Marijuana use raises risk of heart attack and stroke, studies find

Strain on the body: Marijuana raises risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke by up to a THIRD, two major studies find

  • One study said daily marijuana users had 34% higher risk of heart failure
  • Second said they were 20% more likely to suffer a major heart event or stroke
  • READ MORE: Marijuana is behind three in ten schizophrenia cases

Using marijuana regularly is ‘strongly’ linked to heart failure and stroke, two major studies suggest.

One paper that tracked 160,000 adults over 54 years old for four years found those who smoked marijuana daily had a 34 percent higher risk of heart failure.

And in a second, researchers found hospitalized people over 65 years old who had used marijuana — but not cigarettes — were 20 percent more likely to suffer a major heart event or stroke.

Researchers warned data was ‘strongly pointing’ to the fact that ‘cannabis use at any point in time, be it recreational or medicinal,’ was not without risks.

Amid the wave of legalizations of cannabis across the US, experts say the jury is no longer out on the fact cannabis is bad for your heart. Further studies have also warned it raises the risk of schizophrenia and mental health problems.

Researchers warned data was ‘strongly pointing’ to the fact that ‘cannabis use at any point in time, be it recreational or medicinal,’ was not without risks (Stock image)

Dr Robert Page II, a cardiologist at the American Heart Association (AHA) who led one of the studies, told CNN cannabis ‘may lead to… cardiovascular disease’.

While tar is usually associated with cigarettes, Dr Page said: ‘The latest research about cannabis use indicates that smoking and inhaling cannabis increases concentrations of blood carboxyhemoglobin [or carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas] and tar.

‘[This has] similar effects to inhaling a tobacco cigarette, both of which have been linked to heart muscle disease, chest pain, heart rhythm disturbances, heart attacks and other serious conditions.’

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Tar in the blood can cause blood vessels to thicken and narrow, raising blood pressure and the risk of heart problems.

Carbon monoxide can also bind to hemoglobin in red blood cells, reducing the amount of oxygen they can carry — also raising the risk of heart problems.

There are also concerns over marijuana edibles, which tend to contain far more THC — the active ingredient in cannabis — than the smoked versions.

There are warnings these can cause the heart to beat faster and raise blood pressure, which can be dangerous — particularly in people with heart disease.

Older people may also be at higher risk because they have slower metabolisms, meaning cannabis can linger in the body for longer — prolonging its effects. 

The warning comes as older adults start to use marijuana more frequently, with a 2020 study suggesting the number of marijuana users in the age group — either smoking or using edibles — doubled between 2015 and 2018 to 2.3million individuals.

Studies suggest nearly three in every ten go on to develop a dependence, called cannabis use disorder, when they lack appetite, or become irritable or restless when they aren’t using cannabis. 

Doctors are now suggesting older patients should be asked whether they use cannabis recreationally before receiving treatment.

The AHA advises people to refrain from smoking or vaping any substance, including cannabis, because of the risks to heart health.

The studies are due to be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2023, set to be held this weekend in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In the first paper, researchers looked at data from nearly 160,000 adults in the All of US Research Program — a National Institutes of Health-backed program tracking the medical history of at least a million people in the US.

Researchers defined participants as marijuana users if they used the drug recreationally or, if given it for medicinal purposes, used it more frequently than prescribed by their doctor.

They were tracked for four years from June 2016 until the end of June 2022.

Results showed 2,958 participants developed heart failure over the study period.

After adjusting for factors including alcohol use, smoking and type 2 diabetes, researchers found those who reported daily marijuana use had a higher risk of heart failure compared to those who said they never used it.

The Biden administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has asked the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to downgrade cannabis from a Schedule I substance to a Schedule III substance

Dr Yakubu Bene-Alhasan, a resident physician at Medstar Health in Baltimore, Maryland, who led the study, said: ‘Prior research shows links between marijuana use and cardiovascular disease like coronary artery disease, heart failure and atrial fibrillation, which is known to cause heart failure.

‘Our results should encourage more researchers to study the use of marijuana to better understand its health implications, especially on cardiovascular risk.’

For this study, researchers did not ask patients to specify whether they were smoking marijuana or consuming edibles. 

In the second study, researchers extracted data from the 2019 National Inpatient Sample — the largest nationwide database of hospitalizations.

Researchers analyzed data on adults over 65 years old with cardiovascular risk factors — such as obesity and type 2 diabetes — and then divided them into two groups of those who had and had not used marijuana. Patients who admitted to smoking cigarettes were excluded.

The study included 28,535 patients who had used cannabis with pre-existing heart disease risk factors and 10million with the risk factors but who did not use marijuana.

Results showed those who used marijuana had a 20 percent higher risk for a major heart or brain event while hospitalized compared to those who did not.

They also had a higher risk of heart attacks and were more likely to be transferred to other facilities. 

Dr Avilash Mondal, a resident physician at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia who led the study, said: ‘Since 2015, cannabis use in the US has almost doubled and is increasing in older adults.

‘Therefore, understanding the potential increased cardiovascular risk from cannabis use is important.

‘Healthcare professionals should include the question, “Are you using cannabis?”, when taking a patient’s history. 

‘If you ask patients if they are smoking, people think cigarette smoking. The main public message is to be mroe aware of the increased risks and open the lines of communication so that cannabis use is acknowledged and considered.’

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