New studies suggest a link between cannabis and risk of heart damage, arrhythmia, and stroke.
In the latest cannabis health research, researchers aimed to determine the impact that cannabis consumption can have on heart health and the greater vascular system. The results of these studies suggest a substantially increased risk of adverse neuro-cardiovascular health outcomes for cannabis consumers. The idea that cannabis can damage your heart is alarming, considering there is other evidence to the contrary.
A survey conducted by Marist University found that thirty-five million Americans are “regular users.” Their definition of this is a person who consumes cannabis at least once or twice a month. In an era of increasing awareness of the health benefits of cannabis, these investigations deserve attention. However, health-related cannabis research is complex, and many factors require further consideration.
Can Cannabis Consumption Really Damage Your Heart?
In a study published in Medicina (2019), researchers looked at over fifty-two million hospitalization records between 2007 and 2014. They found that seven hundred thousand of those records included young, current or former, cannabis consumers. And these did not have a history of other substance consumption, including tobacco. The frequency of admission to hospital for acute myocardial infarction and heart arrhythmia was significantly higher in cannabis consumers compared to non-consumers.
In another study, researchers found that young people diagnosed with cannabis use disorder were particularly at risk. They have a forty-seven to fifty-two percent greater risk of ending up in hospital for heart arrhythmia. Cannabis use disorder describes a problematic pattern of cannabis consumption that leads to significant impairment or distress. Heart arrhythmias can increase the risk of a blockage in blood flow and lead to a stroke or heart damage.
Cannabis Consumption and an Increased Incidence of Stroke
A study recently published in Stroke (2019), aimed to evaluate the risk of stroke in cannabis consumers. The researchers analyzed data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (2016 – 2017) and found that nearly fourteen percent of participants reported consuming cannabis in the last month. Again, the researchers adjusted for tobacco consumption and discovered substantial increases in the risk of stroke for those who regularly consumed cannabis. Those who consumed cannabis more than ten days per month had 2.45 greater odds of having a stroke.
The authors highlight that the research represents an association between cannabis consumption and increased odds of a stroke, and not a causal relationship. A possible explanation for the increased risk of stroke for those who regularly consume cannabis is that THC has pro-coagulant effects.
The pro-coagulant nature of THC could form blood clots in frequent consumers and lead to an increased risk of stroke. There may also be a dose-response relationship between the pro-coagulant effects of THC and stroke. Meaning that the higher the frequency and amount of THC consumed, the greater the risk of stroke. However, science has not identified what constitutes a dangerous level of cannabis consumption.
How Much Cannabis is Too Much?
Unlike alcohol or other drugs, it is generally accepted that the dose required to die from cannabis consumption is not possible. However, this does not mean that problematic levels of cannabis consumption do not exist. When consumed appropriately, cannabis can be a powerful tool for the treatment of many physical and mental ailments. It can also provide an overall sense of well-being. But, what is an appropriate or healthy amount of cannabis? The populations in the previously mentioned studies suggest that problematic levels of cannabis consumption may be responsible for the increased risk of adverse neuro-cardiovascular events.
The one population consisted of individuals diagnosed with cannabis use disorder. While the other study notes that the increased risk of stroke was only in those who consumed cannabis more than ten days per month. In this same study, those who consumed cannabis less than ten days a month had only eight percent higher odds of stroke.
However, this could be a very misleading method of measuring cannabis consumption. After all, it is possible to consume more cannabis in five days than one would in the previous thirty. Future research should aim to identify how much cannabis is too much. In addition to better understanding the amount of cannabis consumed, researchers should direct more attention to the safety of differing methods of cannabis consumption.
Some Methods of Consumption are Healthier than Others
Although it is considered by many to be less harmful than smoking tobacco, smoking cannabis still involves combustion. This can expose consumers to some of the same carcinogens found in tobacco smoke. For this reason, some medical professionals suggest patients consume using other products, like edibles and oils.
Smoking cannabis remains the most popular method of consumption. The increased odds of an adverse neuro-cardiovascular event may not be a direct result of the cannabis itself. Instead, it may be a result of the participants’ preferred method of consumption. Future studies will need to investigate this possibility.
Risk is Small for Cannabis Consumers
Millions of people have consumed cannabis for decades. There seems to be a disconnect between the proposed health risks and the number of cannabis consumers who experience such issues. This has led some investigators to believe there is a low risk of cardiovascular events in cannabis consumers. While others point out the potential benefits of cannabis on the cardiovascular system, some key questions remain unanswered. The final word is that research into the effect of cannabis on the neuro-cardiovascular system needs to be further explored.