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Young People Are More Likely to Have a Heart Attack if They Consume Cannabis, Says Study

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Sep 07, 2021   
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Young adult cannabis consumers seem to have a higher risk of having a heart attack than their cannabis-sober peers, according to new research.

Published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the study assessed the survey data of thousands of young adults in the US and found that 1.3 percent of self-identified cannabis consumers had a history of heart attacks. In comparison, the researchers found that around 0.8 percent of cannabis abstainers had a history of heart attacks.

Thus, the researchers say their study provides evidence of an association between recent cannabis use and the likelihood of heart attacks among young adults.

Heart of grass

To get their findings, the researchers from the University of Toronto searched through thousands of responses to the US’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, an ongoing telephone survey that collects data on the health of US residents.

Among the 33,173 adults aged between 18 and 44 who responded to the survey between 2017 and 2018, 4,610 (17.5 percent) reported using cannabis within the past 30 days.

The researchers noted that cannabis use was higher among males, heavy alcohol drinkers, and those who were unmarried.

A history of heart attacks was assessed by the response to the survey question: “Has a doctor, nurse, or other health professional ever told you that you […] had a heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction?”

After analyzing the results, the researchers found that a history of heart attacks was reported by 61 of 4,610 cannabis users (1.3 percent), and by 240 of the 28,563 non-users (0.8 percent).

“We found evidence of an association between recent cannabis use and an increased odds of history of MI [myocardial infarction] in a generalizable population of younger adults,” the study’s authors wrote. “This association was stronger among more frequent users of cannabis.”

The authors do acknowledge the limitations of their conclusions, though. For instance, given the kind of data they were working with, they were unable to differentiate between respondents who began using cannabis before having a heart attack and those who began using after experiencing a heart attack. Furthermore, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey doesn’t ask respondents on their use of certain other substances, such as cocaine, which can affect heart health. So it’s possible that the higher risk of heart attacks seen in cannabis consumers could be partly attributed to missing factors.

Nonetheless, an association between cannabis use and heart attacks was still found, leading the researchers to call for further studies to explain the chemical and biological actions that underpin this link.

“The large sample size, generalizability and detailed data on cannabis consumption of this cross-sectional study provide unique insight into this growing public health concern,” the researchers wrote. “Further studies and more data are needed to confirm these findings and elucidate the mechanisms contributing to cannabis-associated cardiovascular outcomes.”

Cannabis and the heart

As for the causes behind this association, the study’s authors do note that cannabis has been known to induce dose-dependent tachycardia (a fast heart rate), a condition which can increase the chances of having a heart attack.

Other recent studies have also linked cannabis smoking to concerning signs of heart health. Research recently published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that, compared to a control group, cannabis smokers had fewer apical rotations and greater aortic stiffness – factors linked to cardiovascular disease.

A study published earlier this year found that cannabis smoking can raise the levels of toxins in the blood, but not to the same extent 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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