Marijuana use raises risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke, studies say

A pair of studies have found that older adults who use marijuana have more risk of heart attack or stroke when hospitalized than non-users and are more likely to develop heart failure if they are a daily user.

The two studies, which have not been published, were presented Monday at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in Philadelphia. Both studies excluded cannabis users who also smoke tobacco to focus solely on the cardiovascular effects of marijuana consumption.

The AHA recommends against smoking tobacco or marijuana because of the potential damaging effects on the heart, lungs and blood vessels.

“The latest research about cannabis use indicates that smoking and inhaling cannabis increases concentrations of blood carboxyhemoglobin (carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas) and tar (partly burned combustible matter) similar to the effects of inhaling a tobacco cigarette, both of which have been linked to heart muscle disease, chest pain, heart rhythm disturbances, heart attacks and other serious conditions,” University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences professor Robert Page II said in a statement.

The number of seniors age 65 and over who report smoking marijuana or consuming edibles increased in recent years, even doubling between 2015 and 2018, according to CNN.

One of the studies presented Monday found that frequent marijuana use has a negative effect on people with chronic conditions, like high blood pressure and cholesterol or diabetes. The researchers found that people who use marijuana had a 20% greater risk of of having a heart attack or stroke while hospitalized.

Furthermore, in the short term, smoking marijuana lowers blood pressure, which can lead to stroke if levels drop enough. Over longer periods of time, marijuana use can lead to an increase in blood pressure, which can lead to cardiovascular difficulties.

The second study, which was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, found that daily marijuana users were more likely to develop heart failure — when the heart does not pump oxygenated blood to support other internal organs as well as efficiently as it can — compared to people who reported not smoking.

Roughly 6.2 million adults in the United States have heart failure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We want to provide the population with high-quality information on marijuana use and to help inform policy decisions at the state level, to educate patients and to guide health care professionals,” lead study author Yakubu Bene-Alhasan, M.D., M.P.H., a resident physician at Medstar Health in Baltimore, said in a statement.