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February 27, 2023

Regular marijuana use increases the risk of heart disease, study finds

The psychoactive compound in the plant, THC, may cause the buildup of inflammation and plaque in the blood vessels

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Marijuana Heart Disease ELSA OLOFSSON/

Daily marijuana use increases the risk of coronary artery disease, the most common form of heart disease, a new study finds.

People who use marijuana every day are 34% more likely to develop coronary artery disease, the most common form of heart disease, than those who do not use the drug, new research shows. 

Coronary artery disease, or CAD, occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart became narrowed by plaque or are blocked by clots. Smoking cigarettes can lead to CAD because chemicals in the smoke cause the blood to thicken and form clots. 

Previous research has suggested that THC, the psychoactive compound found in marijuana, interacts with blood vessels in a way that may cause inflammation and the buildup of plaque, leading to CAD. The same effect may not be true of CBD, another cannabis compound that is commonly used in products that do not contain THC. 

The latest study, which examined health data from 175,000 people, is among the largest to examine the long-term effects of marijuana use on the heart. Though daily use increased the risk of CAD, monthly use did not. 

"We found that cannabis use is linked to CAD, and there seems to be a dose-response relationship in that more frequent cannabis use is associated with a higher risk of CAD," said Dr. Ishan Paranjpe, the study's lead author and a resident physician at Stanford University. "In terms of the public health message, it shows that there are probably certain harms of cannabis use that weren't recognized before, and people should take that into account."

The study did not differentiate between the various forms of marijuana use. Researchers said future studies need to examine whether smoking marijuana is more risky than ingesting it through an edible, noting that THC gets to the brain more quickly when it is smoked. 

Marijuana has become increasingly legal throughout the United States. Recreational marijuana has been legalized in 21 states, including New Jersey. Medical marijuana is legal in 37 states, including Pennsylvania. 

Previous research has found that marijuana users are nearly twice as likely to suffer a heart attack as people who don't use it. Marijuana smokers also have been found to be more likely to develop paraseptal emphysema as tobacco-only smokers and nonsmokers. 

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