Even 1 Joint Per Week Enough to Boost Heart Disease Risk: Study

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New large-scale research presents some of the most damning evidence yet about marijuana’s impact on cardiovascular health.

Lighting up a joint once or more a week? That puff of marijuana could be seriously hurting your heart.

A new study finds that even relatively infrequent cannabis use is linked to higher risks of having a heart attack or stroke—and the more you smoke, the more danger you’re in.

The large-scale research presents some of the most damning evidence yet about marijuana’s impact on cardiovascular health.

Marijuana Smoking as Risky as Tobacco for Heart Health

Using cannabis is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, even among nontobacco smokers, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Previous research had linked marijuana use to heart disease risk, but those findings were often dismissed because many participants also smoked tobacco, which has long been linked to various cardiovascular issues.

In the new study, researchers analyzed data from over 434,000 patients aged 18 to 74, collected between 2016 and 2020 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey.

About 75 percent of the study participants said smoking was the most common way they consumed marijuana, but they also reported using edibles and vaping. However, the researchers did not specifically compare the risks of smoking marijuana versus consuming edibles.

25 Percent Higher Heart Attack Risk, 42 Percent Greater Stroke Risk

The study found that compared to those who never used marijuana, daily cannabis smokers had a 25 percent increased likelihood of heart attack and a 42 percent greater risk of experiencing strokes.

Among adults at risk for premature cardiovascular disease (defined as men under 55 and women under 65), cannabis use was significantly associated with nearly 40 percent higher combined odds of coronary heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, regardless of whether they used traditional tobacco products or not.

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The researchers conducted a separate analysis of a smaller subgroup of adults who never smoked tobacco or used nicotine e-cigarettes and still found a significant association between cannabis use and an increased combined risk of developing coronary heart disease, including heart attack and stroke.

“Cannabis smoke is not all that different from tobacco smoke, except for the psychoactive drug: THC vs. nicotine,” Abra Jeffers, a data analyst at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and lead study author, said in a press statement.

The study shows smoking cannabis has significant cardiovascular risks, just like smoking tobacco, she noted. “This is particularly important because cannabis use is increasing, and conventional tobacco use is decreasing.”

Notably, participants who reported using marijuana only once per week still showed about a 3 percent increased likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke during the study period. However, the study was not designed to establish whether marijuana use directly caused this increase in risk.

Legal Weed Fueling Rise in Cannabis Use Across US, Data Reveal

While marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, 24 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational cannabis possession and use so far.

A 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found more than 48 million people aged 12 or older reported using cannabis at least once, compared to only 25.8 million people in that age range in 2002—an increase from 11 percent to 17 percent. There is also evidence that this trend toward legalization has led to growing numbers of people living with addiction.

Recent data show a significant increase in cannabis usage. In 2007, approximately 10 percent of people used cannabis, but by 2022, that figure had more than doubled to 22 percent, according to SAMHSA.

The rise in cannabis consumption has also prompted concerns about the potential for marijuana use disorder. One study estimates that about one in three cannabis users may develop this disorder. Another study found that the risk is even greater for those who start using marijuana during their youth or adolescence and for those who use it more frequently.

Regardless of whether more states legalize cannabis, there is a need for more regulation of the forms, content, and marketing of cannabis products to consumers, Ms. Jeffers told The Epoch Times.

“Like tobacco, it should be legal but discouraged,” she said. “Furthermore, more guidance to physicians on screening and counseling for cannabis use is necessary.”

Marijuana Legalization Is Putting People at Risk: Doctor

The research contributes to the growing evidence linking cannabis use with increased cardiovascular-related deaths and highlights the inherent dangers of legalizing it, Dr. Christopher Varughese, an Interventional and General Cardiology physician at Staten Island University Hospital, not associated with the study, told The Epoch Times.

“They found an increased risk of coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction (heart attack), and stroke,” he said. “Legalization of cannabis may place the public at greater risk for future cardiovascular events.”

While the observational study couldn’t prove marijuana caused the increased cardiovascular disease risk, the findings suggest cannabis use should be held to the same standards as tobacco regarding health risks, Dr. Varughese noted, emphasizing the need for strong public awareness efforts on the potential future cardiovascular risks.

As more data emerge, there is a clear association between cannabis use and future cardiovascular events, Dr. Varughese said. The risk increases with more frequent use, independent of tobacco.

“Most importantly, the increased risk was also observed in younger individuals, highlighting the potential concerns for this population segment,” he said.

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