More Than 2 Million Cannabis Consumers Are Living With Heart Disease, Experts Warn
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Marijuana use is rising among US patients with cardiovascular disease, researchers have warned.
Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology today, a new review article has estimated that 2 million US marijuana users were living with cardiovascular disease in 2015. As more US states have legalized recreational cannabis in the intervening years, the authors believe the true figures could now be even higher.
Heart of grass
Conducted at Brigham and Women's Hospital, the observational study used data from a national survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics. Respondents were asked if they’d ever used “hashish or marijuana” and whether they’d ever been told by a healthcare provider that they had congestive heart failure, coronary heart disease, or a heart attack.
By extrapolating these figures, the researchers estimated that 2 million (2.3 percent) of the 89.6 million adults who reported marijuana use had cardiovascular disease in 2015 to 2016. But as only 49.4 percent of participants answered the relevant questions, the estimation is subject to variability.
“We do acknowledge the limited scope of evidence defining the cardiovascular safety of marijuana at present,” Muthiah Vaduganathan, a co-author of the paper and cardiologist at Brigham, told Analytical Cannabis. “However, based on what we know, we believe there is sufficient evidence to give us pause.”
Vaduganathan and his co-authors are concerned that, through their cannabis use, many of the 2 million identified in the study are putting their cardiovascular health at risk.
“Marijuana induces physiological effects, including increases in heart rate and blood pressure, that may be problematic for patients with cardiovascular disease,” he said. “Several observational studies have shown that people who use marijuana may be more likely to subsequently experience a broad range of cardiovascular health hazards.”
Cannabis and heart health
Indeed, studies have shown that, in the short term, inhaling cannabis smoke can lead to increases in heart rate and blood pressure. However, chronic smoking does seem to promote tolerance and has been associated with less pronounced physiological effects.
And while other studies have identified links with marijuana use and heart attacks, the overall evidence base for cannabis’ effect on cardiovascular health is still lacking. But that’s something Vaduganathan and his colleagues hope will change.
“We believe broader-scale clinical research is needed to better understand the safety of marijuana, especially on cardiovascular health,” he added.
But, until those trials are conducted and their results known, Vaduganathan and his team are urging other health professionals to talk to any patients at a high-risk of cardiovascular events, and perhaps even wean them off marijuana.
“We think that, as a first step, patients and clinicians should engage in open dialogue about marijuana use,” Vaduganathan told Analytical Cannabis. “This information may help inform treating clinicians if drug-drug interactions may be present.”