Drug use is especially risky for heart attack survivors, based on a recent study that found heart attack survivors who used marijuana and cocaine had a twofold greater risk of death.
Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, this study looked at the impact of drug use on survival after heart attack. Researchers looked at the effects of cocaine, which is known to increase risk for heart events, as well as marijuana use, the effects of which are less clear.
The study included 2,097 patients treated for heart attack at two Boston hospitals between 2000 and 2016. Patients were 50 years old or younger and enrolled in the YOUNG-MI registry, which studies the health of young heart attack survivors to learn more about risk factors and prevention.
Using a combination of toxicology results and patient reports, researchers were able to determine which patients used marijuana or cocaine in the week before their heart attack. After tracking outcomes for over a decade, researchers found that drug use had a significant impact on survival.
Overall, 11% of participants had used marijuana or cocaine before their heart attack. While drug users had fewer cardiovascular risk factors like diabetes and high cholesterol, they were twice as likely to die in the years following their heart event than non-drug users.
According to authors findings solidify the known effects of cocaine use on heart health. Cocaine use is a known risk factor for heart attack, stroke and death, and given its highly addictive qualities, has been illegal in the U.S. for over a century.
The health effects of marijuana, however, are largely debated. While inhaled marijuana smoke has been linked to increased heart risks, the long-term health effects of marijuana are unclear. Experts worry about the potential health impacts now that marijuana is becoming increasingly legal in many states.
Medical marijuana is currently approved in 30 states plus the District of Columbia and recreational use has been legalized in nine.
While we still have more to learn, experts advise that heart attack survivors should avoid drug use based on recent findings. This study found that young patients with a history of heart attack and drug use had shorter long-term survival than non-drug users. Patients with a history of heart attack already face significantly greater odds of having a second heart event. Decreasing that risk with medication and a healthy lifestyle—free of drugs—could help improve outcomes.