A new research study is casting doubt on the common assumption that smoking weed can increase the risk of having a heart attack. This new study, recently published in the Cureus journal, found that regular cannabis use could actually protect the heart in the same way that red wine does.
Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City conducted this new study to examine the associations between cannabis use and myocardial infarctions, commonly known as heart attacks. The study authors collected data from the UK Biobank, a large-scale medical database and research resource. From this database, researchers identified 500,000 subjects who had suffered heart attacks and collected data on these subjects' self-reported cannabis and red wine consumption.
“Atrial fibrillation, ventricular tachycardia, acute coronary syndromes, and cardiac arrest have been attributed to marijuana,” the study authors wrote. “But the National Academy of Science’s 2017 Report, The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids, found limited evidence that acute marijuana smoking is positively associated with an increased risk of acute myocardial infarction, and uncovered no evidence to support or refute associations between any chronic effects of marijuana use and increased risk of myocardial infarct (MI).”
The present study found that cannabis use did not increase the risk or severity of MI, confirming the findings of the 2017 study. In fact, researchers found that subjects who used cannabis regularly were actually less likely to suffer heart attacks than non-users. The study also reported a reduced risk of MI in subjects who drank 1-10 glasses of red wine a week, and noted that moderate cannabis and red wine use reduced the risk of heart attacks by a similar amount.
Previous studies have indicated that moderate red wine consumption can help prevent coronary heart disease by altering protein and cholesterol levels and boosting the effects of natural antioxidants. Prior research also suggests that the occasional glass of red wine is especially helpful for so-called “type D” personalities who experience anxiety, depression, and lack of self-assurance. Researchers have theorized that occasional drinking may improve these individuals’ heart health by reducing stress, and moderate cannabis use could have a similar effect.
“The association of marijuana use with reduced risk of MI is not entirely in accord with current assumptions about the cardiac effects of marijuana,” the researchers said. “Yet marijuana cardioprotection may resemble that of red wine. Moderate marijuana consumption to reduce stress and induce a sense of well-being in type D personalities may be beneficial to the heart, like red wine, and diminish the risk of MI.”
This new study adds a new piece to the confusing puzzle of data on cannabis and heart health. Several studies have reported that pot smokers are more likely to suffer strokes or other cardiological disorders, but others have found the opposite to be true. In 2018, a study reported that cannabis users who did have heart attacks were more likely to survive than non-users. Another team of researchers found that regular pot use was linked to changes in heart structure, but were unable to discover whether these changes had any long-term health implications.
An interesting study from 2019 found that nicotine vapes can pose a greater risk to cardiovascular health than cigarettes. Although this study did not investigate cannabis vapes, it suggests that certain methods of consumption might increase the risk of heart issues, while other methods could be safer. Further research could explore whether individual cannabis products, like vapes, joints, or edibles, might uniquely impact the heart.
“Marijuana has been cultivated and used for over 6,000 years, but its cardiovascular and other health impacts have not been thoroughly investigated,” the study concluded. “The cannabis plant contains more than 100 unique chemical components classified as cannabinoids. One or more of these substances may be responsible for the reduction of MI risk we report here. Further studies are warranted.”