surprising to hear that researchers have found that social connections help people live longer, healthier lives.16

5. Healthcare Access

Finally, access to quality healthcare services and timely medical interventions can influence lifespan, but not as much as socioeconomic and lifestyle factors do.17 Regular check-ups, preventive screenings, and effective treatments can mitigate the impact of health challenges.

References

  1. Gold MS. The Role of Alcohol, Drugs, and Deaths of Despair in the U.S.’s Falling Life Expectancy. Missouri Medicine. 2020;117(2):99-101. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7144704/ ↩︎
  2. Lowe H, Toyang N, Steele B, Bryant J, Ngwa W. The Endocannabinoid System: A Potential Target for the Treatment of Various Diseases. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2021; 22(17):9472. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms22179472 ↩︎
  3. Safi K, Sobieraj J, Błaszkiewicz M, Żyła J, Salata B, Dzierżanowski T. Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol for Pain Treatment—An Update on the Evidence. Biomedicines. 2024; 12(2):307. https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines12020307 ↩︎
  4. Sharpe L, Sinclair J, Kramer A, de Manincor M, Sarris J. Cannabis, a cause for anxiety? A critical appraisal of the anxiogenic and anxiolytic properties. J Transl Med. 2020;18(1):374. Published 2020 Oct 2. doi:10.1186/s12967-020-02518-2 ↩︎
  5. Edwards D, Filbey FM. Are Sweet Dreams Made of These? Understanding the Relationship Between Sleep and Cannabis Use. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2021;6(6):462-473. doi:10.1089/can.2020.0174 ↩︎
  6. Allen JP, Danoff JS, Costello MA, et al. Lifetime marijuana use and epigenetic age acceleration: A 17-year prospective examination. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2022;233:109363. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2022.109363 ↩︎
  7. Moreno-Sanz G, Madiedo A, Lynskey M, Brown MRD. “Flower Power”: Controlled Inhalation of THC-Predominant Cannabis Flos Improves Health-Related Quality of Life and Symptoms of Chronic Pain and Anxiety in Eligible UK Patients. Biomedicines. 2022; 10(10):2576. https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines10102576 ↩︎
  8. Harvanek ZM, Fogelman N, Xu K, Sinha R. Psychological and biological resilience modulates the effects of stress on epigenetic aging. Translational Psychiatry. 2021;11(1):1-9. doi:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-021-01735-7 ↩︎
  9. Bains S, Mukhdomi T. Medicinal Cannabis For Treatment Of Chronic Pain. In: StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK574562/ ↩︎
  10. Wang Z, Zheng P, Chen X, et al. Cannabidiol induces autophagy and improves neuronal health associated with SIRT1 mediated longevity. GeroScience. 2022;44(3):1505-1524. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s11357-022-00559-7 ↩︎
  11. Mental wellbeing and lung health. Breathe (Sheff). 2020;16(2):162ELF. doi:10.1183/20734735.ELF162 ↩︎
  12. Jad AAA, Ravanavena A, Ravindra C, et al. Adverse Effects of Cannabinoids and Tobacco Consumption on the Cardiovascular System: A Systematic Review. Cureus. 2022;14(9). doi:https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.29208 ↩︎
  13. Connor JP, Stjepanović D, Le Foll B, Hoch E, Budney AJ, Hall WD. Cannabis use and cannabis use disorder. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2021;7(1):16. Published 2021 Feb 25. doi:10.1038/s41572-021-00247-4 ↩︎
  14. Kroon E, Kuhns L, Cousijn J. The short-term and long-term effects of cannabis on cognition: recent advances in the field. Current Opinion in Psychology. 2021;38:49-55. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2020.07.005 ↩︎
  15. Bourque J, Potvin S. Cannabis and Cognitive Functioning: From Acute to Residual Effects, From Randomized Controlled Trials to Prospective Designs. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2021;12. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.596601 ↩︎
  16. Holt-Lunstad J. The Major Health Implications of Social Connection. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2021;30(3):251-259. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721421999630 ↩︎
  17. Kaplan RM, Milstein A. Contributions of Health Care to Longevity: A Review of 4 Estimation Methods. Ann Fam Med. 2019;17(3):267-272. doi:10.1370/afm.2362 ↩︎

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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