BOSTON — Measures legalizing marijuana are becoming more common in the United States. As recreational and medicinal usage rises, cardiologists warn there are potential risks to this growing trend. According to a new study, as many as two million heart disease patients are current or former marijuana users.
Researchers behind the study also draw concerning parallels between tobacco and pot use.
“Some observational studies have suggested an association between marijuana and a range of cardiovascular risks,” says lead researcher Muthiah Vaduganathan in an American College of Cardiology (ACC) release. “We also know that marijuana is becoming increasingly potent. Our review suggests that smoking marijuana carries many of the same cardiovascular health hazards as smoking tobacco.”
Although the study authors say there is only a “modest” amount of evidence, they advise patients at high risk for heart attack, irregular heartbeat, or heart failure to use caution when dealing with these substances.
The report adds that these health issues may also impact people using marijuana for serious conditions. These include immunodeficiency virus-related weight loss, disorders causing seizures, or patients on chemotherapy.
Marijuana’s impact on medications
The study finds cardiovascular medications, like statins and blood thinners, can also be affected by marijuana use. When mixed with pot, statin levels can increase in the blood. Researchers say both break down in the body through a connection of liver enzymes called the cytochrome P450 system.
Blood thinner levels like warfarin will also increase when coupled with cannabis.
The researcher from Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Heart and Vascular Center suggests cardiologists screen patients in case a change in dosage is needed. Doctors are advised to ask how frequently and how much marijuana their patients use. With an influx of new ways people are using to consume cannabis, the study says it’s important to factor in everything, including vaping.
“Vaping marijuana is becoming more and more common, and we know vaping marijuana increases the pharmacological effects of the drug,” Vaduganathan explains.
Research limited by the law
While pharmacists and cardiologists can recommend Americans stop or limit their marijuana use, it’s ultimately up to the patients. The report recommends patients limit their use and stay informed about their risk for cardiovascular issues, especially if vaping.
Despite being legal in some states, it is still a Class 1 drug. Due to federal laws, data and research on pot use and its effect on the heart and overall health is limited, Vaduganathan says. Researchers hope fewer restrictions will allow them to find out more about marijuana’s true impact on the human body.
“Now that we have seen marijuana use become more popular than tobacco smoking, we need more rigorous research, including randomized clinical trials, to explore the effects of marijuana on cardiovascular health.”
This study is published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.