Marijuana users are over a third more likely to develop dangerous heart disease than non-users
Regular marijuana smoking may increase the risk of potentially fatal irregular heartbeats, a study suggests.
Cannabis users were 35 percent more likely to be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation within a decade than non-users.
Researchers believe the culprits are toxic byproducts of inhaling toxic smoke.
The heart condition is the most common type of treated heart arrhythmia that can lead to stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications.
At least 2.7 million Americans live with an irregular heartbeat, although it can often go undiagnosed because many people do not experience symptoms.
The latest study, which included data from 23 million patients, also looked at the risk of heart arrhythmias among users of other drugs.
Cocaine users were 61 percent more likely to develop AF than people who did not use the drug.
People who used opiates, which can include heroin and prescription drugs, had a 74 percent increased risk of developing severe arrhythmia.
Cannabis users were 35 percent more likely to develop AF compared to people who did not use the drug. Researchers behind the new study attribute the negative health effects of inhaling toxic particles.
People who used any of the four drugs studied were far more likely to develop atrial fibrillation than a control group who did not use any of the drugs at baseline, presented here. People who used methamphetamine were at the highest risk.
Atrial fibrillation is a common form of cardiac arrhythmia. It occurs when the upper chambers of the heart (atria) beat out of sync with the lower chambers (ventricles). It can lead to numerous heart diseases as well as blood clotting which increases the risk of stroke.
The report, which was authored by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, was published in European Heart Journal.
They write: ‘Despite a weaker association with incident AF than other substances, cannabis use still showed associations of similar or greater magnitude with risk factors such as dyslipidaemia, diabetes mellitus and chronic kidney disease.’
“Furthermore, cannabis users showed a similar relative risk of incident AF as traditional tobacco users,” they said.
In cases of atrial fibrillation, the heart’s upper chambers, or atria, beat chaotically and out of sync with the heart’s lower chambers, or ventricles.
Researchers analyzed data from every hospital admission and every visit to ambulatory surgical facilities and emergency departments in California from 2005 to 2015, collecting information from a total of 23 million people.
Only a fraction of the patients included in the study used drugs: 132,834 used cannabis, 98,271 methamphetamine, 48,700 cocaine, and 10,032 opiates.
Marijuana is the third most commonly used drug in the US behind alcohol and tobacco, and its prevalence is increasing as more states embrace its therapeutic and medicinal properties.
What are the health risks of marijuana?
According to official estimates, about 48 million Americans smoke cannabis at least once a year.
This number is increasing as states continue to legalize the drug.
But there is growing evidence of health risks, especially for young adults.
Researchers suggest it has the following negative effects:
- Brain damage: Can cause permanent loss of IQ and even alter development in young adults;
- Mental health: Historically linked to suicide, depression and anxiety, although it is unclear whether marijuana is the cause;
- Daily life: Surveys link it to more career and relationship problems;
- Driving: Those who drive under the influence have slower reactions and poorer coordination, research shows.
More than 48 million Americans try marijuana each year – or 18 percent of the population. About nine percent of first-time cannabis users become addicted to the drug within a decade.
Meanwhile, it has been legalized for recreational use in 19 states so far, and others, like North Dakota, are considering their own legalization measures in this year’s midterms.
The UCSF study did not aim to dissect the individual components of marijuana use, or any other drug, that can lead to atrial fibrillation. But researchers say inhaled particles are a likely factor.
Lead researcher Dr. Gregory Marcus, professor of medicine at UCSF in the Department of Cardiology, said: ‘It is also intriguing to consider that inhaled substances travel directly from the lungs to the pulmonary veins, which drain into the left atrium, and that the pulmonary veins and The left atrium is particularly important in producing AF.’
Older people are usually at the highest risk of developing AF.
Stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine have a stronger connection to cardiovascular conditions because they make the heart beat faster and harder, raising blood pressure to dangerous levels.
While long-term risks associated with marijuana use have been found to include chronic lung problems and cognitive impairment, especially among young people whose brains are still developing.
A large study conducted in 2012 in New Zealand found that persistent marijuana use beginning in adolescence was associated with a loss of an average of 6 or up to 8 IQ points measured in mid-adulthood.
Many people consume marijuana with the theory that it will boost their creativity, although the science to support that claim is dubious.
A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington was recently published in which 400 participants were tested for creativity 15 minutes after smoking the drug or 12 hours later.
The researchers concluded that there was no significant difference in creativity between the high or sober groups, leading them to theorize that users’ perceptions of creativity are skewed when high.
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