Marijuana use may come with some additional health risks. New research is suggesting that people who smoke weed are more likely to suffer a stroke or heart problems sometime in their lives than individuals who avoid the stuff.
Researchers with Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, combed through medical records of millions of Americans looking to see how cannabis affects a person’s cardiovascular health. The patients involved ranged in ages from 18 to 55 and were discharged from a U.S. hospital between 2009 and 2010. According to the data, 1.5 percent of the group used marijuana.
“Even when we corrected for known risk factors, we still found a higher rate of both stroke and heart failure in these patients,” explained lead researcher Dr. Aditi Kalla, per a CBS News report.
The results suggested weed smoking may contribute to a higher threat of stroke, heart failure, coronary artery disease, and sudden cardiac death. The data showed a 26 percent greater risk of stroke and a 10 percent increase in heart failure among patients who used marijuana.
Other risk factors associated with using marijuana were high blood pressure, tobacco smoking, and drinking, the study found. While the study did not prove a definitive link to cannabis use, Dr. Kalla says the increased strokes and heart problems were not just from obesity or other “diet-related cardiovascular side effects.”
However, the study did have a few limitations that could that may have distorted the data. The researchers were unable to determine how the marijuana was consumed. Additionally, there was no information on how often or how much cannabis was used by the patients.
Previous research on the association between marijuana use and heart complications indicates the drug may adversely affect certain receptors in heart muscle cells. Marijuana use may diminish these cells’ ability to contract the heart muscle, causing a potential for failure, Live Science reports. Cannabis use may also lead to strokes as other studies have found the drug can increase blood clots.
The study findings quickly caught the attention of many marijuana advocates. NORML, a group dedicated to the safe and legal use of cannabis, stated the potential association between the drug and cardiovascular problems is nothing to be worried about. Paul Armentaro, the organization’s deputy director, cited several other studies that found people consuming marijuana did not have a higher risk of harmful health effects than individuals who did not use the drug.
The group does recommend teens, pregnant or nursing women, people who have a mental illness, and patients with a history of heart trouble avoid consuming marijuana. Others should talk to their doctor before deciding if pot use is safe for them.
With over half the states in the U.S. with marijuana legalization laws as well as others with pending legislation, the study highlighted the need for a better understanding of the health effects of cannabis consumption.
“Like all other drugs, whether they’re prescribed or not prescribed, we want to know the effects and side effects of this drug,” Kalla said.
“It’s important for physicians to know these effects so we can better educate patients, such as those who are inquiring about the safety of cannabis or even asking for a prescription for cannabis.”
The study is a reminder to health practitioners nationwide to ask patients about marijuana use, especially in states where it is legal. As cannabis becomes more acceptable, doctors will need to know what impending health risks a patient may be subjected to by smoking weed.
While the study does show a potential link between marijuana smoking and increased cardiovascular problems, the team concluded that more research is needed before the connection can be properly understood. Dr. Kalla plans to release the full report of the study later this week at the American College of Cardiology’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
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