Cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, and opiates increase risk of atrial fibrillation

A recent study published in the European Heart Journal reveals that using illicit drugs can increase atrial fibrillation risk.

Study: Cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, and opiates increase the risk of incident atrial fibrillation. Image Credit: Lightspring / ShutterstockStudy: Cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, and opiates increase the risk of incident atrial fibrillation. Image Credit: Lightspring / Shutterstock


Atrial fibrillation is a common cardiac disease characterized by rapid and irregular heart rate, leading to blood clot formation in the heart and impairment in blood flow. The disease is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Therapeutic interventions primarily focus on correcting heart rate and rhythm and triggering the anticoagulation process to prevent cardioembolic stroke.

Several modifiable risk factors, such as alcohol and tobacco use, have been identified to prevent atrial fibrillation. However, not enough evidence is available regarding the association between the use of illicit drugs and disease risk. The legalization of cannabis and relaxation in laws regarding other illicit drugs have made it necessary to understand the impact of commonly consumed drugs on the incidence of atrial fibrillation.

In the current study, scientists have evaluated whether the use of methamphetamine, cocaine, opiates, and cannabis increases the risk of atrial fibrillation in adult residents of California, USA.

Study design

The scientists used California health department databases to identify all adult residents of the state who received medical care in emergency departments, ambulatory surgery facilities, or hospitals between 2005 and 2015.

Four illicit drugs, including methamphetamine, cocaine, opiate, and cannabis, were considered in the study. The impact of each drug use on a new atrial fibrillation diagnosis was assessed.

Important observations

A total of 23,561,884 patients were included in the analysis. Of them, 98,271 used methamphetamine, 48,701 used cocaine, 10,032 used opiates, and 132,834 used cannabis. Approximately 4.2% of the patients developed incident atrial fibrillation during the study period.   

Impact of illicit drug use on atrial fibrillation risk

The impact of each tested drug as an independent predictor of atrial fibrillation was assessed after adjusting for several known demographic (age, sex, race, and income), clinical (hypertension, dyslipidemia, diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, valvular heart disease, obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, and chronic kidney disease), and other modifiable (alcohol and tobacco use) risk factors. 

The findings revealed that the use of each tested drug is associated with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation. The highest and lowest associations were observed for methamphetamine and cannabis, respectively.

The association between methamphetamine use and atrial fibrillation risk was similar or greater to that observed for many known risk factors in the databases. Similarly, despite having the lowest impact compared to other tested drugs, the association between cannabis use and atrial fibrillation was comparable to that observed for dyslipidemia, diabetes mellitus, and chronic kidney disease.    

The patients who used multiple drugs exhibited a higher risk of atrial fibrillation than those who used a single drug.

The severity of drug use was assessed by creating five clinical categories: drug dependence, continuous drug intake, episodic drug intake, in remission drug intake, and adverse effects in therapeutics. An independent association was observed between each clinical category and increased risk of atrial fibrillation.

Study significance

The study identifies methamphetamine, cocaine, opiate, and cannabis as independent predictors of incident atrial fibrillation among adult residents of California. Since the consumption of illicit drugs is a modifiable risk factor, efforts to reduce the use of these drugs could be beneficial in terms of reducing the risk of atrial fibrillation.

As mentioned by the researchers, further studies are required to understand the modes of action of these drugs in causing cardiac abnormalities.

Journal reference:
Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Written by

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta is a science communicator who believes in spreading the power of science in every corner of the world. She has a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree and a Master's of Science (M.Sc.) in biology and human physiology. Following her Master's degree, Sanchari went on to study a Ph.D. in human physiology. She has authored more than 10 original research articles, all of which have been published in world renowned international journals.


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  1. jim najda jim najda United States says:

    Thet had to do a study to find this out. Here's another study. People who use these drugs live shorter lives than ones who don't. They also are not as healthy as people who are drug free

  2. Jeremy Childress Jeremy Childress United States says:

    Yep and too much caffeine or pseudo ephedrine can do the same thing so what's your point

  3. Mumin Muhammad Mumin Muhammad United States says:

    Lol weed was put as an illicit drug not a plant Herb? They put weed in politics to do so lol. No one has ever died from herbs of any kind. Everything outside of weed is actually man made processed which is a Drug. Lol.

  4. MG MS MG MS United States says:

    Thank you for that study , I find it very interesting.

  5. Amanda Wyllis Amanda Wyllis United States says:

    What kind of testing do they have to do to identify that you have this problem? Because I had twittings sensations in my left breast for quite a while. But my factory job is quite physical and I'm left hand dominant so I use that side a little bit more and was wondering if it was a muscle or the heart?

