As weed usage skyrockets in the U.S., adults who overuse cannabis are 60% more likely to experience heart failure, strokes, or heart attacks compared to adults of the same age and sex without cannabis use disorder—according to a new study led by a team of researchers in Canada.
In the report published Thursday by Addiction, researchers analyzed the health of nearly 30,000 participants with cannabis use disorder (CUD) who were then paired with adults with no CUD exposure.
The population-based group study involved five health databases in Alberta, Canada, with researchers noting that apparently healthy people are still at enhanced risk of cardiovascular disease if they have CUD.
CUD—which impacts around 27% to 34% of people who use cannabis—is the continued use of weed despite significant negative effects on one’s life and health.
In the study, adults with CUD—notably, those who didn’t have simultaneous mental health disorders or other chronic conditions at the same time—were more at risk for cardiovascular disease if they were not on prescription medications and had not used healthcare services in the past six months.
The results of the study should be considered exploratory, but the researchers note the potential value in using the disease as a marker—helping users take preventive action via increased testing and screening or surveillance for cardiovascular disease in these at-risk groups.
Marijuana use has significantly risen over the past decade, with 55 million Americans saying they regularly use marijuana, as it has become the most commonly used federally illegal drug in the United States. Cannabis has already been linked to serious cardiovascular events, including heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes due to the stress that cannabis can put on the heart. Smoking cannabis can raise a person’s heart rate, dilate blood vessels and make the heart pump harder—immediately after use. The drug has also been linked to mental health risks in young adults, and people who use marijuana before the age of 18 have a greater risk of developing CUD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Signs of CUD include using more marijuana than intended, attempting but failing to quit using the drug, giving up key family activities in favor of using marijuana, experiencing withdrawal symptoms and more. CUD is most common in the state of Washington, where cannabis is legal.
“It’s important to emphasize that these findings are observational, and they provide insights into patterns within our dataset. However, they do not establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship,” lead author Dr. Anees Bahji, at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, told Forbes.
Americans spend more on legal marijuana than they do chocolate, spending $30 billion on the drug in 2022, compared to the $20 billion they reportedly spend on chocolate, according to MJBizDaily—a Colorado-based business news outlet that reports on the cannabis industry.
Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, but many states have legalized it for recreational use, and the majority allow medical use. In late August, U.S. health officials recommended moving marijuana to a lower-risk drug classification, which would bring it to a “Schedule III” group—that is, once it goes through a substantial review process from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Schedule III drugs are classified as “substances with a low to moderate potential for physical and psychological dependence,” according to the DEA, and they are easier to study. Marijuana has long been a Schedule I substance, implying “it has a high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” according to the DEA. President Joe Biden supports the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. Though Biden has not stated whether he supports legalization for recreational use, he did say in 2021 that he supports states’ rights to legalize it—should they choose to do so.