Marijuana Use Potentially Linked to Increased Risk of Stroke and Heart Arrhythmia

People who frequently use marijuana are at an increased risk of stroke, and individuals diagnosed with cannabis use disorder are more likely to be hospitalized for heart arrhythmia, according to two preliminary studies that will be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2019, taking place November 16-18 in Philadelphia, PA.

In this observational study, researchers obtained data from the behavioral risk factor surveillance system (BRFSS) to assess more than 43,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 44, of whom approximately 14% reported using marijuana in the last 30 days. The researchers observed that compared with non-users, marijuana users were typically younger, non-Hispanic white or black, and were less likely to have graduated college degree and were usually physically active. The researchers opted against examining the biological connection between stroke and cannabis use, and therefore identified a potential link rather than attempting to prove cause and effect.

Young People Should Understand the Risk

Following analysis, the results showed that people with cannabis use disorder had a 50% higher risk of being hospitalized for a heart arrhythmia than non-users. Although cannabis use disorder was more prevalent among white males between the ages of 45 and 54, the study revealed that young African American males between the ages of 15 and 24 had the highest risk of being hospitalized for arrhythmia.

“Young cannabis users, especially those who use tobacco and have other risk factors for strokes, such as high blood pressure, should understand that they may be raising their risk of having a stroke at a young age,” said lead study author Tarang Parekh, M.B.B.S., M.S., a health policy researcher at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia in a press release about the study. “Physicians should ask patients if they use cannabis and counsel them about its potential stroke risk as part of regular doctor visits.”

“The risk of cannabis use linked to arrhythmia in young people is a major concern, and physicians should ask patients hospitalized with arrhythmias about their use of cannabis and other substances because they could be triggering their arrhythmias,” continued Patel.

Patel added that: “As medical and recreational cannabis is legalized in many states, it is important to know the difference between therapeutic cannabis dosing for medical purposes and the consequences of cannabis abuse. We urgently need additional research to understand these issues.”