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Cannabis & Cardiovascular Health: A Statement from The American Heart Association

Written by Lydia Kariuki

Cannabis safety has been a subject of contention among pro- and anti-cannabis factions. Most recently, cannabis use and cardiovascular risk has been on the radar. The American Heart Association (AHA) recently issued a statement stating their stance on this important issue.[1]

The AHA acknowledged the therapeutic potential of cannabis in treating pain, cachexia, nausea and vomiting, and spasticity. However, the report emphasized the lack of clear scientific evidence on the cardiovascular benefits of cannabis.

On the flip side, the report indicated that cannabis might pose potential cardiovascular risk–and many media outlets have jumped on this as evidence that cannabis is bad for your heart. Here is our take on this statement:

In citing the potential risks of cannabis use, the AHA’s main concern was the effect of cannabis on major cardiovascular events like heart attacks. Studies included in the report indicated that cannabis users (18- 44 years) had an increased risk for developing a stroke as compared to non-users. Another study showed that 6% of patients (below 50 years old) that had a heart attack were cannabis users. However, the researchers admitted that, as much as these studies showed a trend, they fail to prove cause and effect.

Despite a very long list of cited studies, the AHA concluded: “Overall, evidence is still inconclusive for cannabis use and adverse cardiovascular outcomes, resulting in an urgent need for carefully designed, prospective short- and long-term studies.”

The AHA went on further to discuss the effects of different cannabinoids on these potential health risks, as anyone in the industry knows that no two cannabinoids are alike.

As tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and inhibits the parasympathetic nervous system, after consuming THC a user may experience increased:

  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Oxygen demand to the heart
  • Platelet activation
  • Dysfunction of blood vessel lining

Cannabidiol (CBD) on the other hand may reduce heart rate and blood pressure. The report asserted that CBD, which is non-intoxicating, could help to reduce inflammation and subsequent narrowing of the vessels (atherosclerosis). These potential cardiovascular benefits should certainly be further explored.

The writers of the report acknowledged the shortcomings in the studies cited, as most of them were retrospective and short-term. However, it is important to note that the report vouched for the rescheduling of cannabis to “allow a more nuanced approach to marijuana legislation and regulation.”

It’s near next to impossible to write a scientific review that isn’t biased in some way. Cannabis medicine has come a long way–and we’ve got an even longer road ahead. While the potential risks of cannabis should always be considered and discussed with your doctor prior to use, it’s important to review guidance from different sources to learn about the potential benefits and risks of cannabis rather than relying on (or reacting to) one specific source, even if published by an academic organization.

Image Credit: Ben Kerckx

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  1. Page RL 2nd, Allen LA, Kloner RA, Carriker CR, Martel C, Morris AA, Piano MR, Rana JS, Saucedo JF; on behalf of the American Heart Association Clinical Pharmacology Committee and Heart Failure and Transplantation Committee of the Council on Clinical Cardiology; Council on Basic Cardiovascular Sciences; Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing; Council on Epidemiology and Prevention; Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health; and Council on Quality of Care and Outcomes Research. Medical marijuana, recreational cannabis, and cardiovascular health: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. 2020;142:e000-e000. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000883 (Cited as requested by the AHA)

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Lydia Kariuki

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