  6. chris yeary chris yeary United States says:

    This is straight BS, I could understand with cocaine and meth but pot affects you differently and quite frankly some of the most healthy people I've ever met smoke pot, stop spreading bs just to help our government have even more of a lie to keep it illegal

  7. Yahaiah Yisrael Yahaiah Yisrael United States says:

    Cannabis has more healthier benefits and should not be compared to illicit hard drugs

  8. Mark Peterson Mark Peterson United States says:

    If more stupid, drugged out people destroy themselves, there will be less of them cluttering the planet.  People should be able to decide what they want to do with their bodies, let them choose to be drugged out losers that may die of heart failure

  9. John Loffland John Loffland United States says:

    Alcohol, tobacco and big Pharma all say thank you very much for the distraction. As if they don’t already have a stranglehold on this country as it is, let’s talk about the myriad of horrors this plant might possibly cause.-Way to prioritize. I’m sure that was purely an accident. Riiight.

  10. Tim Gross Tim Gross United States says:

    never trust a study which suggests that cannabis has some negative effects on the human body- cannabis has been vetted by 6,000 years of steady human use and has never shown any ill effects. this reeks of the old racist "war on drugs" tropes. not a good look.

  11. Emma leigh june Johnson Emma leigh june Johnson United States says:

    I've done all kinds and very extensive  studying I don't smoke cannabis I know for a fact that cannabis does not cause articles fibrillation

  12. Rudy Martinez Rudy Martinez United States says:

    We know that alcohol and tobacco use, especially tobacco, are modifiable factors, but is it scientifically irresponsible to lump meth, cocaine, opiates together with marijuana? Is it an honest medical evaluation metric or is it pushed by an anti-weed government funding protocol. And please, where is the breakdown between those using weed, meth, opiates and coke. I’ll be willing to bet its almost nil for Maryjane. Weed is the only drug here which has no deadly dose. Weed is the only drug here that has NEVER caused an overdose. Ever. Please tell these researchers to stop beating up on the naturally produced Maui Wowie and concentrate on the man-made chemical poisons. Then and only then will we advance in terms of human health.

  13. Shawn Richardson Shawn Richardson United States says:

    As a medical professional who studies cannabis I find this entire article to be a smear piece against cannabis the journalist and editor should do more research and be ashamed of this article I've personally helped many patients with cannabis related treatments

  14. Kevin Stacey Kevin Stacey United States says:

    Forgot to add the COVID vaccination to the list

  15. David S David S United States says:

    Seriously?  Words and Blah, blah about Propoganda & DISINFORMATION!!   Another ploy to detract from the facts of all the Covid Jabs issues.  So much false info,  and here's another... this rise is not a listed.  Get the facts straight... THC, as well as Opoids, BOTH, work the opposite as described, depressing blood pressure,  blood flow,  heart rate.   The whole reasonan overdose on an Opoid happens is due to the fact when too much is taken, it DEPRESSES your breathing,  and heart rate,  SLOWING the effects, the opposite of A-Fib... obviously it doesn't normalize blood flow - which could be your point... but that's like saying start belts save lives in high speed crashes,  and thankfully I wore mine when i bumped into my trash can when i got home from work.
    No bearing on the rest of the article!

      And yes, smoking 'anything' can increase your heart rate - your system has to become more efficent to utilize the oxygen that it is deprived of when carbon monoxide is inhaled; HOWEVER, THC can be taken orally by edibles, or by concentrated droppers (edible oil), etc.; SLOWING heart rate.  Total opposite of claim... either redo the research, and the article,  or just admit this is a shell game to detract from the  "Vaxcine" issue... which is the real killer in our society, today.  

      Depopulation... WEF.  The New World Order and thier agenda will fall; only suceed they will find is to suck seed.

  16. Shane Shane United States says:

    But please take our pharmacy drugs and vaccines, and drink our pinapple watermelon flavoed alcohol while we ban flavored Tabacoo and vapes.

