Marijuana Increases Heart Attack Risk, Study Says

A new study links cannabis use with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, with the highest odds among daily users.

Seventeen percent of Americans in 2023 reported they smoked marijuana, according to the Gallup survey, and half of adults (50%) said they have tried cannabis.

Although marijuana has medical uses, many consume it as a recreational drug, putting themselves at risk for developing cannabis use disorder.

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Moreover, marijuana can negatively impact brain function and raise mental health risks in young adults, while limited evidence has associated cannabis smoking with testicular cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that cannabis use can also elevate the risk of adverse cardiovascular outcomes.

The researchers examined data collected from 430,000 American adults from 2016 through 2020. The participants were ages 18-74, with an average age of 45.

Most (nearly 90%) of adults did not use cannabis at all, 7% used it less than daily, and 4% were daily users. Among cannabis users, 73.8% reported smoking as the most common form of cannabis consumption.

The study found that smoking, eating, or vaporizing cannabis was independently associated with a higher number of coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction, and stroke. The risk of adverse cardiovascular events increased with more frequent use.

The risk of heart attack was elevated among both daily and non-daily cannabis users. Those consuming cannabis every day had 25% higher odds of heart attack compared to non-users.

Daily cannabis users were also at a 42% higher risk for stroke compared to non-users, with lower risk among those who used cannabis less than daily.

Cannabis use was associated with 36% higher combined odds of coronary heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, regardless of the use of traditional tobacco products in men younger than 55 years and women under the age of 65. This population is at risk for premature cardiovascular disease.

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“Cannabis smoke is not all that different from tobacco smoke, except for the psychoactive drug: THC vs. nicotine. Our study shows that smoking cannabis has significant cardiovascular risk risks, just like smoking tobacco. This is particularly important because cannabis use is increasing, and conventional tobacco use is decreasing,” said lead study author Abra Jeffers, Ph.D., a data analyst at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Calls for further studies

Cardiovascular conditions and cannabis use were self-reported in the study, making them potentially subject to recall bias.

Additionally, the authors did not have health data measuring participants’ lipid profiles or blood pressure at the beginning of the study. Increased blood lipid levels and blood pressure are both risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

The researchers emphasized the need for prospective cohort studies that involve following groups of individuals over time to examine the link between cannabis use and cardiovascular outcomes.

Robert L. Page II, Pharm.D., MSPH., FAHA, who was not involved in this study, says it adds to the growing literature that cannabis use and cardiovascular disease may be a potentially hazardous combination.

Page said in a statement, “As cannabis use continues to grow in legality and access across the U.S., practitioners, and clinicians need to remember to assess cannabis use at each patient encounter in order to have a non-judgmental, shared decision conversation about potential cardiovascular risks and ways to reduce those risks.”

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