A study found that commonly used drugs increase the development of a potentially deadly heart-rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation (AF). AF is characterized by an abnormal pumping rhythm caused by electrical disturbances in the atria or heart’s upper chambers. AF poses a risk of forming clots in the atria which can break off into the bloodstream and cause fatal strokes. University of California San Francisco researchers published the findings in the European Heart Journal. It is the first study to examine cannabis use as a predictor of future atrial fibrillation risk.
The longitudinal study on atrial fibrillation analyzed data from diagnostic codes from every hospital admission, emergency room visit and medical procedure in California between 2005 and 2015. Medical records were obtained from the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, California State Ambulatory Surgery databases, Emergency Department databases, and State Inpatient databases. The researchers identified approximately one million people who had no preexisting AF but developed AF during this 10-year time frame. Data analysis revealed that 132,834 participants used cannabis, 98,271 used methamphetamine, 48,700 used cocaine, and 10,032 used opiates. The findings indicate cannabis users had a 35 percent increased likelihood of developing AF.
Cocaine and methamphetamine are two stimulants previously known to cause sudden cardiac death, but there is no evidence indicating cannabis use causes heart arrhythmias. Emerging research has focused on the heart structure and artery functional performance of cannabis users.
This study provides a basis for further investigation of the connection between a range of controlled substances and increased AF risk. Methamphetamine use increased AF risk by 86 percent in those whose medical records documented methamphetamine use compared to those participants with no indicated methamphetamine use. Cocaine had a 61 percent increase in AF risk and opiates had a 74 percent increase in risk.
Previous studies have shown that particulate matter from tobacco smoke can increase the likelihood of an AF episode among those previously diagnosed with AF. Inflammation caused by particulate matter can trigger AF, so the research team will continue to research inflammation’s role in increased atrial fibrillation risk.