Cannabis may be a great choice for many patients seeking to treat a variety of medical problems, but past research has shown that it could pose serious heart health risks for users with no apparent heart benefits. In recent months, even more studies have surfaced that link regular cannabis consumption to an increase in risk from various heart problems. Here’s what you need to know.
According to Harvard Medical School, cannabinoids are known to have measurable effects on the cardiovascular system, including raising resting heart rate, dilating blood vessels and making the heart pump harder. While these short-term effects don’t generally pose a serious risk for those with a healthy heart, patients who suffer from established heart disease can develop chest pain more quickly if they have been using cannabis.
In 2020 a study published in the journal Circulation found that while more research is needed, cannabis had yet to show any positive effects in treating cardiovascular disease. “Health care professionals need a greater understanding of the health implications of cannabis, which has the potential to interfere with prescribed medications and/or trigger cardiovascular conditions or events, such as heart attacks and strokes,” said Robert L. Page II, professor in the department of clinical pharmacy and the department of physical medicine/rehabilitation at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
As with most cannabis studies conducted under the limitations of federal prohibition, the results are still only preliminary and suffer from a number of shortcomings. “Unfortunately, most of the available data are short-term, observational and retrospective studies, which identify trends but do not prove cause and effect,” said Page.
The risk of heart attack in the hour following cannabis use is reportedly several times higher than normal for all users, and regular cannabis users are particularly at risk of suffering from heart events. A Stanford University study published in late April 2022 in the journal Cell looked at more than 11,000 people between ages 40 and 69 who reported smoking cannabis at least once a month. That group was compared to 122,000 other people in the same age bracket who hadn’t consumed any cannabis and nearly 23,000 people who had smoked cannabis at a less frequent rate.
After controlling for age, gender and body mass index, researchers found that people who regularly smoked cannabis were more likely to suffer a first heart attack before age 50 than those who used less cannabis.
But the scientists also found a silver lining. Using machine learning models, they were able to identify a naturally occurring molecule in soybeans that blocks the harmful effects of THC in mice, although more research is needed to determine if it can help humans.
The takeaway: Cannabis is clearly a helpful treatment option for millions of Americans, but regular marijuana users need to be aware of the risk it poses to their heart health and be wary of symptoms indicating heart disease or heart attack.
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