DALLAS — Smoking marijuana increases the risk of heart failure by more than a third, a pair of studies warn. A team working with the American Heart Association reports that daily use of marijuana increases this risk by 34 percent.
“Marijuana use isn’t without its health concerns, and our study provides more data linking its use to cardiovascular conditions,” says lead study author Yakubu Bene-Alhasan, M.D., M.P.H., a resident physician at Medstar Health in Baltimore.
“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.”
“Our results should encourage more researchers to study the use of marijuana to better understand its health implications, especially on cardiovascular risk,” Bene-Alhasan continues in a media release.
Researchers studied 156,999 people with an average age of 54 for four years. All of the participants were free of heart failure at the start of the project. By the end, however, two percent (2,958) developed heart failure.
The results held up regardless of age, sex at birth, or smoking history, although the researchers admitted they did not know whether the participants ate or smoked cannabis.
In a secondary analysis, when the team looked at coronary artery disease, the risk of heart failure dropped from 34 percent to 27 percent, suggesting that coronary artery disease is a pathway through which daily marijuana use may lead to heart failure.
A second study looked at data from 28,535 cannabis users with existing heart risk factors such as high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. They found that 20 percent had an increased chance of having a major health event affecting the heart or brain when hospitalized compared to the group who did not use cannabis. Those using marijuana also had a higher rate of heart attacks.
“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,” says lead study author Avilash Mondal, M.D., a resident physician at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia.
“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,” Mondal continues. “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.”
Combined, the studies show that regular marijuana use can significantly damage heart and brain health.
“The latest research about cannabis use indicates that smoking and inhaling cannabis increases concentrations of blood carboxyhemoglobin (carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas), tar (partly burned combustible matter) similar to the effects of inhaling a tobacco cigarette, both of which have been linked to heart muscle disease, chest pain, heart rhythm disturbances, heart attacks and other serious conditions,” concludes Robert L. Page II, Pharm.D., M.S.P.H., FAHA, chair of the volunteer writing group for the 2020 American Heart Association Scientific Statement: Medical Marijuana, Recreational Cannabis, and Cardiovascular Health.
“Together with the results of these two research studies, the cardiovascular risks of cannabis use are becoming clearer and should be carefully considered and monitored by health care professionals and the public.”
Both studies were presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2023.
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South West News Service writer Isobel Williams contributed to this report.