Researchers have found that there may be a link between smoking marijuana and cardiovascular problems including stroke and arrhythmia.
Although cigarette smoking is becoming more and more unpopular in the US, leading to huge improvements in overall cardiovascular health, marijuana usage is on the rise. As marijuana is still classified as a schedule 1 drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, its use in research is still highly restricted, meaning that even in states where it is legalized, it is difficult to conduct randomized, clinical trials to properly understand its effects on general health.
Thus, to decipher the drug’s effects on our health- and cardiovascular health in particular- researchers have instead analyze real-world data. For example, they are able to identify possible risk factors by comparing before-and-after health statistics in states where marijuana has been legalized for both recreational and medical usage.
In a new research paper, scientists analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to estimate the prevalence of cardiovascular disease among those who smoke marijuana. In total, they estimated that of 89.6 million American adults who reportedly smoke the substance, 2 million of them, or 2.3%, have some form of cardiovascular disease.
Lead author of the research, Ersilia M. DeFilippis, MD, said, “In our NHANES query, we estimated that 2 million adults with marijuana use had cardiovascular disease in 2015-2016. Since that time, additional states have passed legislation related to marijuana so its use may have increased even further. Notably, many of our cardiology patients are on medications that can interact with marijuana in unpredictable ways depending on the formulation. This highlights that we need more data so that we can better counsel providers as well as patients."
In their paper, the researchers highlighted the potential impact of smoking marijuana on cardiovascular health. For example, they note that many of the cardiotoxic chemicals found in cigarettes are also present in marijuana smoke, and that inhaling cannabis can increase heart rate and blood pressure, thus potentially triggering a heart attack.
Muthiah Vaduganathan, an author of the paper, thus said, “Our current approach is that patients who are at high risk of cardiovascular events should be counseled to avoid or at least minimize marijuana use, and that rigorous scientific research should be conducted to further inform recommendations for patient care."