Supporters of the legalization of marijuana often claim that the drug is harmless and safe to use, but a recent study suggests that this claim may not be true at all. In fact, recent study results show that marijuana users are three times as likely to die from high blood pressure, AKA hypertension.
In light of the push for the legalization of marijuana in the United States, lead author of the new study, Barbara A. Yankey, a PhD student from Georgia State University, says “there is little research on the impact of marijuana use on cardiovascular and cerebrovascular mortality."
Yankey conducted a new study using data from the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which included participants 20 years of age and older, and the National Centre for Health Statistics, specifically mortality data from 2011. NHANES recorded a group of participants with different marijuana habits:
20 percent cigarette and marijuana use
21 percent marijuana use only
34 percent used neither
9 percent either only smoked cigarettes or smoked in the past
Paired with the mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics, Yankey asked this question: Is there an association between marijuana use and death from hypertension, heart disease, or cerebrovascular disease?
The results were clear; marijuana users were 3.42 percent more likely to die from hypertension. “And the risk increased with each additional year of use,” Yankey explained.
She also explains why marijuana use increases this risk. "Our results suggest a possible risk of hypertension mortality from marijuana use. This is not surprising since marijuana is known to have a number of effects on the cardiovascular system,” Yankey explained. “Marijuana stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, leading to increases in heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen demand. Emergency rooms have reported cases of angina and heart attacks after marijuana use."
Surprisingly (and alarmingly), the study’s result also suggest that the effect of marijuana use on the cardiovascular system may be more severe than that of cigarette use. However, Yankey does add that this needs to be examined more closely in a study with more participants, more data. "Needless to say, the detrimental effects of marijuana on brain function far exceed that of cigarette smoking," Yankey said.
These findings suggest that the argument for legalizing marijuana use may not be as strong as its supporters believe. More research on the long-term effects of its use could better illustrate whether an increase in its recreational use could severely harm the population.
The present study was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.