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Young Cannabis Consumers Have Stiffer Arteries Than Non-smokers, Study Finds

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Apr 15, 2021   
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Young cannabis smokers show concerning signs of heart health, according to new research.

Published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, the study assessed the heart readings of a number of cannabis smokers and non-smokers. The researchers found that, compared to the control group, the cannabis smokers had fewer apical rotations and greater aortic stiffness – factors linked to cardiovascular disease.

Both groups showed similar resting heart rates and blood pressure levels, but the study’s authors are still concerned that even young cannabis consumers have an elevated risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Less elastic arteries

To begin the study, the researchers from the University of Guelph recruited 35 participants aged between 19 and 30 who didn’t have a pre-existing cardiovascular issue. Of these people, 18 were self-described cannabis users and 17 were not.

The subjects then underwent several heart and blood tests, including echocardiographic scans and sphygmomanometer blood pressure measurements.

Neither group differed when it came to heart rates and blood pressure readings at rest – an outcome that would likely have been different had the researchers tested cigarette smokers.

“In the cigarette literature, heavy, long-term smokers show reduced vascular function but that’s not necessarily the case for younger smokers,” Christian Cheung, a PhD student at the University of Guelph and lead author of the paper, said in a statement.

However, the cannabis consumers did show signs of having stiffer, less elastic arteries, a medical concern more commonly seen in older patients and cigarette smokers.

“This is exciting new data, suggesting that even before more overt signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease are present, there may be more subtle indications in altered physiological function,” Dr Jamie Burr, a co-author of the paper, said in a statement.

Cannabis and the heart

While the University of Guelph research was “the first study to look at specific risk indicators for cardiovascular disease in young, healthy cannabis users,” it isn’t the first study to show marijuana’s risks to heart health.

A study published earlier this year found that cannabis smoking can raise the levels of toxins in the blood, but not to the same extremes seen in tobacco smokers.

Two other recent studies found evidence linking cannabis use to dangerous complications for patients following heart procedures. One study found that smoking cannabis may significantly increase the risk of strokes and bleeding following non-surgical interventions to open blocked arteries. The other uncovered “an alarming rise” in the trend of cannabis use among patients who had already experienced a heart attack or who had undergone a heart procedure in the past.

However, many relevant researchers believe further studies are still needed to properly assess the cardiovascular effects of cannabis.

“We do acknowledge the limited scope of evidence defining the cardiovascular safety of marijuana at present,” Muthiah Vaduganathan, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Massachusetts, told Analytical Cannabis last year. “However, based on what we know, we believe there is sufficient evidence to give us pause.”

“We believe broader-scale clinical research is needed to better understand the safety of marijuana, especially on cardiovascular health,” he added.


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