Marijuana Use Linked to Stroke and Heart Failure

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says marijuana is still the most commonly abused drug in the United States, even as medical and recreational cannabis are quickly becoming legal in numerous states across the nation. Similarly, the World Health Organization reports that marijuana is the world’s most widely abused illicit drug.

While cannabis may not be as dangerous as cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine, heavy use still presents certain threats to health and wellbeing, including respiratory problems and negative impacts on learning, attention and memory. Now, it looks like heavy users can add a higher risk of stroke and heart failure to the list of potential side effects.

Philadelphia’s Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia recently conducted a nationwide study in which researchers investigated the medical records of 20 million adult patients at more than 1,000 hospitals, or about 20 percent of all hospitals in the United States. The study, involving patients discharged in 2009 and 2010, took place before cannabis was widely legalized.

The study revealed that cannabis users are 10 percent more likely to develop heart failure and 26 percent more likely to suffer a stroke at some point in their lives than non-users. Researchers think that cannabis may affect the heart’s ability to contract, which prevents it from pumping effectively.

More Research to Come

While researchers think there may be a link between heavy marijuana use and cardiovascular problems, they also acknowledge that more extensive research is needed before making any solid conclusions, and that there are certain unknowns.

For example, the study didn’t track how the drug was used -- if it was ingested, vaped or smoked. It also didn’t follow frequency of use, or if the drug was used recreationally or medicinally.

Although results are inconclusive, scientists think it’s important to monitor medical marijuana users for potential problems, and for recreational users to be aware of possible risks. As the drug becomes more widely accepted, it is hoped that health care providers will feel comfortable discussing possible side effects with their patients.

If you Use Marijuana

The aim of the study wasn’t to blame users or criminalize use of cannabis, but simply to ensure that marijuana users have adequate information. Like any other drug, it’s important to be knowledgeable so you can weigh the benefits and the risks.

If you’re thinking about using marijuana for medical purposes, talk it over with your doctor to determine if use is appropriate, or if there are other potential side effects you may not be aware of.

If you use marijuana recreationally, monitor your use of the drug to be sure it isn’t excessive. If you are abusing marijuana or other drugs, consider drug and alcohol treatment or rehab. Don’t put it off; the longer you wait, the higher the risk of negative consequences to your health and wellbeing.

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