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Aug 30, 2017

Marijuana Use Triples Risk of Death from High Blood Pressure

Study sheds light on the negative heart effects of smoking marijuana.

Marijuana may spell trouble for heart health, based on a recent study that found marijuana use more than triples risk of death from high blood pressure.

Published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, this study looked at the association between marijuana use and risk of heart-related death. It included more than 1,200 U.S. adults participating in a 2005 national survey on health and lifestyle, all of whom reported their history on marijuana use. Participants were followed for up to 20 years, tracking key outcomes including heart-related death.

The average age of participants was 38, 57% of which reported using marijuana at least once. Throughout the 20–year study, one-quarter of participants had died.

Analysis showed that marijuana users were 3.42 times more likely to die from high blood pressure than those who never used marijuana. Researchers also found that increased marijuana use was associated with greater risk of death from high blood pressure.

However, experts note one big flaw in the study, which is regarding how marijuana use was defined. When asked about marijuana use in the 2005 survey, participants reporting ever having tried marijuana were categorized as being “marijuana users.” Those who never tried it were labeled non-users. The concern, according to experts, is that not all adults in the “marijuana user” group used marijuana regularly. In fact, some may have only used it a few times in their lives, which would likely have less of an impact on health as those who smoke regularly.

Still, authors note that findings highlight the potential health risks associated with marijuana use. High blood pressure affects 1 in 3 U.S. adults and is a major risk factor for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor for high blood pressure, and while evidence on the health effects of marijuana use is sparse, studies suggest that the negative effects of cigarette and marijuana use may be similar. Given the recent push to legalize marijuana in the U.S., experts worry about the potential health consequences of increased marijuana use, should policies change.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is hypertension?
  • Hypertension, often referred to as high blood pressure, occurs when the force of blood against the artery walls is too high. High blood pressure is often referred to as the “silent killer,” because it often causes no symptoms and if left uncontrolled, increases risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • Who is at risk for high blood pressure?
  • Risk for hypertension increases with age, and most adults will eventually be affected by this condition at some time in their lives. However, diabetes, obesity, stress, high sodium intake, tobacco use and excessive alcohol use can greatly increase risk for high blood pressure.

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