Heart Health Risks for All Marijuana Consumers, New Report

Heart Health Risks for All Marijuana Consumers, New Report

A large new study about marijuana use answers some previously important unknowns about health risks from smoking, vaping, or using edible cannabis.

The findings are relevant to the nearly 1 in 5 people in the U.S. who use the drug annually.

Published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers found a higher risk of cardiovascular problems like heart attacks and strokes among daily and non-daily marijuana users, even if people didn’t also smoke or vape tobacco. 

The findings are based on survey responses from more than 434,000 people between 2016 and 2020 as part of the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. 

Respondents lived in 27 states and two U.S. territories. Among them, five had legalized recreational marijuana, like California, Colorado, and Guam. More than a dozen jurisdictions in the study had legalized medical marijuana. 

Survey respondents ranged in age from 18 to 74 years old and answered the question: “During the past 30 days, on how many days did you use marijuana or hashish?” Users were matched to non-users based on their responses and other demographic and health risk factors, like diabetes, alcohol use, or whether they’d ever smoked cigarettes.

Among survey respondents, 4% said they were daily marijuana users, and 7% said they were non-daily users. Among users, median monthly marijuana habits use was 5 days per month. About 3 in 4 users said their method of using marijuana was smoking.

Based on people’s self-reported experience of cardiovascular problems, the study revealed that any use of cannabis was linked to a higher risk of a heart attack or stroke, even if people had never used tobacco. The risk increased, based on how often a person smoked in a month. Specifically, the analysis showed that daily use increased the risk of:

  • Coronary heart disease by 16%
  • Heart attack by 25%
  • Stroke by 42%
  • Overall cardiovascular problems by 28%
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“Cannabis smoke is not all that different from tobacco smoke, except for the psychoactive drug: THC vs. nicotine,” lead study author Abra Jeffers, PhD, a data analyst at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said in a statement. “Our study shows that smoking cannabis has significant cardiovascular risk risks, just like smoking tobacco. This is particularly important because cannabis use is increasing, and conventional tobacco use is decreasing.”

These latest findings add to earlier evidence that heart problems were linked to marijuana use, but those initial studies had been limited by small sample sizes of users or were mostly based on younger users. Other prior research was limited in its ability to examine differences between people who used both marijuana and tobacco, compared to marijuana-only users. The researchers of this latest study concluded that their findings point to the need for health care providers to screen patients for marijuana use.


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