Cannabis Use Not Associated with Greater Risk of Heart Attack, Study Finds

But it might be time to rethink your spliffs.

Using cannabis is not associated with an increased risk of heart attack among middle-aged adults, according to data published in the American Journal of Cardiology, NORML reports. The study found that compared to non-cannabis users, those who have consumed cannabis monthly for the past year are not at a greater risk for a heart attack. 

This data is adjusted to factor in potential confounders such as BMI, alcohol and tobacco use, and physical activity. 

Those who consistently used cannabis monthly for the past decade also showed no greater risk for heart attack. 

Additionally, and fascinatingly, the researchers did identify an increased heart attack risk among the portion of former consumers who had recently quit using cannabis. Investigators called this latter finding “unexpected,” NORML reports. 

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Diego. They examined the relationship between cannabis use and physician-diagnosed myocardial infarction (MI)—colloquially known as a heart attack—in a nationally representative group of roughly 10,000 middle-aged (35 to 59 years old) people. 

“In a representative sample of middle-aged US adults, a history of monthly cannabis use for more than a year before a myocardial infarction was not linked to a subsequent physician-diagnosed MI, after accounting for cardiovascular risk factors. However, when considering recent use, the odds were three times greater if no use was reported in the past month. The length of monthly use before the MI, including use >10 years, also showed no association,” the authors concluded. “The evidence base for cardiovascular harms is conflicting and limited by the ability to accurately quantify use, especially the method of use, dose, and potency. Given the expanding access to cannabis products in the United States and around the world, more research, particularly longitudinal and experimental studies, is needed.”

Researchers have been looking into the relationship between cannabinoids and cardiovascular function for some time. This interest is because cannabis can increase blood pressure and heart rate. As a result, there has been concern in the medical community about a potential correlation between heart attacks and marijuana use. 

However, they have found no consistent data to show that this presents a danger, which makes the new research out of San Diego music to the ears for cannabis users. A 2021 literature review of 67 studies published in the American Journal of Medicine found that “[M]arijuana itself does not appear to be independently associated with excessive cardiovascular risk factors.” 

However, the authors expressed concern that “it can be associated with other unhealthy behaviors such as alcohol use and tobacco smoking that can be detrimental” to heart health.

As Johns Hopkins Medicine reports, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure, or stroke. Excessive drinking can also contribute to cardiomyopathy, a disorder that affects the heart muscle. However, studies have also shown an association between moderate alcohol intake and a lower risk of dying from heart disease, demonstrating that the evidence regarding alcohol and cardiovascular health requires further clarification. 

Smoking cigarettes is pretty securely linked to heart disease, suggesting that if cannabis users want to take a step towards better heart health, the first thing to do is cut out the spliffs. 

It’s worth noting that medical marijuana can treat anxiety, depression, and PTSD, an avenue of particular importance to veterans, although applicable to anyone experiencing these mental health conditions. These themselves, when left untreated, can negatively impact heart health. Anxiety puts extra strain on the heart, especially for folks with an existing heart condition, Johns Hopkins Medicine reports. Research shows that heart disease and depression have a two-way relationship, and PTSD has also been tied to cardiovascular problems. Considering cannabis is generally safe and has a low side effect profile, one must consider the benefits of using cannabis to treat such conditions and talk to their care provider about the benefits outweighing the costs, which, according to the latest research, aren’t something to stress over (now that can hurt your heart) when it comes to cardiovascular disease. 

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