Posted on: December 16, 2019 at 8:11 pm
Last updated: July 13, 2020 at 5:42 pm

Marijuana has been at the center of debate over the last few years. Many argue that it is safe, that it is beneficial for pain management, and can be effective against diseases such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. Many also claim it can help to relieve anxiety, stress, and depression [1]. Some women even use marijuana to cope with pregnancy symptoms.

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Despite these claims, there is still a large population of people who believe that it is unsafe, and should not be legalized. According to new research, these people may have a reason for concern.

A pair of new studies suggest that smoking pot may not be as good for your heart or your brain as you may like to think [2].

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An Increased Risk for Stroke and Heart Problems

The first of two studies found that those who regularly smoke pot are more than twice as likely to have a stroke than those who do not [2]. The second found that people who regularly use marijuana have an up to fifty percent greater risk of being hospitalized for an arrhythmia [2].

The studies used federal data of 43 000 adults between the ages of 18 and 44 to evaluate the impact of marijuana usage. About fourteen percent of those who were surveyed reported using pot in the last thirty days [2].

What surprised researchers the most was the impact marijuana is having on young people.
“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 author Tarang Parekh of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia [2].

Marijuana Affects Your Blood Flow

Other studies have published findings that support this research. 

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A report from the Journal of Pediatric Neurosurgery determined that while the exact mechanism of marijuana-associated stroke is unclear, it is known to cause abnormally low blood pressure and to impair your body’s ability to constrict or expand your blood vessels [3].

Another study published in the International Journal of Cardiology reported that 2.7% of recreational marijuana users developed an arrhythmia, a number that steadily increased from 2010 to 2014 [4].
The most common type of arrhythmia among hospitalized marijuana users was atrial fibrillation [4], which is a quivering or irregular heartbeat and can lead to blood clots, strokes, heart failure, and other heart complications [5].

Other Risk Factors for Strokes

There are other risk factors that increase your chance of having a stroke, and they include:

  • Age: as you get older your risk of stroke increases [7]. 
  • Gender: Females are at a greater risk for strokes [8].
  • Race/ethnicity: African-Americans have a higher instance of strokes [9].
  • Heredity
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiac disease
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol use [6]

If you have any of these other risk factors, you should consider curbing your usage of marijuana to avoid any heart complications.

More Research is Needed…But Buyer Be Warned

While both of these studies are observational and do not establish a direct cause-and-effect link between marijuana usage and strokes and arrhythmia, researchers agree that people who smoke pot, as well as their doctors, should take these findings seriously.

“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 lead researcher Dr. Rikinkumar Patel.

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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