Marijuana Linked to Heart Attack, Heart Failure, and Stroke
Substance Use Disorders

Marijuana Linked to Heart Attack, Heart Failure, and Stroke


New research suggests that marijuana may be linked to the development of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure. This came from two different studies that were presented at the Scientific Sessions meeting hosted by the American Heart Association.

Marijuana is the most commonly used drug that is illegal at the federal level. Roughly 1 in 5 Americans report using marijuana in the past year and about 45% have used it at least once in their lives. Rates continue to rise as legalization progresses state by state across the country. With this in mind, it’s crucial to identify any possible medical issues that could increase as a result. This is especially important for marijuana given that stroke, heart attack, and heart failure are already top killers of Americans.

Marijuana and heart failure

The first study presented at the meeting looked at rates of daily marijuana use in people who developed heart failure. The study followed over 150,000 Americans for almost 4 years, all the while monitoring their health statuses and marijuana use. This only included marijuana that was used recreationally. They were also monitored for many other common risk factors, including diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, and alcohol use.

Over those years, roughly 2% of the study participants developed heart failure. The difference across the groups of people was striking. People who used marijuana daily were 34% more likely to be in the group who developed heart failure. The results also suggested that marijuana use may be leading to heart failure via it’s contribution to coronary artery disease. This means that marijuana use may be harming the blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood to the muscles of the heart.

The researchers note that further studies will have to examine differences in how people consume marijuana (eating, smoking, or vaping). The way people use marijuana could possibly have different levels of risk for heart failure, heart attack, and stroke.

Marijuana links to heart attack and stroke

The second study looking at the connection between marijuana and heart failure, heart attack, and stroke examined marijuana use in people who had already been hospitalized for one of these issues. The study specifically examined people 65 or older who had no history of smoking tobacco. Excluding tobacco use from the study enabled researchers to more confidently connect marijuana use with heart failure, heart attack, and stroke.

The study ultimately found tens of thousands of people with similar existing risk factors for heart failure, heart attack, and stroke. They divided this population into two groups, those who used marijuana and those who didn’t. They were able to compare outcomes and medical events between them. People in the marijuana-using group had higher rates of heart attack and stroke compared to the non-using group. Additionally, the study found that high blood pressure and high cholesterol worked in concert with marijuana use to increase the risks for heart failure, heart attack, and stroke.

Marijuana and cardiovascular health

This isn’t the first research on marijuana to suggest this connection to heart disease, either. Past research has hinted at similar connections between marijuana use and cardiovascular problems. In fact, a recent summary from the American Heart Association made several interesting connections between the effects of marijuana and those of tobacco use. Smoking marijuana increases levels of both carbon monoxide and tar in the body. Both of these damage blood vessel walls, stiffen blood vessels, and increase the accumulation plaque in arteries, just like tobacco use does.

This is still all early research. There is not nearly as much research into the risks of marijuana use and heart failure, heart attack, and stroke as there is for tobacco use. However, given the rising rates of marijuana use, continuing this investigation could end up saving lives.

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  5. I. I., R. L. P., Allen, L. A., Kloner, R. A., Carriker, C. R., Martel, C., Morris, A. A., …On Quality of Care and Outcomes Research, C. (2020). Medical Marijuana, Recreational Cannabis, and Cardiovascular Health: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation.

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