  17. Geraldine Petra Posada Geraldine Petra Posada United States says:

    They may have phd’s, degrees in medical sciences etc. But they do not know everything. I have been a user of marijuana for my anxiety for years before they even knew it was good for several different symptom relief of PTSD ,Anxiety, nausea for kemp patients to give them better appetite during kemp, to help veterans get off of opiates and the like. But I have known this for years before they even admitted it is good for many many different disorders or coping with many of life’s issue that people deal with everyday. Social anxieties to coping with PTSD and disorders of the mind as well as physical pain or just plain living in this world and having to deal with society as we all know can be very difficult for some people. I have known this and used it for over 40 years now to help to me cope with anxiety, Agoraphobia, social anxiety as well having panic attacks and situations that have hindered my life since I was 15 yrs old. It has not only helped me relieve My Agoraphobia to a point that I can function outside in the stressful world, when I leave my home to run errands or go to the bank or to get groceries and be able to function almost normally until I get back home. If it was not for marijuana use to calm me down before I leave my house. I would not be able to do the few things that I can do  when leaving my home. With Agoraphobia I cannot work, go to the store,or to the bank or anywhere for that matter. It has helped to do things I would never be able to do without it. Before using marijuana, I could not even go to my mailbox just a few feet down my driveway. Anyone with Agoraphobia knows that it is about the anxiety and stress one feels the farther you get away from your home. The feelings are indescribable and often get to the point of feeling you are going to have a heart attack or faint or hyperventilate the farther you get away from your home or familiar area the more the stress and anxiety become to the point to where you feel like you are going to die or just run away screaming until you are back home again. Marijuana has helped me in more ways than I can tell you in this comment and I do not know what others feel with disorders like mine. I just know it has helped me greatly. People with my disorder or symptoms like mine can be helped by it ‘s use. I am not a dr  but I do know what I have experienced and it has helped me cope with many  stressful situations  in my life. Also I have not had any kind of heart fibrillations or the like. In fact it has helped me cope with my panic attacks and anxieties which all have an affect on my heart rate, my breathing, my hyperventilation in stressful situations.if it was not for marijuana Like I said I would not have been able to cope or control my anxiety, my breathing , my hyperventilation and My Agoraphobia. I know everyone is different, and what works for one individual might not work for on other individuals. But it has worked for me and I thank God for that and I have not had any problems with arterial fibrillations or anything of that nature but that is just me and what I have experienced in my life. So I can say Drs may know a lot but they do not know everything and everyone is different and you need to find what works for you. Everyone in this world has a crutch to cope in their lives.”Everyone” wether it be coffee or donuts, cigarettes or alcohol to cocaine etc. Everyone does or uses something to cope through everyday life. Some people use music or exercise or running or eating . Just listen to some of the things they say or do . Like I am no good until I have my coffee and a smoke or that afternoon cocktail or happy hour  before they can continue on their daily life. Everyone uses something to get them through their day. So that is my comment and I thank you for taking time out of your busy day to read it and thank you for not judging people because we all have crutches even you that might be reading this at this moment. We are all individuals in  this world and we all need something to deal with life no matter who you are or what you have had to deal with in your lives. We are all just trying to live our best lives we know how and cope with what we have been subjected everyday of living our lives. We just have to find what works for us. Just remember that and do not judge people if you know nothing about them and what they have been through in their lives.

  18. beaker street beaker street United States says:

    Yes....Seems everything can manifest into atrial fibrillation, everything but Covid vaccines right? That's  why we are hearing about all these "new" ways we can die of a heart attack since Covid began. Because the vaccines are totally safe!

  19. Daniel Buciak Daniel Buciak United States says:

    The COVID shot. I had an ablation in 2018. All was good. A year after the two COVID shots I got AFib and 6 months after that A-flutter.

  20. Adam Gentry Adam Gentry United States says:

    This study was obviously paid for by special interests or undertaken with the knowledge a positive finding would attract media interest and future funding.

    Notice how no data is revealed.  But even if it had been, I have no doubt everything would be statistically significant and many wildly significant at the p < 0.0001 level.  I see this all the time with large sample sizes.  The researchers never learned that effect size is not independent of sample size.  In the sciences, we had been accustomed to dealing with sample sizes in the 30 - 300 range.  It was difficult to recruit study participants.  Bug in the age of the Internet and Software, databases offer ready access to thousands of data points from participants who do not even know they're supplying data for a study.  When the sample size increases to levels observed here (over 10,000), unless you choose a test of strength of association that is independent of sample size, the difference between the means will become statistically significant no matter how small it is as long as it is not zero.  There was an article published in a Statistics journal that suggested as much as 12% of the research literature (and growing) is contaminated with positive findings that are artifacts of sample size.  I encountered this when I reviewed research published by a group of hospital employees  who were prospective employers.  I couldn't believe it.  They were proud of the article.  Everything they tested -- and I mean EVERYTHING -- was statistically significant at the p < 0.0001 level.  But when you looked at the groups being compared (the stats compared here were percentages rather than means), the differences that were statistically significant included 14% vs. 9% and 36% vs. 31%.  In no universe are these differences large enough to be meaningful to anyone.  

    What's also suspicious is the substances that are all linked to this terribly frightening adverse event are incredibly varied in their pharmacological effects and phenomenology, sharing in common only the fact they are unpopular with politicians, soccer moms, temperance groups, and law enforcement.  

    Did you get the message?  This is your HEART on drugs.

    I am leading a movement to restore for chronic pain patients access to Rx painkillers thar have been involuntary discontinued by their doctors under extraordinary, career-existential pressure from the DEA and State Medical Boards.  That's my COI here.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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