Is cannabis just as bad for your heart as tobacco? Recent studies suggest it might be.
As more states legalize marijuana for recreational use, many may think lighting up cannabis is better for their heart health than smoking a cigarette. But is that true? Several studies have begun to investigate cannabis’s long-term effect on the cardiovascular system. Although preliminary, the conclusions suggest marijuana poses a significant risk to your heart health.
A study released just this year in the journal Cell compared 11,000 people between the ages of 40 and 69 who smoked marijuana at least once a month against 122,000 who did not. Researchers concluded frequent cannabis users were more likely to have their first heart attacks before age 50. One heart attack increases the chance of another as well as heart failure.
So, how does cannabis affect your heart? Let’s review what we know so far.
How marijuana affects your heart
The effects of tobacco on the heart are no secret. The toxic mix of chemicals in cigarettes attacks your blood vessels, forcing your heart to pump faster and leading to a dangerous buildup of plaque in the arteries and veins.
Many of those same chemicals are present in marijuana vapers, which could result in similar damage to blood vessels. Research has indicated the risk of a heart attack rises an hour after smoking cannabis. Further, heart disease patients under stress may experience chest pains more quickly after smoking marijuana. Cannabis may exacerbate arrhythmia and irregular heartbeats, as well.
However, inhaling marijuana smoke is separate from the drug’s actual effects on the body. The active ingredient in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), binds with receptors in the brain, which activates the feeling of euphoria. Yet, in mice studies, researchers found THC also binds with receptors in the blood vessels, suggesting that THC could inflame the blood vessels in the same manner, causing inflammation and heart damage.
Researchers caution more study is needed on the effects of cannabis on cardiovascular health. Because marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I substance, which means it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, researchers face restrictions in pursuing more detailed studies on marijuana.
Should you stop smoking marijuana?
People with an average risk of heart disease will not experience much harm from occasional marijuana use. Cannabis is currently widely used for medicinal purposes, such as fighting nausea, pain, and anxiety. Cancer patients, in particular, benefit from cannabis to help control the nausea of chemotherapy.
Heart disease patients may find marijuana alleviates some of their symptoms, such as pain and nausea. It may also boost appetite.
So does that mean it’s safe to use marijuana if you’re a heart disease patient?
Unfortunately, the supposed benefits do not outweigh the potential adverse effects of regular marijuana use for people already suffering from heart disease. THC may also interfere with cardiac medications, rendering the treatment less effective.
Heart disease patients should therefore talk to their cardiologist about their marijuana use. Like cigarettes, cannabis could have severe consequences on their heart health.
Let’s talk about your heart
Caring for your heart means working with your doctor to find the most effective treatments. The cardiologists at Tri-City Cardiology take a holistic approach to treating patients and learning as much as they can about each person. Our relationships build on mutual trust and open dialogue.