By Sally Robertson, BSc
Marijuana smoking may increase the risk of serious and even fatal heart problems among young or middle-aged users, according to a new French study.
“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 health care providers,” says lead author Emilie Jouanjus from the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Toulouse.
The study raises concerns about the use of marijuana just as governments in certain parts of the world are starting to legalize its use. Marijuana has also become an increasingly popular form of pain relief in the treatment of certain health conditions.
Jouanjus and colleagues used information reported to the French Addictoviglance Network between 2006 and 2010 to analyze the incidence of serious cardiovascular health complications among 1,979 people who sought medical attention as a result of having used marijuana. Most of the patients were male and the average age of the population was 34.3 years.
As reported in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the researchers found that 35 (2%) of the individuals had serious cardiovascular complications relating to the use of marijuana. Twenty-two people had heart problems which included 20 cases of heart attack, ten individuals had peripheral artery disease and three had complications involving arteries in the brain. Of particular concern, was the fact that one in four of the patients who had cardiovascular complications died, said Jouanjus and team.
The analysis also showed that the amount of cardiovascular problems reported increased more than three-fold between 2006 and 2010.
“There is now compelling evidence on the growing risk of marijuana-associated adverse cardiovascular effects, especially in young people,” remarks Jouanjus. “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.”
The team also points out that any data on health complications as a result of marijuana use are most likely to be underreported. With 1.2 million people using the substance on a regular basis in France, a large number of these complications potentially go undetected by the French Addictovigilance System.