LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – The American Heart Association issued a warning to frequent users of marijuana that regular use may raise risk for heart failure among other concerns after two studies were published. 

“Prior research shows links between marijuana use and cardiovascular disease like coronary artery disease, heart failure and atrial fibrillation, which is known to cause heart failure,” said lead study author Yakubu Bene-Alhasan, M.D., M.P.H., a resident physician at Medstar Health in Baltimore. “Marijuana use isn’t without its health concerns, and our study provides more data linking its use to cardiovascular conditions.”

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There were nearly 157,000 adults who enrolled and were followed during the All of Us Research Program without any heart failure at the time of enrollment in the program. Bene-Alhasan and colleagues tracked participants’ frequency of marijuana use for nearly four years taking into account various factors including: alcohol use, smoking and other cardiovascular risk factors linked with heart failure, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity. 

  • During the study period, 2,958 people (almost 2%) developed heart failure.
  • People who reported daily marijuana use had a 34% increased risk of developing heart failure, compared to those who reported never using marijuana. This risk was the same regardless of age, sex at birth or smoking history.
  • In a secondary analysis, when coronary artery disease was added to the investigation, the risk of heart failure dropped from 34% to 27%, suggesting that coronary artery disease is a pathway through which daily marijuana use may lead to heart failure.

“Our results should encourage more researchers to study the use of marijuana to better understand its health implications, especially on cardiovascular risk,” Bene-Alhasan said. “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.”

In a second study shared by the American Heart Association, took data from the National Inpatient Sample, the largest nationwide database of hospitalizations, and sought to determine a relationship between hospitalizations and marijuana use.  Researchers took patient records of those 65 years and older with cardiovascular risk factors, who had no tobacco use, then divided the group into subgroups based on marijuana use. 

“Since 2015, cannabis use in the U.S. has almost doubled, and it is increasing in older adults, therefore, understanding the potential increased cardiovascular risk from cannabis use is important,” said lead study author Avilash Mondal, M.D., a resident physician at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia. “What is unique about our study is that patients who were using tobacco were excluded because cannabis and tobacco are sometimes used together, therefore, we were able to specifically examine cannabis use and cardiovascular outcomes.”

The study found numerous results within the 28,535 cannabis users with existing cardiovascular risk factors (high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol):

  • 20% had an increased chance of having a major heart or brain event while hospitalized, compared to the group who did not use cannabis.
  • 13.9% of cannabis users with cardiovascular risk factors had a major adverse heart and brain event while hospitalized compared to non-cannabis users.
  • Additionally, the cannabis users in comparison to non-cannabis users had a higher rate of heart attacks (7.6% versus 6%, respectively) and were more likely to be transferred to other facilities (28.9% vs. 19%).
  • High blood pressure (defined as greater than 130/80 mm Hg) and high cholesterol were predictors of major adverse heart and brain events in marijuana users.

Professor Robert Page with the Departments of Clinical Pharmacy and Physical Medicine at the University of Colorado in Aurora, CO, shared his takeaway from the two studies. 

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“The latest research about cannabis use indicates that smoking and inhaling cannabis increases concentrations of blood carboxyhemoglobin (carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas), 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,” Professor Page said. “Together with the results of these two research studies, the cardiovascular risks of cannabis use are becoming clearer and should be carefully considered and monitored by health care professionals and the public.”

The city of Detroit recently awarded 37 new recreational marijuana licenses for retail out of 65 applications, awarding the majority a license to operate a recreational marijuana dispensary earlier this week. According to a House Fiscal Agency report, Michigan has collected almost $100 million more in recreational marijuana excise taxes than it did in the fiscal year 2022, totaling $266.2 million, also surpassing the total tax revenue from beer, wine, and liquor combined.