Cannabis and strokes: Debunking myths and misconceptions

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“As these products become increasingly used across the country, getting clearer, scientifically rigorous data is going to be important as we try to understand the overall health effects of cannabis,” notes Robert Harrington, M.D., president of the American Heart Association (AHA).

In late 2019, a report was published in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that found, “frequent cannabis (marijuana) use among young people was linked to an increased risk of stroke” as well as an increase in heart rhythm disturbances, or arrhythmias.

Published by the AHA, the study did not look into the direct connection between stroke and cannabis use, rather it discovered it as a potential link.

The study found that younger cannabis users had a heightened risk of stroke, compared to individuals who didn’t use cannabis. Interestingly, the study also cited that, “the cannabis users were also more likely to be heavy drinkers, current cigarette users and e-cigarette users, which may have also influenced their risk, even though the researchers adjusted for those factors in their analysis.”

Study author Tarang Parekh, a health policy researcher at George Mason University in Fairfax, Vir., had this to say: “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.”

The link between cannabis and a heightened risk of stroke has been studied several other times as THC turns “on” the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the central nervous and cardiovascular systems. One study in 2013 found that CB1 receptors that worked overtime often could lead to significantly higher risks of cardiovascular disorders in the valve and arteries.

While many doctors are citing the studies, some believe more research is needed. / Photo: Denise Hasse / iStock / Getty Images Plus Denise Hasse / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Put simply, cannabis elevates blood pressure, putting strain on the heart and body, which can cause issues for people with underlying or even unknown health conditions — making important discussions with your care team even more imperative if you’re a medical marijuana or cannabis user.

Here are three important items to note about cannabis and your heart.

Cannabis doesn’t directly lead to heart attacks or stroke

What can happen is that cannabis can elevate the blood pressure for as long as three hours, especially for new users. While the effects of blood pressure elevation seemed to decrease over time for some users, it’s important to discuss with your care team.

Not all doctors and healthcare professionals agree with the studies

While many doctors are citing the studies, some like Dr. Mark Rabe, chairman of the scientific advisory board for Medical Marijuana Sciences, believe more research is needed. Dr. Rabe explained, “When you look retrospectively into databases and pull out bits and pieces of data, and then assemble them and present them, the results can often times be misleading.”

He believes that while it’s important to have frank conversations with your healthcare team about the study and its results, the use of cannabis might outweigh the cardiovascular risk. “The evidence that’s out there would suggest that the risk of cardiovascular problems would be very low relative to the potential benefit of the therapeutic effects of cannabis.”

Research is far-behind is needed to draw important conclusions

For many, cannabis research is still unattainable, held under a titanium seal of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA.) Until the drug is declassified, medical researchers face issues with accessibility to dig further into research.

It’s important to remember that while medical marijuana is on the rise, healthcare professionals still don’t have important information about how cannabis affects all areas of the body. The hope is that the FDA continues to greenlight research to showcase both the drug’s potential benefits and risks.

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