Marijuana use associated with heart attack and stroke

Two new studies point to an increased risk of cardiovascular problems

Person holding marijuana joint.
The healh implications of cannabis usage is still being studied
(Image credit: Peter Dazeley / Getty Images)

Marijuana use may be linked to a higher risk of heart attack, heart disease and stroke, according to two preliminary studies presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2023. The research found that people who use marijuana daily were 34% more likely to develop heart failure. However, the study doesn’t prove that marijuana usage causes these health complications, rather, it points to an association worth studying. 

Scientists have associated cardiovascular risk with marijuana in previous studies, but "further studies are needed to validate these findings and further explore potential mechanisms," Gregg Fonarow, director of the Ahmanson-UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center in Los Angeles, told HealthDay. “Marijuana use isn’t without its health concerns,” Yakubu Bene-Alhasan, a resident physician at Medstar Health in Baltimore, who led one of the studies, said in a statement. “Our results should encourage more researchers to study the use of marijuana to better understand its health implications, especially on cardiovascular risk.”

The other study found that cannabis users over 65 with existing cardiovascular risk factors including high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol had higher rates of cardiovascular issues compared to those who didn’t use. It is important to note that “both abusers and non-users had already been diagnosed with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol,” and “the study found that having high blood pressure readings of over 130/80 mm Hg and high cholesterol were key predictors of major adverse heart and brain events in the marijuana users,” CNN explained.

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Despite the findings, marijuana has had a positive effect on many users and has often been used for medical purposes. Other factors, such as diet and exercise, also greatly impact the risk of cardiovascular complications. "My presumption is it's the association with other unhealthy behaviors rather than cannabis use per se that is driving the association highlighted in these latest AHA papers,"  Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, which advocates for the legalization of marijuana, told HealthDay.

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