Many who support the legalization of marijuana often tout the drug’s benign side effects, asserting that long-term marijuana use has no lasting impact on an individual’s health.
Using marijuana can increase your chances of a stroke and heart failure, a new study has warned.
The drug was also linked with a variety of factors known to increase cardiovascular risk, including obesity, high blood pressure, smoking and alcohol use.
As more states look to legalise the drug, or to prescribe it medically to alleviate symptoms of other diseases, the study sheds new light on how the drug can seriously affect cardiovascular health.
The study analysed over 20 million records of young and middle-aged patients from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample – compiled from one-fifth of all US health centres.
The patients fell between the ages of 18 and 55 and were discharged from over 1,000 hospitals in 2009 and 2010, when recreational marijuana use was illegal in every state.
Researchers found that 316,000 patients, or 1.5 per cent, had marijuana use written in their charts.
Compared to patients who didn't report cannabis use, the team found a significantly increased risk in the pot-smoking patients for stroke, heart failure, coronary artery disease, and sudden cardiac death.
The drug carried a higher risk even after accounting for demographic factors, other health conditions and lifestyle risk factors such as smoking tobacco and drinking.
“Even when we corrected for known risk factors, we still found a higher rate of both stroke and heart failure in these patients,” said lead author Dr Aditi Kalla, a cardiology fellow at the Einstein Medical Centre in Philadelphia.
“So that leads us to believe that there is something else going on besides just obesity or diet-related cardiovascular side effects.
“More research will be needed to understand the pathophysiology behind this effect.”
Cell cultures in the study showed heart muscle cells have cannabis receptors relevant to contractility, or squeezing ability.
This suggests that the receptors could be one mechanism affecting the cardiovascular system.
However, there are other compounds that could be developed to counteract that mechanism and reduce cardiovascular risk, according Dr Kalla.
She added: “Like all other drugs, whether they're prescribed or not prescribed, we want to know the effects and side effects of this drug.
“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.”
Previous studies have focused on the harm caused to the lungs or the mental state by marijuana use.
The researchers noted that because the study was based on hospital discharge records, the findings may not be reflective of the general population.
Dr Kalla said that the growing trend toward legalisation of marijuana in the US could mean that patients and doctors will become more comfortable speaking openly about marijuana use.
She says this would allow for better data collection and a better understanding into the drug's direct effects and side effects.
Credit: Daily Mail