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Pot Impacts Heart, Study Shows


Mittleman did note some interesting differences between the users and nonusers of marijuana. Those who had smoked marijuana prior to having a heart attack were much younger, with an average age of 44 compared to 62 in the nonsmokers. Also, the marijuana users were less likely to have other risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and were less likely to have had a history of chest pain prior to the heart attack, says Mittleman.

The study also shows that frequent marijuana use was certainly not a requirement to be at risk of having a heart attack. Of the marijuana users, 32 used it a few times a month and 40 used marijuana less than once a month, Mittleman says.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a Washington-based group that lobbies for laws to decriminalize marijuana use and supports the use of medical marijuana, immediately issued a press release warning that the study could be misinterpreted. MPP spokesperson Chuck Thomas tells WebMD, "Our concern is that some legislator is going to say that marijuana causes heart attacks. That's not what this study says." Six states have decriminalized marijuana use and several others are considering similar laws. Thomas says the risk of adverse events with marijuana use is "comparable to [the] risk associated with legal drugs."

At a press conference, several reporters asked about the timing of the study. Mittleman says that his team decided to do the study in response to last year's report on marijuana from the Institute of Medicine (IOM). That report concluded that there was no significant risk of heart disease due to marijuana in young marijuana users but urged a study of its effect in older populations. "We just decided to take IOM up on that suggestion."

Vital Information:

  • New research reports that during the first hour after smoking marijuana, one's risk of heart attack jumps nearly five times. By comparison, a sedentary person shoveling snow increases heart attack risk 100 times. Having sexual intercourse would raise heart attack risk in the same person 2.5 times.
  • Observers say the apparent risk of heart attack should be considered even in cases where the drug is used medically, such as in cancer patients. Marijuana legalization advocates say they fear legislators will interpret this study as a warning that marijuana causes heart attacks.
  • Experts add that researchers still need to figure out what marijuana does to the body and why those changes may increase heart attack risk. Scientists also do not know if the drug itself triggers heart problems or if a component in the smoke is to blame, such as carbon monoxide


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