PHOENIX, Ariz. — Marijuana use has skyrocketed in recent years, and while some research has explored its relationship to overall health, few scientists have focused on the marijuana’s impact on the human vascular system. Now, new research shows that those who use marijuana have a significantly higher risk of developing peripheral artery disease (PAD).
PAD results from excessive plaque build-up that narrows the arteries and subsequently reduces blood flow to the arms or legs. The condition impacts 6.5 million people in the United States and can lead to severe debilitation and death if left untreated. Some of the most common symptoms are coldness, numbness or weakness, or a weak pulse in the lower extremities. Like other chronic diseases, current recommendations focus on eating a healthy diet and exercising to prevent PAD onset and progression. Additionally, doctors advise people to avoid smoking tobacco as well. As evidence continues to emerge about the harmful effects of marijuana, however, the study authors say general guidelines may have to start including cannabis products as well when discussing optimal vascular health.
“We know PAD is a progressive disease that can drastically impact quality of life, making ongoing monitoring of this patient population critical,” says study lead author Hirva Vyas, from Hackensack University Medical Center in a media release.
Researchers collected anonymous patient data from the National Inpatient Samples (NIS) from 2016 to 2019 who reported marijuana use and a PAD diagnosis. They further classified participant data based on whether these patients underwent vascular intervention. There were initially 30 million patients identified, and 623,768 were classified as marijuana users. On average, these individuals were around 37 years-old and more likely to be White. There was an equal distribution of men and women in the study.
Results show 2,424 patients were diagnosed with PAD and marijuana users had over found three times the risk of developing the condition in comparison to non-users. Interestingly, marijuana users did not have a statistically increased risk of death or need for vascular intervention.
“With the increase in marijuana use in the U.S., our findings show that users should be aware of the symptoms of PAD such as leg pain while walking, slower or no hair growth and feelings of coldness in the leg,” explains Vyas.
The findings suggest that more studies exploring this topic are still necessary, especially given the lack of existing research related to marijuana use and the cardiovascular system. Doing so can make users more aware of the potential consequences of their frequent exposure, and also help clinicians improve their care for this population by enhancing preventive measures.
The findings were presented at the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography & Interventions (SCAI) 2023 Scientific Sessions.
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