Marijuana addiction sends the risk for heart attacks and strokes skyrocketing

CALGARY, Alberta — An unhealthy addiction to marijuana makes it significantly more likely that users suffer a heart attack or stroke in comparison to other healthy people. Researchers in Canada discovered a 60-percent higher risk of suffering a first heart attack, stroke, or cardiac dysrhythmia if the patient deals with cannabis use disorder.

Study authors from the University of Calgary and their colleagues examined nearly 60,000 patients from five Canadian health databases during this project. Half of the patients had a clinically diagnosed case of cannabis use disorder while the other half did not. Researchers tracked these individuals from January 2012 to December 2019. Those with a history of heart problems were not part of the study.

Results show that among those with cannabis use disorder, 2.4 percent (721) experienced a cardiovascular disease event for the first time in their lives. Only 1.5 percent (458) of participants in the non-marijuana group had a similar heart problem during that time. These events include the first-time occurrence of a heart attack, stroke, cardiac dysrhythmias, and peripheral vascular disease — a condition in which narrowed blood vessels cut off blood flow to the limbs.

Woman smoking marijuana
Photo by Grav on Unsplash

Even otherwise healthy cannabis users are at risk

While scientists continue to study and debate whether marijuana negatively impacts a user’s health, the new study finds that even generally healthy people could be in danger from overusing marijuana. Among participants with cannabis use disorder, those with no pre-existing medical conditions, were not using prescription drugs, and visited a doctor or hospital fewer than five times in the previous six months still saw their risk for heart problems increase. In fact, their risk was actually 1.4 times higher than other people in the cannabis use disorder group.

Study authors believe generally healthy cannabis users misjudge their cardiovascular fitness. Their overall risk is higher because they likely ignore warning signs of an oncoming heart attack or stroke.

“Our study doesn’t provide enough information to say that cannabis use disorder causes adverse cardiovascular disease events, but we can go so far as to say that Canadians with cannabis use disorder appear to have a much higher risk of cardiovascular disease than people without the disorder,” says Dr. Anees Bahji, lead author of the study, in a media release.

The findings are published in the journal Addiction.

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