Marijuana, also known as cannabis, has been the subject of much debate and controversy over the years. While some people believe it has various medicinal properties, others view it as a harmful drug that can lead to addiction and other health issues. One of the most significant concerns related to marijuana use is its impact on the heart and cardiovascular system.
Recently, a study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session Together With the World Congress of Cardiology shed new light on the relationship between marijuana use and coronary artery disease (CAD). The study found that people who used marijuana daily were about one-third more likely to develop CAD than those who have never used the drug. This finding highlights the importance of understanding the potential risks associated with marijuana use, particularly for individuals with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions.
Coronary artery disease is a condition in which the arteries that supply blood to the heart become narrow or blocked, leading to reduced blood flow to the heart. This can cause chest pain (angina), shortness of breath, and, in some cases, heart attacks. The condition is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, and many risk factors contribute to its development, such as high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, and obesity.
In the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 32,000 people who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2015 and 2018. The survey is conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and collects health-related data from a representative sample of the U.S. population.
“We found that cannabis use is linked to CAD, and there seems to be a dose-response relationship in that more frequent cannabis use is associated with a higher risk of CAD,” said Ishan Paranjpe, MD, a resident physician at Stanford University and the study’s lead author. “In terms of the public health message, it shows that there are probably certain harms of cannabis use that weren’t recognized before, and people should take that into account.”
The participants were divided into three groups: those who have never used marijuana, those who have used it but not in the past 30 days, and those who have used it daily or almost daily in the past 30 days. The researchers then examined the prevalence of CAD in each group. They found that 6% of people who have never used marijuana had CAD, compared with 10.4% of those who had used it daily in the past 30 days.
Furthermore, the researchers found that the association between marijuana use and CAD was independent of other traditional risk factors for the condition, such as smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes. This means that even in people who did not have any other risk factors, daily marijuana use was still associated with a higher risk of CAD.
The study’s findings are consistent with previous research that has linked marijuana use to cardiovascular problems. For example, a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2018 found that marijuana use was associated with a higher risk of stroke, heart failure, and coronary artery disease. Another study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology in 2020 found that marijuana use was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, in people with pre-existing cardiovascular disease.
The exact mechanisms by which marijuana use may lead to cardiovascular problems are still not fully understood. However, some researchers believe that marijuana use can increase heart rate and blood pressure, which can put additional stress on the heart. Additionally, some components of marijuana smoke, such as carbon monoxide, can reduce the amount of oxygen that the blood can carry, leading to reduced oxygen supply to the heart and other organs.
“From a scientific standpoint, these findings are exciting because they suggest there might be new drug targets and mechanisms we can explore to take control of this pathway going forward,” Paranjpe said.
It is important to note that the study only found an association between marijuana use and CAD and cannot prove causation. It is possible that other factors, such as lifestyle choices or genetic predisposition, may have influenced the results. Additionally, the study did not differentiate between different forms of marijuana use, such as smoking, vaping, or edibles, which may have different effects on the cardiovascular system.
Although therer's still a federal moratorium on marihuana possessions and usage, over half of states have legalized or decriminalized recreational use and three-quarters sanction its medical use. A study conducted in 2019 estimated that about 18% of U.S. adults used marijuana in that year, and indications are that that number will continue to climb.
By helping to better understand the molecular pathways involved in marijuana use and heart disease, the findings could open new opportunities for interventions to prevent or treat heart disease.