Smoking weed may increase risk of stroke, arrhythmia in young adults, warns American Heart Association

Frequent use of cannabis in young adults was linked to an increased risk of stroke, and people diagnosed with cannabis use disorder were found to be more likely to being hospitalized for arrhythmia (heart rhythm disturbances), according to two new studies that were presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2019.

In the first study, researchers at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, studied more than 43,000 adult participants between the ages of 18 and 24. Approximately 14 percent of the total participant pool reported having used cannabis in the 30 days prior.

Frequent cannabis users who also smoked cigarettes or e-cigarettes were three times more likely to have a stroke than non-users. Those who did not use tobacco but reported using cannabis at least 10 days out of the month were found to be nearly two-and-a-half times as likely to have a stroke compared to non-users.

Cannabis users were also found to be more likely to be heavy drinkers, as well as current cigarette or e-cigarette users. It’s possible that this may have influenced their risk, although the researchers adjusted for those factors in their analysis.

“Young cannabis users, especially those who use tobacco and have other risk factors for strokes, such as high blood pressure, should understand that they may be raising their risk of having a stroke at a young age,” said lead study author Tarang Parekh, M.B.B.S., M.S., a health policy researcher at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

“Physicians should ask patients if they use cannabis and counsel them about its potential stroke risk as part of regular doctor visits,” he added.

Two new studies have found a link between frequent cannabis use and increased risk of stroke, as well as a link between cannabis use disorder and increased risk of arrhythmia.

Two new studies have found a link between frequent cannabis use and increased risk of stroke, as well as a link between cannabis use disorder and increased risk of arrhythmia. (Courtesy of the American Heart Association)

A second study looked patients who have been diagnosed with cannabis use disorder — characterized by frequent, compulsive use of marijuana, similar to alcoholism — and found that people with the disorder have a 50 percent higher risk of being hospitalized due to an arrhythmia compared to non-users.

In particular, the study found that young African American men aged 15 to 24 who have cannabis use disorder had the greatest risk of being hospitalized due to arrhythmia.

However, the demographic group most likely to be diagnosed with this disorder are white men aged 45 to 54.Some arrhythmias can be benign, but others can be life-threatening.

“The effects of using cannabis are seen within 15 minutes and last for around three hours. At lower doses, it is linked to a rapid heartbeat. At higher doses, it is linked to a too-slow heartbeat,” said Rikinkumar S. Patel, M.D., M.P.H., resident physician in the department of psychiatry at the Griffin Memorial Hospital in Norman, Oklahoma.

“The risk of cannabis use linked to arrhythmia in young people is a major concern, and physicians should ask patients hospitalized with arrhythmias about their use of cannabis and other substances because they could be triggering their arrhythmias,” said Patel.

“As medical and recreational cannabis is legalized in many states, it is important to know the difference between therapeutic cannabis dosing for medical purposes and the consequences of cannabis abuse. We urgently need additional research to understand these issues,” said Patel.

In both studies, the findings were merely observational and do not yet establish any sort of causal relationship, but authors of both studies say that the noted trends are enough to warrant more research into the effects of overusing and abusing cannabis.

“As these products become increasingly used across the country, getting clearer, scientifically rigorous data is going to be important as we try to understand the overall health effects of cannabis,” said Robert Harrington, M.D., president of the American Heart Association and the Arthur L. Bloomfield professor of medicine and chairman of the department of medicine at Stanford University in Stanford, California.

The American Heart Association does not have an opinion on the legalization of marijuana, but in locations where cannabis has been legalized, the Association calls for a public health infrastructure that places the use of cannabis into the same regulated space as tobacco through efforts such as age restrictions for purchasing and comprehensive smoke-free air laws, among other measures.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.