Smoking cannabis puts people at a higher risk of heart failure and heart attacks, warns a new study.
Scientists found taking cannabis comes with substantial risks and could have a negative impact on the heart and blood vessels, with no benefits for cardiovascular health.
Many countries have legalised cannabis and attitudes have changed towards its medicinal and recreational use.
But findings from the new American study reveal chemicals in the drug such as THC could interfere with prescribed medications or even trigger heart attacks and strokes.
Researchers say cannabis also does not appear to have any well-documented benefits for the prevention or treatment of cardiovascular diseases.
They add although the drug may be helpful for conditions such as spasticity, associated with multiple sclerosis, healthcare professionals need more understanding of its health implications.
Study author Professor Robert Page, from the University of Colorado, said: ‘Attitudes towards recreational and medicinal use of cannabis have changed rapidly and many states have legalised it for medical and/or recreational use.
‘Health care professionals need a greater understanding of the health implications of cannabis, which has the potential to interfere with prescribed medications and/or trigger cardiovascular conditions or events, such as heart attacks and strokes.’
The most common chemicals in cannabis include THC, the component of the plant that give a ‘high’, and CBD which is legal in the UK if it has a THC content of below 0.02 per cent.
Existing studies have found that within an hour after cannabis is smoked, THC may cause heart rhythm abnormalities such as tachycardia, premature ventricular contractions, atrial fibrillation and ventricular arrythmias.
THC also appears to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the ‘flight or fight’ response, resulting in a higher heart rate, greater demand for oxygen from the heart, higher blood pressure while laying down and dysfunction within the walls of the arteries.
Yet studies on CBD, which does not produce a ‘high’ or intoxication, found links with reduced heart rate, lower blood pressure, increased vasodilation which helps arteries to open up, lower blood pressure and potentially reduced inflammation.
Inflammation is linked to atherosclerosis, the slow narrowing of the arteries that underlies most heart attacks and, possibly strokes.
Smoking and inhaling cannabis, regardless of THC content, has been linked with cardiomyopathy, or heart muscle dysfunction, angina, or chest pain, heart attacks, heart rhythm disturbances, sudden cardiac death and other serious cardiovascular conditions.
Studies have found an increase in hospitalisations and emergency department visits for heart attacks in parts of the US where cannabis has been legalised.
Scientists say the way cannabis is consumed may influence how it affects the heart and blood vessels.
Prof Page said: ‘Many consumers and health care professionals don’t realise that cannabis smoke contains components similar to tobacco smoke.
‘Smoking and inhaling cannabis, regardless of THC content, has been shown to increase the concentrations of blood carboxyhemoglobin, carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas, five-fold, and a three-fold increase in tar, partly burnt combustible matter, similar to the effects of inhaling a tobacco cigarette.’
Carbon monoxide intoxication from inhaled tobacco or cannabis was linked with several heart problems such as heart muscle disease, chest pain, heart attacks, heart rhythm disturbances and other serious conditions.
Prof Page added: ‘Cannabis use should be discussed in detail with a health care professional so that an individual’s potential health risks can be reviewed.
‘If people choose to use cannabis for its medicinal or recreational effects, the oral and topical forms, for which doses can be measured, may reduce some of the potential harms.
‘It is also vitally important that people only use legal cannabis products because there are no controls on the quality or the contents of cannabis products sold on the street.’
In addition to the poisonous compounds in cannabis smoke, vaping cannabis may also result in serious health outcomes, especially when it is mixed with vitamin E acetate oils which are linked to EVALI, a potentially fatal illness that emerged among e-cigarette users last year.
Professor Rose Robertson, deputy chief science and medical officers at the American Heart Association (AHA), said: ‘People who use cannabis need to know there are potentially serious health risks in smoking or vaping it, just like tobacco smoke.
‘The AHA recommends that people not smoke or vape any substance, including cannabis products, because of the potential harm to the heart, lungs and blood vessels.’
Some studies suggest cannabis use, both CBD and THC, may be safe and effective for older populations.
Older adults, although the least likely to use cannabis, often use it to reduce neuropathic pain, improve quality of life and decrease prescription drug use such as opioids.
But concern about them using the drug include the potential of how it could interact with other medications including blood thinners, anti-depressants, antipsychotics and statins.
Scientists say a full understanding of how use of cannabis affects the heart and blood vessels is limited by a lack of adequate research.
Findings were published today (Thur) in Circulation, the flagship journal from the American Heart Association.
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