While the dangers of cigarette smoking to cardiovascular health are widely known, those for cannabis have been less researched. Now, researchers from the University of Guelph in Canada have found that people who smoke cannabis at an early age may have an increased risk of developing heart disease later on in life.
For the study, the researchers recruited 35 healthy young participants, of whom 18 used cannabis and 17 did not. They examined each participant’s heart and arteries with ultrasound imaging.
They honed in on three key criteria. The first was arterial stiffness, measured by how quickly a wave travelled down the artery. The second was cardiac function, or how the heart moves according to echocardiographic imaging. Meanwhile, the third was vascular function or how much the arteries expanded according to changing blood flow.
In the end, the researchers found that cannabis users tended to have greater arterial stiffness than non-users. They also found that cannabis users had lower cardiac function than non-users.
The researchers noted however that there was no difference between both groups in vascular function. This was surprising as cigarette smokers often experience lower vascular function, alongside lower cardiac function and stiffer arteries.
While the reasons behind this discrepancy are unknown, Christian Cheung, lead author of the study, said that it may come as a result of the different ways in which tobacco and cannabis are consumed, how much and at what frequency cannabis is consumed, and the user’s age.
"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," says Dr. Jamie Burr, one of the co-authors of the study.
"It also paves the way to our next studies, aimed at understanding the direct effects of cannabis consumption, and how this may interact with common stressors of everyday life, like exercise."