Could Cannabis Use Lead to a Future Heart Condition?

CANNABIS use at a young age may increase the risk of developing a heart condition in later life, reported a recent research study from the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. With current plans to actively legalise cannabis in several countries the importance of this study is understated. The researchers found significant changes to the heart and artery function, which were subtle yet specific risk indicators for cardiovascular disease (CVD) in healthy young cannabis users.

The study was carried out on 35 subjects aged 19–30, with half of the participants being regular cannabis users. Echocardiographic scans, two-dimensional B-mode and tissue Doppler imaging, and other associated ultrasound programmes were used to monitor the indicators of CVD development. Certain changes were observed in the heart and arteries of the subjects: arterial stiffness and function as well as aortic stiffness and increased blood flow pressure was detected in cannabis users; however, no difference in artery dilation was observed in response to the changing blood flow.

The echocardiographic images showed lower cardiac function in the users compared to the non-users. The team, however, spotted that there was no difference in vascular function in cannabis users. This was a surprising discovery due to all three indicators usually changing in cigarette smokers, with stiffer arteries and lower vascular and heart function. The team suggested that this could be due to the difference in consumption of tobacco and cannabis, based on the quantities and frequency of use of either substance. Further scientific investigations will be required in order to draw a more precise and substantial conclusion.

Cigarette smoking is widely known to devastate overall cardiovascular health, however, less is known about the overall impact the long-term recreational use of marijuana has on CVD risk, despite it being the most commonly used substance globally after alcohol.

The lead author of the study Christian Cheung, a PhD student in the Human Performance and Health Research Lab, Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, in conclusion stated that, “This is an exciting field of research given the ubiquity of cannabis use and the knowledge gap that exists, it’s a field ripe with opportunity.”