According to a study published in the journal Heart Rhythm, middle-aged adults who have a history of using cannabis are not at an elevated risk of experiencing atrial fibrillation (AFib), aka an irregular heartbeat, NORML reports. The relationship between cannabis and heart disease is currently under close scrutiny and attention.
This longitudinal study was conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. The team looked at the connection between cannabis use and AFib in a very large sample size, a group of over 150,000 individuals aged between 40 and 69. This group of people was made up of people who didn’t use cannabis, occasional users, and frequent cannabis users. They monitored participants over six years. The findings reveal no significant evidence suggesting that people who used cannabis had a bigger chance of developing atrial fibrillation compared to non-users.
“Among a large, prospective cohort, we were unable to find evidence that occasional cannabis use [defined as more than 100 times] was associated with a higher risk of incident AF,” the study writes. “To our knowledge, this is the first longitudinal cohort study to assess such recreational use and the first to report an absence of a relationship between cannabis use and risk of AF.”
AFib is a heart rhythm disorder identifiable by a rapid and irregular beat of the heart’s upper chambers, aka the atria. This arrhythmia can cause disruptive, settling, and potential dangerous symptoms like heart palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, or chest pain. Some people may not experience any symptoms at all. AFib is dangerous because it increases the risk of blood clots forming in the heart. These can then develop into strokes. Over time, AFib may also weaken the heart, which could result in heart failure. Before you panic and have an anxiety attack that you mistake for AFib, know that it needs to be diagnosed by a doctor and is done so using electrocardiograms (ECGs). The treatment for AFib is focused on controlling the heart rate to return to a normal heart rhythm using medications or medical interventions, in addition to lifestyle changes.
As NORML reports, in October, research findings suggested that middle-aged folks who use weed don’t have a higher risk of atherosclerosis, aka which is the hardening of the arteries, compared to those who have never used cannabis. This conclusion was backed up by a meta-analysis published in May, concludeding, “Cannabis use insignificantly predicts all major cardiovascular adverse events,” referring to conditions like myocardial infarction and stroke. However, at times, the data is conflicting. A contrasting report from September of 2024 in the journal Addiction highlighted that adults involved in problematic cannabis use do have a heightened risk of adverse cardiovascular outcomes.
As High Times reported, the research analyzed medical data from nearly 60,000 adults in Alberta, Canada. It specifically looked at diagnostic codes for “cannabis use disorder,” keep in mind, this is a publication with a focus on addiction. As High Times reported, they define cannabis use disorder as an inability to cease cannabis use despite negative consequences.
They compared these with codes for various cardiovascular issues, including heart attacks, heart failure, and strokes, occurring between January 1, 2012, and December 31, 2019.
The study’s findings were a bit alarming: “Canadian adults with cannabis use disorder appear to have an approximately 60% higher risk of experiencing incident adverse cardiovascular disease events than those without cannabis use disorder,” it reported. “Importantly, this evidence suggests that cannabis use may place a healthier population at increased risk of major cardiovascular events. As a result, our study points to the importance of educating our patients about the potential risks associated with cannabis use and cannabis use disorder,” reads the study.
It additionally revealed that people diagnosed with cannabis use disorder who were otherwise deemed ‘healthy’ (having no co-occurring mental health disorders, doctor visits in the past six months, prescribed meds, or no other medical conditions) were at a greater risk for these cardiovascular events.
But, to end on a more reassuring note, know that this too has conflicting evidence. Research published in August of 2023 in the American Journal of Cardiology indicates that middle-aged adults using cannabis are not at an increased risk of heart attack. The study, which compared people who used cannabis with non-cannabis users, found that individuals who consumed it monthly over the past year did not face a heightened risk of heart attack.