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Marijuana abuse: A greater risk factor for cardiovascular diseases than smoking

Marijuana abuse: A greater risk factor for cardiovascular diseases than smoking

12-29 | CDAH Team

According to the book—Marihuana: The First Twelve Thousand Years—the use of cannabis has been prevalent as far as 12,000 years ago. Thus, the cannabis plant figures among the humanity’s oldest cultivated crops. Cannabis is also known as marijuana and by several other street names, such as grass, pot, dope, weed, hash, joints, brew, hooch, Mary Jane, reefers, cones, smoke, mull, Buddha, ganga, hydro, yarndi, heads and green among others.

The legalization of medical marijuana in 29 states  and the District of Columbia has made it legally possible to use it for treating a variety of health problems ranging from chronic pain, inflammation, anxiety to nausea. Moreover, there is a possibility of its usefulness in controlling epileptic seizures, mental illnesses and addiction.

A total of eight states and District of Columbia have even legalized marijuana for recreational use. Although the psychoactive effects of marijuana are felt the fastest by smoking, marijuana smoke is no different from cigarette smoke when it comes to the toxins, irritants and carcinogens that are known to contribute to heart disease and cancer. The magnitude of the effects also depends on the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) level in the strain of the plant and on the plant parts used.

Due to legalization, plants having three to seven times more potency than three decades ago are being cultivated in some states. Although access to marijuana is expanding, there are not enough studies to weigh the risks, benefits and effects on cardiovascular health and overall health in general. Since cannabis is a Schedule I substance under the federal law, it falls under a category that has currently no accepted medical use and is considered to have high potential for abuse. Due to this categorization, there are many restrictions on carrying out rigorous human research on it.

Marijuana users 3.42 times more likely to die from high BP

About 75 million American adults (32 percent) suffer from hypertension—a disease that increases the risk of stroke and heart disease. According to the latest data available, over 410,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2014 were attributed to these conditions. It is an established fact that cigarette smoking contributes to high blood pressure and poor cardiovascular health.

According to a new study led by Barbara A. Yankey, PhD, School of Public Health, Georgia State University, the long-term marijuana use can increase the risk of hypertension. The findings were based on a specially designed retrospective study.

Researchers selected 1,213 participants who met the criteria as marijuana users and compiled data from their responses to the 2005-2006 National and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). This data was cross-checked with mortality data from the 2011 National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

The results of the study revealed that the users of marijuana were 3.42 times more likely to die from high BP compared to those who had never used marijuana. Moreover, the risk of death from hypertension increased by 1.04 times with the each year of marijuana use. Hence, the estimated cardiovascular risks were higher for marijuana users than cigarette smokers. However, one of the concerns of the researchers was that the rates of recreational marijuana use may increase substantially due to the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana in the U.S.

Marijuana proponents question study results

Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), disputes both the results and the methodology of the study. He points out that two separate longitudinal studies on the long-term effects of marijuana on cardiovascular health were already available and the explanation given by the researchers were evidently false.

Both these longitudinal studies could not associate hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, stroke or transient ischemic attacks, coronary heart diseases or related mortality with marijuana use. Armentano also points out that the definition of ‘marijuana user’ was ambiguous as the researchers did not ascertain the frequency of use or whether a respondent was continuing marijuana use during the documented period.

Choose an addiction-free life

Despite the above findings, Armentano acknowledges the fact that cannabinoids in marijuana, especially THC, does affect BP and warns that smoking marijuana could adversely affect individuals with a history of coronary artery disorders. Therefore, it is necessary to avoid marijuana in all circumstances.

If you or your loved one is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, connect to the Colorado Drug Addiction Helpline to know about the addiction treatment centers in Colorado that specialize in the best evidence-based intervention plans. Call our 24/7 helpline number 866-218-7546 or chat online for further information on addiction treatment in Colorado.

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