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Risk of heart attack, stroke rises with more frequent use of marijuana

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Both daily and non-daily marijuana users had an increased risk of heart attack and stroke compared to non-users, researchers reported. Photo by Adobe Stock/HealthDay News

Folks who use marijuana have a greater risk of heart attack and stroke, with the odds rising even higher when they partake every day, a new study finds.

Both daily and non-daily marijuana users had an increased risk of heart attack and stroke compared to non-users, researchers reported Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Further, the risk grew with more frequent use. Daily weed users had 25% higher odds of heart attack and 42% higher odds of stroke compared to non-users, results show.

Smoking weed in particular could pose harmful health effects compared to eating or vaping it, researchers said.

"Smoking cannabis -- the predominant method of use -- may pose additional risks because particulate matter is inhaled," said lead researcher Abra Jeffers, a data analyst at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

For the study, researchers reviewed federal survey data collected on more than 430,000 adults between 2016 and 2020.

Nearly 90% of adults didn't use weed at all, 7% used it less than daily and 4% reported daily use. About 74% of weed users reported smoking as the most common form of cannabis consumption.

Researchers specifically looked at potential associations between cannabis use and heart disease, heart attack and stroke among the general adult population -- including those who did and didn't smoke tobacco.

"Our sample was large enough that we could investigate the association of cannabis use with cardiovascular outcomes among adults who had never used tobacco cigarettes or e-cigarettes," Jeffers noted in a journal news release.

About 29% of daily weed users and 45% of non-daily users had never smoked tobacco, researchers found.

"Cannabis smoke is not all that different from tobacco smoke, except for the psychoactive drug: THC vs. nicotine," Jeffers continued. "Our study shows that smoking cannabis has significant cardiovascular risks, just like smoking tobacco. This is particularly important because cannabis use is increasing, and conventional tobacco use is decreasing."

The data also showed that among younger adults at risk for premature heart disease -- men younger than 55 and women younger than 65 -- cannabis use was associated with 36% higher combined odds of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. That held regardless of whether they'd also smoked tobacco.

In fact, a separate analysis of weed users who'd never smoked or vaped found a significant increase in their combined odds for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

There are now 24 states that have legalized the use of recreational cannabis, researchers said in background notes.

"As cannabis use continues to grow in legality and access across the U.S., practitioners and clinicians need to remember to assess cannabis use at each patient encounter in order to have a non-judgmental, shared decision conversation about potential cardiovascular risks and ways to reduce those risks," said Robert Page, a professor with the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences who wasn't involved in the study.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the health effects of marijuana.

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