Cannabis use could lead to a “significant” increased risk of heart attack and stroke, even if people consume edibles, a study suggests.
Researchers from Massachusetts and California spent four years testing more than 400,000 American adults in 27 states to examine the link between cannabis use and problems such as heart disease and stroke.
The team found that any type of cannabis use (smoking, vaping, or consuming edibles) was “associated with increased adverse cardiovascular outcomes.”
And those who used marijuana daily had a 25 percent higher risk of having a heart attack and a 42 percent higher chance of having a stroke.
This could be because the active ingredient in cannabis, THC, is thought to trigger the body’s fight-or-flight response, increasing heart rate and blood pressure. Over time, this wears on the heart.
The findings come amid other recent research linking marijuana use to heart problems, and researchers are calling on doctors to further educate patients about the risks.
Cannabis use could cause a “significant” increase in heart attacks (stock)
Marijuana is generally considered a low-risk drug, but consistent use can lead to a wide variety of health risks, including severe depression, lack of sleep, and dependence.
Dr Abras Jeffers, lead author of the study and data scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said: “Despite common use, little is known about the risks of cannabis use and, in particular, the risks of disease cardiovascular”.
“The perception of how harmful smoking cannabis is is decreasing and people do not consider cannabis use to be dangerous to their health.”
The team recruited 430,000 patients in 27 states and two US territories. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 74, and the average age was 45 years.
About half were women and the other half were men. About 60 percent identified as white, 11.6 percent were black, 19.3 percent were Hispanic and the rest were a mix of other races.
Nearly 90 percent of participants said they did not use cannabis at all. About seven percent said they did not use it daily and four percent did so every day.
Among those who used cannabis, 74 percent said smoking was their preferred form of consumption.
More than 60 percent used cannabis but had never smoked tobacco cigarettes.
Data were collected through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a national survey conducted annually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Our sample was large enough to be able to investigate the association of cannabis use with cardiovascular outcomes among adults who had never used tobacco cigarettes or e-cigarettes,” Dr. Jeffers said.
Researchers found that smoking, eating or vaping cannabis was associated with a “significant” increase in the risk of heart disease and stroke, and the more days someone smoked, the more likely they were to suffer adverse effects.
However, the team noted that this increased risk was consistent with other known risks of heart disease and stroke, such as alcohol, body mass index (BMI), type 2 diabetes, and lack of physical activity.
They also found that daily cannabis users were 25 percent more likely to develop heart disease and 42 percent more likely to suffer a stroke.
And younger adults (men under 55 and women under 65) who were already at risk for cardiovascular disease had a combined 36 percent increased chance of heart disease, coronary artery disease and stroke.
“Our study shows that smoking cannabis carries significant cardiovascular risks, just like smoking tobacco,” said Dr. Jeffers.
“This is particularly important because cannabis use is increasing and conventional tobacco use is decreasing.”
Researchers are still working to unravel exactly why this occurs, although THC is thought to activate the body’s fight or flight response, which typically occurs during stress or fear.
When fight or flight is triggered, there is an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Over time, this causes the heart to need to work harder to pump blood to the rest of the body.
This can wear out the heart and lead to diseases such as heart disease and stroke.
The findings come amid other recent research suggesting that cannabis use could have detrimental effects on heart and lung health.
A study published in November, for example, found that among 160,000 adults over age 54, those who smoked marijuana daily had a 34 percent increased risk of heart failure.
The above shows cannabis consumption in the states of the United States. 24 have fully legalized it for recreational use
The link between recreational marijuana use and alcohol use in recent years has been most significant among younger adults ages 18 to 24.
Additionally, doctors at Stanford University have found that the more a person used cannabis, the more likely they were to be diagnosed with coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common form of cardiovascular disease, which can lead to heart failure.
DKA killed more than 382,000 Americans in 2020, and about 20.1 million Americans over age 20 have the disease, according to federal data.
Marijuana use causes the heart to beat faster and blood pressure to increase, which is believed to increase a person’s risk of developing DKA.
Cannabis users are also slightly more likely to develop lung diseases than cigarette users, according to researchers at the University of Ottawa.
Those researchers looked at about 150 adults in Canada who were on average 50 years old and were either marijuana users, tobacco smokers or non-smokers.
Three-quarters of marijuana users suffered from emphysema (a lung disease that causes breathing difficulties) compared to two-thirds of tobacco users.
Only one in 20 non-smokers suffered from this condition, which kills more than 120,000 Americans each year.
The authors noted that the study had several limitations, primarily because patients self-reported their cannabis use and cardiovascular conditions. They said more large-scale research is needed.
The study was published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association.