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A new study claims marijuana is tied to a threefold risk of dying from high blood pressure — but there’s a catch – Business Insider


marijuana weed pot cannabis smoke smokeriStock

  • A new study claims that marijuana users face a
    threefold risk of dying from hypertension than
    nonusers.
  • The study has some limitations, including that it
    defines users as anyone who’s ever tried the drug.
  • Still, the study highlights an important area for more
    research: marijuana’s effect on the heart.

A new study suggests that anyone who smokes marijuana faces a
threefold risk of dying from high blood pressure than people who
have never used the drug.

Those findings sound alarming, but it’s important to keep in mind
that, like any study, this one has limitations, including that it
defines marijuana “users” as anyone who’s ever tried the drug and
that it doesn’t differentiate among strains of a highly
unregulated product.

However, the study highlights some key areas for future study —
including how using cannabis might affect the heart. Here’s what
you need to know.

‘A greater than three-fold risk of death’

“We found that marijuana users had a greater than three-fold risk
of death from hypertension and the risk increased with each
additional year of use,” Barbara Yankey, the lead author of the
study and a doctoral student of epidemiology and biostatistics at
Georgia State University, said
in a statement
.

For her paper, published
Wednesday
in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology,
Yankey looked at more than 1,200 people age 20 or older who had
been recruited previously as part of a large and ongoing national
health survey.

In 2005, researchers asked them whether they had ever used
marijuana or hashish. People who answered “yes” were classified
as marijuana users; those who answered “no” were classified as
nonusers.


marijuana tweed canopy growthBlair
Gable/Reuters

The researchers then merged that data with statistics on death
from all causes, pulled from the US National Center for Health
Statistics, and adjusted it to rule out any factors that could
muddle the results, like gender, race, and a history of smoking
tobacco.

Overall, those classified as marijuana users were found to be
3.42 times as likely to die from hypertension, or high blood
pressure, than those who said they had never used. That risk also
appeared to rise by a factor of 1.04 with what the researchers
labeled “each year of use.”

Here’s the problem: The study’s authors defined anyone who said
they had ever tried marijuana as a “regular user.”

Other research suggests this is a poor assumption. According to

a recent survey
, about 52% of Americans have tried cannabis
at some point, yet only 14% said they used the drug “regularly,”
defined as “at least once a month.”

Also, the study was observational, meaning it followed a group of
people over time and reported what happened to them, so the
researchers cannot conclude a cause and effect — they can’t say
that smoking marijuana causes high blood pressure, only
that the two things appear to be linked. The authors wrote,
“From our results, marijuana use may increase the risk for
hypertension mortality.”

Another issue is the unregulated nature of the existing, and
largely illegal, cannabis market. People are using a wide variety
of strains whose concentrations of compounds — there are
up to 400 in marijuana
, including THC and CBD — can differ
drastically.

Charles Pollack, who directs the Lambert Center for the Study of
Medicinal Cannabis and was not involved with the new study,

told LiveScience
that there were many strains of marijuana
“with no quality standards,” and that was “making it tough to
generalize” the effects.

Marijuana and your heart

While the study is far from conclusive, it sheds light on an
important potential health risk linked with marijuana use.
Scientists know that cannabis affects the heart, but because of
the limited research available on the drug, it has been hard to
suss out how it
affects things like high blood pressure
.

For example, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse,
ingesting marijuana
increases heart rate
by between 20 and 50 beats a minute for
anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours.

But a
large, recent report
from the National Academies of Sciences,
Engineering, and Medicine found “insufficient evidence” to
support or refute the idea that cannabis might increase the
overall risk of a heart attack, though it also found some limited
evidence that using the drug could be a trigger for the
phenomenon.

When it comes to cannabis’ effect on blood pressure, the results
are also inconclusive. One very
small study
, for example, found a sharp increase in blood
pressure immediately after regular pot users stopped
using the drug.

“Abrupt cessation of heavy cannabis use may cause clinically
significant increases in blood pressure in a subset of users,”
that study’s researchers wrote.

And according to the Mayo Clinic, using cannabis could
result in decreased
, not increased blood pressure.


Francesca Filbey
, the director of cognitive neuroscience
research of addictive disorders at the Center for BrainHealth and
an associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain
Sciences, told Business Insider that the latest study is an
important area for future research, and said the links the study
authors found “between death from hypertension and years of
marijuana use does indicate a relationship” between the two
things.

Still, Filbey said the study has important limitations, and said
future studies should aim to also look at how factors like other
substance use, BMI and other factors that may affect heart health
could play a role in the outcome as well.

A new study claims marijuana is tied to a threefold risk of dying from high blood pressure — but there’s a catch – Business Insider

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