Cannabis, also known as marijuana, has been gaining popularity in recent years — and not just among recreational users who enjoy getting high. Research has shown that this drug is often helpful to people who have chronic pain, including those with arthritis and other rheumatic conditions. There’s also good evidence that it can help combat chemo-induced nausea and treat some types of epileptic seizures. But there are some notable side effects, too, and it appears that an increased risk of heart problems might be among them.
Research in this area is limited, so there are a still a lot of unknowns. But a review of studies, recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, suggests that there may be a connection between cannabis and heart disease. According to the authors, several observational studies (which show an association but can’t prove causation) have found a link between marijuana and cardiovascular problems, including arrhythmias (heart rhythm disorders) and coronary artery disease (hardening and narrowing of the arteries that lead to the heart).
The biggest health risks likely stem from smoking this drug, as the combustion process generates particulate matter that may harm lungs as well as blood vessels.
“Patients should be reminded that marijuana (when smoked) yields an inhaled chemical profile comparable to tobacco smoking,” the authors wrote.
Other ingestion methods may be safer, but the authors noted that there has been at least one report of a marijuana edible triggering a heart attack.
Although the researchers admit that the quality and quantity of currently available evidence showing that marijuana is truly bad for the heart is “inadequate,” they suggest that people with cardiovascular disease and those who are at high risk it be advised by physicians to minimize their use of this drug or avoid it completely. Your doctor may or may not agree, but it is a conversation worth having.
DeFilippis EM, et al. Marijuana Use in Patients With Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. January 2020. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2019.11.025.
Lou N. Time to Screen for Marijuana Use in Heart Patients? MedPage Today. January 20, 2020. https://www.medpagetoday.com/cardiology/prevention/84432.
Neale T. CardioBuzz: Is Marijuana Bad for Your Heart? MedPage Today. April 24, 2014. https://www.medpagetoday.com/cardiology/acutecoronarysyndrome/45413.
The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Math. January 2017. https://www.nap.edu/resource/24625/Cannabis_chapter_highlights.pdf.