French scientists say they have evidence marijuana use can cause heart troubles and even death in young and older adults.
In a study published April 23, researchers said they had located 35 cases of adults who had developed cardiac problems after using weed. These cases account for 2 percent of all marijuana-related complications.
“The general public thinks marijuana is harmless, but information revealing the potential health dangers of marijuana use needs to be disseminated to the public, policymakers, and healthcare providers,” said the study’s lead author, Émilie Jouanjus, a medical professor at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Toulouse.
But the researchers may be getting ahead of themselves. Science has long known cannabis can aggravate heart conditions, even to the point of death. And according to the study, just nine patients died – out of 1.2 million pot users in France.
Yet the study offers no proof, as it claims, that marijuana actually causes heart problems – let alone that weed itself kills. It demonstrates only that the drug is a “risk factor” for cardiac disease.
Indeed, the study points out that those with pre-existing cardiac conditions are most at risk. Healthy young adults, it acknowledges, probably have little to worry about.
None of which adds to what we already know: Marijuana doesn’t kill, but it sometimes contributes to other causes of death. A 60-year-old man with a weak heart who smokes weed every day and then dies of a sudden cardiac arrest was killed by the heart attack, not the pot – even if the pot helped trigger the coronary.
But the study did unearth some interesting facts about how cannabis and cardiac issues can interact.
The 35 patients were selected from a group of 1,979 people with marijuana-related complications. Most were men, and the average age was 34.3 years. Twenty-two of the cases were heart-related, including 20 heart attacks. There were 13 arterial conditions.
Researchers had limited access to information, so some of the study’s conclusions are questionable.
Most patients provided no family or personal history of heart disease, an important factor in determining what role marijuana played. The study also failed to obtain body-mass index data for nearly 70 percent of patients. That number would likewise help researchers decide whether cannabis caused a heart condition.
Perhaps most important, 60 percent of the patients smoked tobacco. Cigarettes are known to cause severe heart problems, including fatal heart attacks. Researchers studying the effects of marijuana have always run into problems trying to tease apart the different effects of cannabis and nicotine – simply because so many stoners also smoke tobacco.
But the French scientists said their study was ample evidence that doctors and patients need to be aware that marijuana poses dangers to the cardiac system.
“There is now compelling evidence on the growing risk of marijuana-associated adverse cardiovascular effects, especially in young people,” Jouanjus said. “It is therefore important that doctors, including cardiologists, be aware of this, and consider marijuana use as one of the potential causes in patients with cardiovascular disorders.”