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American Heart Association warns against cannabis use, calls for more research

Aug 10, 2020

Two years ago, famed movie director Kevin Smith told The Late Show host Stephen Colbert that smoking weed saved his life when the acclaimed “Clerks” scribe had a massive heart attack. 

“I’d smoked a bunch of weed that day,” Smith told Colbert. “[The doctor] goes… that weed saved your life.”

New research shows that Smith’s doctor may have been wrong.

According to a new report released by the American Heart Association, cannabis use “shows substantial risks, no benefits for cardiovascular health.” In one of the most definite statements issued on the subject, the AHA is warning people to stop smoking or vaping any substances.

“People who use cannabis need to know there are potentially serious health risks in smoking or vaping [cannabis], just like tobacco smoke,” said Rose Marie Robertson, M.D., FAHA, the deputy chief science and medical officer for the American Heart Association and co-director of the AHA Tobacco Center for Regulatory Science in a statement. “The American Heart Association recommends that people not smoke or vape any substance, including cannabis products, because of the potential harm to the heart, lungs and blood vessels.”

The paper, which was published last week, cites several recent studies showing that cannabis is linked to several cardiac events, including heart attacks, atrial fibrillation, heart failure, and chest pain. Moreover, studies show that smoking marijuana can increase a person’s risk of high blood pressure and strokes.

According to the AHA report, cannabis can also cause a person’s heart rate to rise and the heart to need more oxygen. Worse still, there are reports showing that cannabis users have experienced higher blood pressure while lying down and issues with the walls of their arteries.

In their report, the AHA is calling for more research on the subject.

“Attitudes towards recreational and medicinal use of cannabis have changed rapidly, and many states have legalized it for medical and/or recreational use,” said Robert L. Page II, Pharm.D., M.S.P.H., FAHA, chair of the writing group for the statement and professor in the department of clinical pharmacy and the department of physical medicine/rehabilitation at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in Aurora, Colorado in a statement.

“Health care professionals need a greater understanding of the health implications of cannabis, which has the potential to interfere with prescribed medications and/or trigger cardiovascular conditions or events, such as heart attacks and strokes,” he continued.

Many Americans believe that smoking cannabis is safer than smoking cigarettes, although, according to some researchers, the former may cause just as much, if not more damage than the latter. Edibles may not be much safer either, as evidenced by a Canadian man who suffered a heart attack after eating a THC-laced lollipop last year. 

On the other hand, CBD has been associated with the opposite effect, including lower blood pressure and lower heart rate. 

For now, however, the AHA is calling for more research.

“We urgently need carefully designed, prospective short- and long-term studies regarding cannabis use and cardiovascular safety as it becomes increasingly available and more widely used,” Page said in a statement. “The public needs fact-based, valid scientific information about cannabis’s effect on the heart and blood vessels. Research funding at federal and state levels must be increased to match the expansion of cannabis use – to clarify the potential therapeutic properties and to help us better understand the cardiovascular and public health implications of frequent cannabis use.”

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