Cannabis use disorder may be linked to heart attack, stroke

Published on September 29, 2023 by Special to the oz.

Cannabis use disorder can increase risk of cardiovascular issues. Photo: Adobe stock/the oz.
Researchers don't yet know the full extent of the consequences when the body and brain are exposed to high concentrations of THC or how recent increases in concentrations affect the risk of someone developing cannabis use disorder, according to the CDC.

A new study has found that Canadian adults with cannabis use disorder appear to have an approximately 60% higher risk of experiencing their first heart attack, stroke, or other major cardiovascular event than those without cannabis use disorder.

The study, published in Addiction, measured the association between problematic marijuana use and the first-time occurrence of adverse cardiovascular disease events such as heart attack, stroke, cardiac dysrhythmias, and peripheral vascular disease.

Researchers used five Canadian health databases to create a cohort of nearly 60,000 participants, half with a cannabis use disorder diagnosis and half without, matched by gender, year of birth, and time of presentation to the health system. People with prior adverse cardiovascular disease events were excluded. The participants were tracked from January 2012 to December 2019. Among people with cannabis use disorder, 2.4% (721) experienced a first-time cardiovascular disease event, compared with 1.5% (458) in the unexposed group.

Within the group of people with cannabis use disorder, people with no co-occurring medical illness, no prescriptions, and fewer than five visits to health services in the last six months had an even higher risk of a first-time cardiovascular disease event—approximately 1.4 times higher than for the rest of the cannabis-use-disorder group. This may be because those people considered themselves healthy and may not have acted on or even noticed the warning signs of an imminent heart attack, stroke, or other major cardiovascular event.

Findings contribute to discussion around cannabis use disorder

Dr. Anees Bahji, lead author of the study, emphasized the significance of these findings for public health and clinical practice.

Our study doesn’t provide enough information to say that cannabis use disorder causes adverse cardiovascular disease events, but we can go so far as to say that Canadians with cannabis use disorder appear to have a much higher risk of cardiovascular disease than people without the disorder.”

The study contributes to the ongoing dialogue surrounding the health implications of cannabis use disorder and its potential links to cardiovascular health.

What is cannabis use disorder?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cannabis use disorder is the inability to stop using cannabis even if it’s causing health and social problems in their lives. These are the signs:

  • Using more cannabis than intended
  • Trying but failing to quit using cannabis
  • Spending a lot of time using cannabis
  • Craving cannabis
  • Using cannabis even though it causes problems at home, school, or work
  • Continuing to use cannabis despite social or relationship problems.
  • Giving up important activities with friends and family in favour of using cannabis.
  • Using cannabis in high-risk situations, such as while driving a car.
  • Continuing to use cannabis despite physical or psychological problems.
  • Needing to use more cannabis to get the same high.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping cannabis use.