Smoking marijuana or "vaping" it are both bad for the heart, according to a statement issued on Wednesday by the American Heart Association.
As CNN reported, actual scientific research on marijuana and its effects on users' health systems has been severely limited, due to the plant's status in the U.S. as a Class I controlled substance, which means that the federal government deems it to have "no medical benefit." As such, that severely limits how cannabis can be studied in controlled, scientific conditions, particularly when it comes to federally funded research labs.
The AHA looked at what data is available, and published its findings in its journal, Circulation. Their conclusion is that ingesting marijuana via smoking or vaping can be detrimental to the cardiovascular and cardiopulmonary systems.
"The American Heart Association recommends that people not smoke or vape any substance, including cannabis products, because of the potential harm to the heart, lungs and blood vessels," said Dr. Rose Marie Robertson, the deputy chief science and medical officer for the American Heart Association.
Dr. Robinson's team noted two reasons advising against pot use.
First, marijuana smoke contains many of the same chemicals in tobacco smoke, including carbon monoxide. Several serious cardiovascular conditions, such as chest pain, heart attacks, and rhythm disturbances, are associated with both tobacco and marijuana carbon monoxide intoxication, the statement said.
The problem is amplified if the user already has underlying heart problems, as smoking or vaping pot has triggered heart attacks and strokes in people with pre-diagnosed cardiovascular issues.
Second, there's the THC itself. It can interfere with other medications, and further, the chemical can also cause a faster heart rate, increase the heart's need for oxygen, and disrupt the walls of arteries, among other complications.
As for alternative methods of getting THC into the body, such as eating it or using topical creams, clinical pharmacologist Robert Page said that doing it this way "may" reduce "some" of the harms. However, he cautioned that anyone considering doing so should absolutely get their pot from the legal market, where controls are in place and the dosage can be properly measured.
The AHA concluded by noting that the dearth of research into the long- and short-term effects of marijuana on users hinders the medical community's efforts at fully understanding the plant. To that end, the AHA called for "carefully designed, prospective short- and long-term studies regarding cannabis use and cardiovascular safety."