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Marijuana use greatly increases risk of heart attack and stroke

Research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2023 suggests that regular marijuana use could increase the risk of heart failure, stroke, or heart attack

The research challenges the perception of the drug’s safety amidst its growing popularity in the United States for both recreational and medical purposes.

The burgeoning acceptance of marijuana in various U.S. states comes with an urgent need to understand its health implications thoroughly. Two new studies provide insights into the potential cardiovascular risks associated with regular marijuana use.

Heart failure risk from marijuana use

The first study, stemming from the All of Us Research Program, was focused on more than 150,000 adults in the United States. The researchers analyzed the association between daily marijuana use and heart failure.

“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,” said study lead study author Dr. Yakubu Bene-Alhasan, a resident physician at Medstar Health in Baltimore. 

“Marijuana use isn’t without its health concerns, and our study provides more data linking its use to cardiovascular conditions.”

What the researchers learned 

The findings suggest that daily marijuana use is associated with a 34 percent heightened risk of developing heart failure. 

Even after accounting for demographics, economic status, alcohol and tobacco use, and traditional cardiovascular risk factors, the increased risk remained consistent across various age and sex demographics. 

Implications for frequent marijuana use

“Our results should encourage more researchers to study the use of marijuana to better understand its health implications, especially on cardiovascular risk,” said Dr. Bene-Alhasan. 

“We want to provide the population with high-quality information on marijuana use and to help inform policy decisions at the state level, to educate patients and to guide health care professionals.”

Older marijuana users

The second investigation was based on data from the 2019 National Inpatient Sample. The team assessed cardiovascular events during hospital stays for individuals over 65 years of age with cardiovascular risk factors but without tobacco use. 

This study, led by Dr. Avilash Mondal, revealed that among older people with pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol, marijuana users had a 20 percent increase in the likelihood of suffering a major heart or brain event while hospitalized compared to non-users.

Ruling out tobacco 

“Since 2015, cannabis use in the U.S. has almost doubled, and it is increasing in older adults, therefore, understanding the potential increased cardiovascular risk from cannabis use is important,” said lead study author Dr. Avilash Mondal, a resident physician at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia. 

“What is unique about our study is that patients who were using tobacco were excluded because cannabis and tobacco are sometimes used together, therefore, we were able to specifically examine cannabis use and cardiovascular outcomes.”

Striking results for marijuana users

The results were particularly striking for marijuana users, who not only had higher rates of heart attacks but also a greater need for transfer to other facilities post-hospitalization. 

Dr. Mondal emphasized the importance of healthcare professionals including questions about cannabis use when assessing patient history.

Health care professionals 

“We must be mindful about major heart and stroke events in older adults with cannabis use disorder. At this point, we need more studies to understand the long-term effects of cannabis use,” said Dr. Mondal. 

“Health care 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 more aware of the increased risks and open the lines of communication so that cannabis use is acknowledged and considered.”

Marijuana use risk factors

The studies shed light on the less discussed aspects of marijuana use. They suggest that, regardless of other health habits or conditions, regular marijuana use might be an independent risk factor for serious cardiovascular events. 

The implications of these studies are significant as they call for heightened awareness and careful monitoring of cannabis use by both the public and medical community. With marijuana’s legalization gaining momentum, these findings will be critical in shaping public health policies and clinical practices moving forward.

More about therapeutic marijuana use

Marijuana, derived from the cannabis plant, contains chemicals like THC and CBD that influence brain activity. It’s commonly used for its psychoactive effects but also possesses therapeutic properties.

Medical benefits of marijuana use

Clinicians have prescribed marijuana for pain relief, especially in cases where standard painkillers are ineffective. It’s also used for muscle spasm control, anti-inflammatory purposes, and appetite stimulation in conditions like cancer and AIDS.

Mental health applications

Beyond physical symptoms, marijuana is sometimes employed to alleviate mental health issues such as anxiety and PTSD. Its calming effect can reduce stress and improve sleep patterns.

Despite its benefits, marijuana use is regulated due to its psychoactive effects. Patients must receive a prescription and adhere to dosage guidelines. Safety concerns revolve around the potential for abuse and the drug’s impact on cognitive functions.

Ongoing research

Research into marijuana’s therapeutic potential is ongoing, with studies looking into its effectiveness in treating various conditions and the long-term effects of its use.

In summary, therapeutic marijuana offers significant benefits for certain medical conditions. However, it requires careful regulation and further research to fully understand its impact on health and wellbeing.

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