How Cannabis Smoke Can Harm Your Heart: A New NIH Study

Cannabis, or marijuana, is the most widely used illicit drug in the U.S., but its effects on the heart are not well understood. A new study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), reveals a significant link between frequent cannabis smoking and increased risks of heart attack and stroke.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, uses data from nearly 435,000 American adults, and is among the largest ever to explore the relationship between cannabis and cardiovascular events. The researchers analyzed the self-reported cannabis use and the occurrence of coronary heart disease, heart attack, and stroke among the participants, who were aged 18 to 59 years and had no history of cardiovascular disease at the start of the study.

The researchers found that daily use of cannabis — predominately through smoking — was associated with a 25% increased likelihood of heart attack and a 42% increased likelihood of stroke when compared to non-use of the drug. Less frequent use was also associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events. Weekly users showed a 3% increased likelihood of heart attack and a 5% increased likelihood of stroke.

The Implications: A Need for Awareness and Prevention

The study has important implications for the public health and the clinical practice, as it provides evidence that cannabis smoking may pose a serious threat to the heart health. The researchers suggest that the toxins released when cannabis is burned, similar to those found in tobacco smoke, may be responsible for the harmful effects. They also note that the endocannabinoid receptors, which are involved in the response to cannabis, are present in the cardiovascular tissues and may influence the heart function.

The researchers call for more awareness and prevention of the potential cardiovascular risks of cannabis smoking, especially among the young adults who are more likely to use the drug. They also urge for more research and regulation on the safety and quality of the cannabis products, as well as the potential interactions with other medications and substances.

The Context: A Changing Landscape of Cannabis Use and Policy

The study comes at a time when the cannabis use and policy are changing rapidly in the U.S. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 48.2 million people aged 12 or older reported using cannabis at least once, compared to 25.8 million people in 2002. The survey also showed that the perceptions of the harmfulness of cannabis smoking are decreasing, and that more people are using cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.

Currently, 24 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized the use of recreational cannabis, and 36 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized the use of medical cannabis. However, cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, and its effects on the health and the society are not fully understood. The NIH and other federal agencies are supporting various research projects to investigate the benefits and harms of cannabis, and to inform the public and the policymakers about the best practices and policies regarding the drug.

A new NIH study shows a significant link between frequent cannabis smoking and increased risks of heart attack and stroke, highlighting the need for awareness and prevention.

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