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Frequent Marijuana Smoking Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Attack, Study Suggests

Note from Michael Angelo, owner, Encompass Counseling Center: The following article written by Aria Bendix, the breaking health reported for NBC News Digital, dispels the public perception that marijuana is completely safe and even healthy for you. However, in reality, a high dose of THC—the main component of marijuana—causes vascular inflammation, leading to heart problems later in life.

Like it or not, smoking marijuana at least once a month is linked to an elevated risk of heart attack, according to a study among nearly 160,000 people in the United Kingdom. The research, published in the journal Cell, looked at more than 11,000 people between ages 40 and 69 who said they smoked marijuana at least once a month. Scientists then compared that group to 122,000 other people in the same age bracket who did not smoke marijuana at all, and nearly 23,000 more individuals who smoked less frequently.

The study controlled for age, gender, and body mass index—three factors that influenced the risk of heart disease—and found that people who smoked marijuana frequently were more likely than people who did not to have a first heart attack before age 50. Having one heart attack increased the lifelong risk of having another or developing heart failure.

Similar Finding by CDC

The findings aligned with similar research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who already warned that smoking marijuana could lead to an increased risk of heart disease. A 2021 CDC study identified an association between heart attacks and marijuana use in young adults. But the new UK study went a step further, since it also attempted to figure out why smoking weed could lead to heart problems.

Researchers suggested that using THC frequently could activate that receptor in a way that led to inflammation in blood vessels, which in turn could accelerate a buildup of plaque in the arteries that could lead to a heart attack.

To investigate that, the researchers studied how THC affected both human stem cells and mice stem cells. It was already known that when people smoked marijuana, THC bound with a receptor in the brain, which was what gave the feeling of being high. In their lab studies, the team found that THC also bound to that receptor in blood vessels.

So, the researchers suggested that using THC frequently could activate that receptor in a way that led to inflammation in blood vessels, which in turn could accelerate a buildup of plaque in the arteries that could lead to a heart attack.

“The public has this perception—in my opinion, misperception—that marijuana is completely safe and it’s healthy for you. But in reality, this study shows a high dose of THC, the main component of marijuana, causes vascular inflammation,” said Joseph Wu, the study’s senior author and the director of the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute.

Cannabis use has become increasingly prevalent in the United States during the last decade. In 2020, around 18 percent of Americans ages 12 and older reported using marijuana in the prior year, compared to 7 percent in 2010.

Cannabis use has become increasingly prevalent in the United States during the last decade. In 2020, around 18 percent of Americans ages 12 and older reported using marijuana in the prior year, compared to 7 percent in 2010. Wu said the legalization of marijuana in many states had most likely influenced this trend. Many people might also feel more comfortable reporting their marijuana use as the drug became more culturally accepted. 

Additionally, Wu said, cannabis legalization has led marijuana cigarettes to get more potent, with higher levels of THC.

“As more states legalize marijuana, and as the growers . . . keep on coming up with more and more potent marijuana ingredients . . . you’re going to see increased incidents of cardiovascular disease.”

“In the old days, one joint was like 5 percent THC,” Wu said. “Right now, some of the suppliers are providing one joint that has 85 percent THC.”

The dosage of THC may influence the risk of heart disease, Wu thinks.

“As more states legalize marijuana, and as the growers, the suppliers keep on coming up with more and more potent marijuana ingredients, in my opinion you’re going to see increased incidents of cardiovascular disease,” he said.

Wu added that he would expect the same risks from smoking marijuana and consuming edibles.

“If you’re taking one or two edibles, that’s fine, but if you’re popping edibles like gummy bears, then that’s not good,” Wu said.

That doesn’t necessarily mean marijuana is devoid of health benefits, though. Early research indicates that other compounds in marijuana, like CBD, may have anti-inflammatory properties that could help with chronic pain.

That doesn’t necessarily mean marijuana is devoid of health benefits, though. Early research indicates that other compounds in marijuana, like CBD, may have anti-inflammatory properties that could help with chronic pain, though more data is needed.

“We would have to do additional studies to show that CBD has anti-inflammatory effects,” Wu said. “But the THC here, we don’t think it’s anti-inflammatory. We think it’s pro-inflammatory.”

Reference

Bendix, Aria. NBC News Digital. April 30, 2022. “Frequent Marijuana Smoking Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Attack, Study Suggests.” Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/frequent-marijuana-smoking-risk-heart-attack-rcna26670

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