There is a never-ending stream of medical research published each day. You can't read all of it, so we skim it and alert you to one or two of the more interesting studies every now and then.
Today's topics include mountain bikes, marijuana and hot spots for deaths from guns and tobacco.
Your mother probably cautioned against mountain biking, which you must admit looks pretty dangerous. But in fact, a new study finds that mountain biking is fairly safe and – equally important – is a pretty healthful activity.
“Despite a common perception of mountain biking as an ‘extreme’ sport, we found most reported injuries were of low severity. Although there were high proportions of ankle sprains in hikers and arm fractures in mountain bikers, with one study of the latter reporting more than half suffered head injuries, highlighting the importance of a good quality helmet," said Paul Braybrook, a researcher at Curtin University.
Braybrook said the risk of injury from mountain biking or hiking was outweighed by the considerable benefits.
“Mountain biking and hiking bring economic gains through tourism and the obvious health benefits of physical activity including improvements in cardiovascular health and reducing the risk of high blood pressure, obesity, high blood cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes,” he said.
Also, Braybrook said equipment has gotten safer in recent years: “As the popularity of both pursuits has increased, so too has the standard of trails, bikes, footwear and protective gear, reducing the risk of serious injury."
Marijuana linked to lead
Another activity that millions think is relatively harmless is using marijuana. But research conducted at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health found significant levels of metals in the blood and urine among marijuana users, concluding that marijuana may be an important and under-recognized source of lead and cadmium exposure.
This is among the first studies to report biomarker metal levels among marijuana users and most likely the largest study to date, that links self-reported marijuana use to internal measures of metal exposure, rather than just looking at metal levels in the cannabis plant.
“Because the cannabis plant is a known scavenger of metals, we had hypothesized that individuals who use marijuana will have higher metal biomarker levels compared to those who do not use,” said Katelyn McGraw, postdoctoral researcher at Columbia. “Our results therefore indicate marijuana is a source of cadmium and lead exposure.”
Marijuana is the third most commonly used drug in the world behind tobacco and alcohol. As of 2022, 21 states and Washington D.C., covering more than 50 percent of the U.S. population, have legalized recreational use of the weed, so maybe a little more research is a good idea? The researchers think so.
“Going forward, research on cannabis use and cannabis contaminants, particularly metals, should be conducted to address public health concerns related to the growing number of cannabis users,” said Tiffany R. Sanchez, senior author of the study.
The results are published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Cigarettes and guns
Smoking and firearms are among the leading causes of avoidable premature death in the United States. In 2021, 480,000 deaths in the U.S. were attributable to tobacco and more than 40,000 to firearms – both are legal yet lethal.
How to avoid falling victim to one (or both) of them? Well, research from Florida Atlantic University finds that a certain area of the country has off-the-chart rates of death for both of them. And that area is – you guessed it – the Southeast.
“Both smoking and firearm-related mortality rates remain higher in the Southeast compared to the entirety of the U.S. with the patterns largely unchanged over the two decades of observation,” said Sarah A. Palumbo, M.D., a first-year resident in internal medicine in FAU’s Schmidt College of Medicine.
From 1999 to 2019, firearm assault-related and suicide-related mortality increased 16 percent in the U.S. and 25 percent in the Southeast. States with hot spots of all three measures – smoking, firearm-related assault and firearm-related suicide – included Florida, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.
It was former President Jimmy Carter who once advised constituents who were unhappy with the state of affairs to "vote with their feet." The FAU study provides the roadmap.