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Call for urgent research as cannabis use links to stroke and heart problems

A new study has called for urgent research into the health effects of cannabis when not used for medical purposes.

Two new preliminary studies – to be published in the journal Stroke – have suggested that cannabis use links to stroke risk in young people.

Links have also been made between those who have a cannabis use disorder – characterised by frequent, compulsive use of marijuana, similar to alcoholism – and increased likelihood of heart rhythm disturbances (arrhythmias).

Robert Harrington, president of the American Heart Association and the Arthur L. Bloomfield professor of medicine at Stanford University in Stanford, California, said: “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.”

Stroke risk in young people

The data revealed that young people who were frequent cannabis users, and who also smoked cigarettes or e-cigarettes, were three times more likely to have a stroke compared to non-users, and that those who used cannabis for 10 days or more were 2.5 times more likely to have a stroke compared to those that did not smoke cannabis.

The study noted that although it shows cannabis use links to stroke, cannabis users were also more likely to be heavy drinkers, current cigarette users and e-cigarette users, which may have also influenced their risk – the researchers adjusted for those factors.

Lead study author Tarang Parekh, a health policy researcher at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, said: “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.

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

The study identified a potential link rather than proving a cause and effect as it was observational and did not examine the biological mechanism connection between stroke and cannabis use.

Heart risk in young people

Young people who were had cannabis use disorder increased their risk of poor heart health – an arrythmia – by 50% compared to those that did not use cannabis.

While some arrhythmias are benign, others can be life-threatening.

Rikinkumar S. Patel, resident physician in the department of psychiatry at the Griffin Memorial Hospital in Norman, Oklahoma, said: “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.

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

“As medical and recreational cannabis is legalised 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.”

In this study, young African American men with cannabis use disorder, between 15 to 24 years of age, had the greatest risk of being hospitalised for arrhythmia, although cannabis use disorder was more common among white men, 45 to 54 years of age.

Data for this study was derived from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Nationwide Inpatient Sample, and this is the first, large-scale, population-based study to evaluate a link between cannabis use disorder and hospitalisation for arrhythmias. Although it does not prove cause and effect, it establishes an important trend.

Scientists are calling for urgent research as a news study shows cannabis use links to stroke and heart rhythm disturbances in young people.

Heavy Marijuana Use Could Double Stroke Risk for Young People, Study Suggests

For those who used marijuana frequently and also smoked cigarettes or e-cigarettes, the risk was even greater.

Young people who use marijuana frequently are more than twice as likely to have a stroke compared to those who don’t use the drug at all, according to a new study.

The findings, which will be presented next week at the annual American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions meeting in Philadelphia, add to a growing body of research linking marijuana use to an increased risk of cardiovascular problems. The new study, which will also be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Stroke, is one of the first to specifically focus on the risk of stroke in young cannabis users (under age 45).

The researchers analyzed results from a national survey, called the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which had published data on marijuana use and stroke incidence.

The authors compared the frequency of marijuana use to the incidence of stroke in people ages 18 to 44 years old. Among the 43,860 participants, 13.6% had used marijauna in the last 30 days. (The data doesn’t specify the way in which participants used marijuana, though a majority of the survey respondents said they smoked it). Marijuana users tended to also report heavy drinking and use of tobacco cigarettes.

The authors found that frequent marijuana users, or people who used marijuana more than 10 days a month, but who did not use tobacco products were nearly 2.5 times more likely to have a stroke than people who did not use marijuana, according to a statement.

For those who used marijuana frequently and also smoked cigarettes or e-cigarettes, the risk was even greater. These individuals were nearly three times more likely to have a stroke, compared with those who didn’t use either marijuana or cigarettes.

But these findings show only an association and cannot prove that marijuana use causes strokes. The authors noted that other substances, such as alcohol, may also influence the risk of stroke seen in the study, even though the scientists attempted to adjust for additional substance use in their analysis.

What’s more, even if there is a cause-and-effect relationship between marijuana use and stroke, researchers don’t exactly know how the drug might be leading to stroke. Marijuana use has been linked to an increased number of blood clots, which might, in turn, increase the risk of stroke, according to a previous Live Science report.

Cannabis might also trigger “reversible cerebral vasoconstriction,” or a temporary narrowing of the blood vessels in the brain that has been linked with stroke, said lead author Dr. Tarang Parekh, a health policy researcher at George Mason University in Virginia.

“In the current discussion of legalization of marijuana in the United States, we believe this study was a crucial step towards” understanding stroke risk in young marijuana users, Parekh told Live Science. “Even though cannabis is not [as] harmful or addictive as other substances, we cannot ignore its potential health risks.”

A separate study, which will also be presented at the AHA meeting next week, found a link between marijuana use and an increased risk of heart arrhythmia (or rhythm problems) in young adults. The authors found that young people, or those between the ages of 15 and 34, who have cannabis-use disorder had a 47% to 52% increased risk of being hospitalized because of an arrhythmia.

The latter study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Young people who use marijuana frequently are more than twice as likely to have a stroke compared to those who don’t use the drug at all, according to a new study. ]]>