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Heavy Cannabis Use Linked to Increased Risk of Heart Problems in Canadian Study

A new research report has found that individuals diagnosed with “cannabis use disorder” have a roughly 60% higher chance of experiencing certain heart problems than adults of the same age and gender without the same diagnosis.

The study, published in Addiction on Wednesday, was conducted using medical data from just under 60,000 adults in Alberta, Canada. Diagnostic codes for cannabis use disorder, defined as an individual who is unable to stop using cannabis on their own despite experiencing adverse life events, were paired and compared to diagnostic codes for a range of different cardiovascular issues including but not limited to heart attack, heart failure and stroke that occurred during the time of the study (January 1, 2012-December 31, 2019).

“Canadian adults with cannabis use disorder appear to have an approximately 60% higher risk of experiencing incident adverse cardiovascular disease events than those without cannabis use disorder,” the study said. “Importantly, this evidence suggests that cannabis use may place a healthier population at increased risk of major cardiovascular events. As a result, our study points to the importance of educating our patients about the potential risks associated with cannabis use and cannabis use disorder.”

The study also found, based on their available data, that otherwise healthy individuals diagnosed with cannabis use disorder actually seemed to be at greater risk of these cardiovascular events. In this case “healthy” means they had not been diagnosed with a co-occuring mental health disorder, had not been to the doctor in the last six months, had not been prescribed any medication and were not suffering from any other medical conditions.

The lead author of the study told Forbes that this data does not necessarily indicate a direct link between heavy cannabis use and heart problems, but more research needed to be conducted in the area to be sure. It’s hard to control for every factor when analyzing big datasets, especially when dealing with something like cannabis use which people often do not disclose to their doctor.

“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.

The study itself suggested that while we cannot definitively take this data and associate cannabis with heart attacks, it could result in greater precautions being taken at the doctor’s office for individuals who frequently use cannabis. A new box to check on the intake form, if you will.

“Finally, although our findings do not establish a causal link between cannabis use disorder and cardiovascular disease events, there is still a descriptive value to the project, particularly for applications such as screening individuals who use cannabis for cardiovascular disease, as it helps to establish the base rates of cardiovascular disease in this population,” the study said.”

Recent studies have actually found somewhat contradictory data regarding cannabis use and heart problems. A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology just last month found that monthly cannabis use did not increase the risk of heart attacks, though it’s hard to compare that to a study of people with cannabis use disorder because people with that diagnosis obviously use cannabis much more frequently than once a month. The study in Addiction also acknowledged their results were inconsistent with one of the longest-running cardiovascular studies ever conducted.

“…findings from prospective studies have been inconsistent with the coronary artery risk development in young adults (CARDIA), one of the largest prospective studies of its kind, finding that neither cumulative life-time nor recent use of cannabis is associated with the incidence of cardiovascular disease in middle age,” the study said.

The study estimated that anywhere from 27% to 34% of people who use cannabis suffer from cannabis use disorder and it claimed that cannabis use disorder has been increasingly linked to adverse health outcomes, though much of the data surrounding the topic is still extremely limited.

“Cannabis has been linked to serious cardiovascular events, including myocardial infarction, stroke, cardiomyopathies, atherosclerosis and cardiac arrhythmias,” the study said. “Although the exact mechanisms by which cannabis use may induce cardiovascular disease events are unknown, it appears to be through activation of the endogenous cannabinoid system, consisting of endocannabinoids, their receptors and complex downstream signaling pathways.”

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