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Marijuana use linked to heart problems, death

A new study reported an association between marijuana use cardiovascular problems, particularly among young and middle-aged adults
A new study reported an association between marijuana use cardiovascular problems, particularly among young and middle-aged adults
Robin Wulffson, MD

The use of marijuana is on the increase due to legislative changes and personal perceptions that it is not harmful. However, scientific evidence continues to accumulate that it can cause serious health problems, even death. A new study reported an association between marijuana use cardiovascular problems, particularly among young and middle-aged adults. The findings were published on April 23 in the Journal of the American Heart Association by French researchers.

The researchers note that cannabis is known to be associated with neuropsychiatric problems and alterations in brain structure; however, less is known about complications that can occur in other organs. Therefore, they reported on and analyzed 35 recent significant cardiovascular complications following cannabis use.

The authors note that in France, serious cases of abuse and dependence in response to the use of psychoactive substances must be reported to the national system of the French Addictovigilance Network. Therefore, they identified all spontaneous reports of cardiovascular complications related to cannabis use collected by the French Addictovigilance Network from 2006 through 2010. They described the clinical characteristics of these cases and their development. They found that 35 (1.8%) of 1,979 of all cannabis‐related reports were cardiovascular complications; the patients were primarily males (85.7%) with an average age of 34.3 years. There were: 22 cardiac complications (20were acute coronary syndromes); 10 peripheral complications (lower limb or juvenile arteriopathies (arterial disease) and Buerger‐like diseases), and 3 cerebral (brain) complications (acute cerebral angiopathy, transient cortical blindness, and spasm of cerebral artery). (Buerger’s disease is constriction of the blood vessels in tha arms and legw, which can result in amputation.) In 9 cases, the patient died.

The authors concluded that increased reporting of cardiovascular complications related to cannabis and their extreme seriousness (with a death rate of 25.6%) show that cannabis is a possible risk factor for cardiovascular disease in young adults; they note that their findings are in agreement with other studies. They acknowledge that cannabis is perceived to be harmless by the general public and that legalization of its use is debated. Thus, they stress that data concerning its danger must be widely disseminated. They recommend that healthcare professionals should be aware that cannabis may be a potential triggering factor for cardiovascular complications in young people.

Take home message:

This study points to another adverse effect of cannabis. The risk of cardiovascular problems for individuals with underlying heart problems would be even higher.