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GUELPH, Ontario — Cannabis has quickly become the most widely used recreational drug behind only alcohol. With millions of young adults smoking marijuana weekly, and even daily, studies examining its health impacts have become increasingly important. Now, researchers at the University of Guelph are warning that young adults using the once-illegal drug may be putting themselves at risk of heart disease later on.

The team, led by study author Christian Cheung, examined 35 subjects between the ages of 19 and 30. Half of these individuals are regular cannabis users. Researchers measured arterial stiffness, arterial function, and how well the arteries expanded with blood flow. Using ultrasounds, they discovered arterial stiffness was greater in marijuana users than non-users based on how fast pressure traveled down the arteries.

This is the same reaction that occurs among those smoking tobacco cigarettes. Unlike cannabis, study authors note there has been much more research on how cigarettes alter the blood vessels and the heart.

Cardiac function, or how the heart moves, showed signs of diminishing slightly among cannabis users in comparison to non-users. The team discovered the same differences among cigarette smokers and non-smokers as well. However, this report discovered no change in vascular function, which came as a surprise to the study authors.

“We don’t yet know why in cannabis users there’s no difference in vascular function,” Cheung says in a university release. “We looked at young cannabis users. In the cigarette literature, heavy, long-term smokers show reduced vascular function but that’s not necessarily the case for younger smokers.”

These findings prove there are more subtle signs of cannabis use that alter the heart’s ability to function properly.

“It also paves the way to our next studies, aimed at understanding the direct effects of cannabis consumption, and how this may interact with common stressors of everyday life, like exercise,” adds Dr. Jamie Burr, co-author of the study.

This study is published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

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