Young adults who regularly smoke cannabis are more likely to suffer a heart attack than those who don’t use the drug, according to a new study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. After analyzing data pertaining to over 33,000 people between the ages of 18 and 44, the researchers conclude that getting high poses a danger to those who are not considered to be at risk of a heart attack due to their age.
To conduct their analysis, the study authors gathered information from the American Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys of 2017 and 2018, which contain data on cannabis use and other lifestyle factors among 33,173 young adults in the US. Of the 17.5 percent who reported recent cannabis use, the majority claimed to ingest some form of the plant at least four times a month.
Overall, myocardial infarctions occurred in 1.3 percent of those who had recently used weed, while only 0.8 percent of those who had not consumed pot suffered heart attacks. The study authors do admit that cannabis users also tended to be more likely to smoke cigarettes and consume alcohol regularly, all of which could have contributed to their heart attack risk. However, they say that their findings hold true even after adjusting for these confounding factors.
"We found an association between recent cannabis use and myocardial infarction, which persisted across an array of robust sensitivity analyses,” explained study author Dr. Karim Ladha in a statement. “Additionally, this association was consistent across different forms of cannabis consumption, including smoking, vaporization, and other methods such as edibles. This suggests that no method of consumption is safer than another in this regard."
Generally, edibles are considered to pose fewer health risks than smoked cannabis, yet the researchers say that this assumption may in fact be erroneous. To highlight this point, they single out a case study involving a heart attack that was apparently triggered by a cannabis lollipop containing a high concentration of the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
However, while the data hinted at an elevated risk of myocardial infarction following all forms of cannabis ingestion, this effect was only found to be statistically significant with regard to smoking. The link between pot and heart attack risk was also considerably weaker in those who reported getting high less than four times a month, suggesting that the dangers posed by cannabis may be limited to regular users.
While the study examined the statistical correlation between weed use and myocardial infarctions, it did not seek to determine a causal relationship between the two or uncover the biological mechanisms underlying this risk. The researchers therefore can’t say for certain how the drug impairs cardiovascular health, although they speculate that “cannabis exposure may contribute to a mismatch between myocardial oxygen supply and demand,” potentially triggering a heart attack.
Ultimately, therefore, they conclude that “further studies and more data are needed to confirm these findings and elucidate the mechanisms contributing to cannabis-associated cardiovascular outcomes.”