On November 6th, two new preliminary studies on recreational marijuana and its impact on health were discussed by the American Heart Association. These studies reinforce existing evidence suggesting that regular marijuana use can have negative effects on heart and brain health.
The first report, based on data from a significant study involving over 150,000 individuals from various backgrounds in American society, examined the connection between lifestyle, biology, and the environment. It found that daily marijuana use increased the risk of developing heart failure by approximately one-third compared to non-users.
A research team from Medstar Health, a nonprofit health provider in the Baltimore-Washington area, discovered that among 156,999 healthy participants they followed, those who used marijuana had a 34% higher risk of developing heart failure during the 45-month study period, compared to those who had never used marijuana. This risk was consistent regardless of age, gender, or smoking history.
The study, part of the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us research program, suggested that coronary artery disease might be the pathway through which daily marijuana use contributes to heart failure. A total of 2,958 people, which is just under 2% of the participants, developed heart failure during the study period.
The analysis considered demographic and economic factors, alcohol consumption, smoking, and other cardiovascular risk factors associated with heart failure, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity.
The lead study author, Yakubu Bene-Alhasan, a resident physician at Medstar Health in Baltimore, emphasized the need for more research on marijuana use and its impact on cardiovascular health to better understand its implications and inform policy decisions, educate patients, and guide healthcare professionals.
However, the authors noted that the study did not differentiate between smoking and oral consumption of marijuana, which could have varying effects on the cardiovascular system.
The study defined marijuana use as non-prescription intake, or, if used for medical purposes, not using it as prescribed or beyond its intended use. The average age of participants was 54, with 60.9% of them being women.
Almost 72% were white, while just under 22% were Black or African Americans, and 4.2% were Asian adults. The remaining 3.3% belonged to other races and ethnicities or identified as having multiple races or ethnicities.
Another study of 28,535 older non-tobacco users who had Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol found that marijuana users had a 20% higher risk of a major acute heart or brain event compared to non-users.
Additionally, 13.9% of marijuana users experienced a serious heart event or stroke. This study used data from patients aged 65 years or older from the 2019 National Inpatient Sample. It also revealed that 7.6% of cannabis users had a heart attack compared to 6% of non-users and were 50% more likely to be transferred to other facilities.
The lead study author, Dr. Avilash Mondal, a resident physician at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia, emphasized the importance of understanding the potential increased cardiovascular risk associated with cannabis use in older adults and recommended that physicians inquire about cannabis or marijuana use when taking a patient’s medical history.
These studies contribute to the growing body of evidence that high blood pressure (defined as 130/80 mm Hg or above) and high cholesterol are predictors of major adverse heart and brain events in individuals who use marijuana.
The authors acknowledged study limitations, including possible coding errors in patients’ health records regarding marijuana and variations in electronic codes for cannabis use disorder across hospitals, which could affect the analysis findings.
Both of these preliminary studies are scheduled to be presented at the AHA’s 2023 Scientific Sessions in Philadelphia from Saturday through next Monday.