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The 411 on marijuana use and cardiovascular health

Legalization of marijuana is on the rise across the United States

The 411 on marijuana use and cardiovascular health

Legalization of marijuana, for both medical and recreational use, is on the rise across the United States.

The American Heart Association, the world’s leading nonprofit organization focused on heart and brain health, warns that using marijuana may increase your risk of deadly cardiovascular diseases, heart attacks and strokes, according to research evidence noted in two scientific statements published by the Association.

The scientific statement “Medical Marijuana, Recreational Cannabis and Cardiovascular Health,” notes marijuana, also known as cannabis, may be helpful for some medical conditions, but doesn’t appear to have any well-documented benefits for the prevention or treatment of cardiovascular diseases (CVD).  The chemicals in cannabis have actually been linked to an increased risk of heart attacksheart failure and atrial fibrillation.

One study from Stanford University researchers found people who used marijuana daily were 34% more likely to be diagnosed with coronary heart disease, compared to those who reported no history of cannabis use.

Marijuana users may also have an increased risk of clot-caused stroke, according to the scientific statement, “Use of Marijuana: Effect on Brain Health.” Studies cited found people who used marijuana had more strokes – as many as 17- 24% more – compared to those who don’t use.

READ MORE: The importance of regular immunizations for heart health

“There is a lot of confusion about the benefits versus the dangers of marijuana use, and much of that depends on the ingredients in and the method of use of the product,” said Robert L. Page II, Pharm.D., M.S.P.H., FAHA, volunteer chair of the writing group for the statement on medical and recreational marijuana and CVD. “The most common chemicals in cannabis include THC, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, the psychoactive component of the plant that induces a ‘high,’ and CBD, or cannabidiol, which can be purchased over the counter. These chemicals may be working at cross purposes, as some studies suggest CBD could reduce heart rate and blood pressure while others found THC may raise heart rate and blood pressure.”

Smoking and inhaling marijuana, regardless of THC content, has been associated with heart muscle dysfunction, chest pain, heart attacks, heart rhythm disturbances, sudden cardiac death and other serious cardiovascular conditions.

“Smoking and inhaling cannabis, regardless of THC content, has been shown to increase the concentrations of poisonous carbon monoxide and tar in the blood similar to the effects of inhaling a tobacco cigarette,” said Page, who is a professor in the department of clinical pharmacy and the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug ‘with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.’ 

That means researchers face tight restrictions on conducting rigorous controlled trials with marijuana products. So much of what we know about cannabis use is based on data from short-term, observational and retrospective studies, which identify trends but do not prove cause and effect. Until we know the pros and cons of marijuana use, people need to be aware of the potential dangers.”

Page recommends people who use marijuana for medicinal or recreational effects:

  • Only use legal cannabis products because there are no controls on the quality or contents of cannabis products sold on the street

  • Note that the doses can be measured in cannabis in oral and topical forms, possibly reducing potential harm

  • Be open with their doctors about marijuana use as it relates to overall health to better understand how it might interfere with prescribed medications or trigger cardiovascular conditions or events, such as heart attacks and strokes

Learn more at heart.org.

(Family Features)
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

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