Cannabis Use May Raise Heart Attack and Stroke Risk, Study Finds

Rachel Lee

Written by Rachel Lee


Recent findings suggest that the use of cannabis may be linked to an increased likelihood of experiencing a stroke or heart attack. With the consumption of cannabis on the rise, these potential health concerns are becoming more pressing. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association delved into the relationship between cannabis use and heart health, analyzing data from a vast annual survey in the United States that spanned from 2016 to 2020.

The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System provided a data pool of 430,000 adults, offering insights into the health outcomes associated with cannabis. Smoking cannabis emerged as the most frequent consumption method, yet eating and vaporizing were also prevalent. Surprisingly, the risks associated with cannabis use were found to be on par with those faced by non-e-cigarette users, highlighting that even alternative forms of ingestion could be harmful to heart health.

Cannabis Use on the Rise

Statistics show a significant spike in cannabis use, with 48 million people reporting usage in 2019 compared to just 26 million in 2002. As the substance becomes legal in various forms across 40 states and Washington D.C., there’s a noticeable decline in the public’s perception of cannabis’s potential harm. This shift could have substantial implications for public health, especially considering the cardiovascular risks that were once merely suggested by previous research.

Cardiovascular Risks Associated with Cannabis

The recent study corroborates the notion that frequent cannabis use is associated with adverse cardiovascular outcomes. Daily users face a 25% increased risk of a heart attack and a 42% heightened risk of stroke. Moreover, younger adults using cannabis were found to have a 36% greater chance of developing premature cardiovascular disease. This significant association was present even among those who had never smoked tobacco or used nicotine e-cigarettes.

The demographic spanned from 18 to 74 years old, with an average age of 45, and included diverse racial representation. Among the participants, the majority did not use cannabis, 7% used it less than daily, and 4% were daily users. Non-users exhibited a lower risk of heart issues compared to their counterparts who consumed cannabis more frequently.

Dissecting the Study’s Findings and Limitations

While the study took into account other cardiovascular risk factors, it also admits certain limitations. The reliance on self-reported data and the snapshot nature of the information could affect the results. Nonetheless, the study’s large sample size provides a substantial foundation for its findings.

Experts not involved in the study have acknowledged the growing evidence of cannabis’s impact on heart health. The consumption of THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, may lead to an increase in systolic blood pressure and other adverse effects. In line with tobacco smoke, cannabis smoke is laden with carcinogens and mutagens, further underlining the potential health risks.

Implications for Policy and Public Health

The study also stands out for its consideration of non-inhalation forms of cannabis use, suggesting that the method of consumption does not necessarily reduce cardiovascular risk. With a dose-response relationship observed between THC consumption and major cardiovascular events, the findings indicate that risks escalate with the presence of additional cardiovascular risk factors.

For those using medically prescribed THC, the study underscores the importance of weighing risks and benefits carefully. Although cross-sectional surveys like this one cannot establish causation definitively, the patterns observed point to a need for caution.

Policy discussions around cannabis legalization should take these potential cardiovascular risks into account. The perception of cannabis as a safe substance is increasingly being challenged, and the study reinforces previous concerns about its cardiovascular implications.

Raising Awareness on Cannabis and Heart Health

This research highlights the urgent need for clear public health messaging regarding the risks of cannabis use. As the debate on cannabis legalization continues, understanding the full spectrum of its health effects is crucial. Public awareness campaigns and education initiatives should aim to inform individuals about the potential cardiovascular risks of cannabis, ensuring that they can make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing.