Is Pot Bad For Your Heart?

By Paul Gaita 11/23/16

The growing availability of marijuana has heightened health concerns in the medical community.

Is Pot Bad For Your Heart?

Marijuana users may be twice as likely to develop a condition that weakens the muscles in the heart, according to a recent study.

Researchers from St. Luke's University Health Network in Pennsylvania looked at data from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample database, which culls data from community hospitals in 44 states, and reviewed more than 33,000 admissions for transient ventricular regional ballooning (TVRB)—also known as stress cardiomyopathy—a condition in which weakened heart muscles can temporarily reproduce symptoms of a heart attack, including chest pain, dizziness and shortness of breath.

Of the admissions reviewed for the study, the researchers found that between 2003 and 2011, 210 of these patients had either reported that they had used marijuana or showed traces of the drug in their urine.

Of the 210 individuals, 36% were men with few cardiovascular risk factors including high blood pressure, diabetes and high levels of cholesterol. On average, these individuals were approximately 44 years old, all of which stands in sharp contrast to results from other studies, which found that post-menopausal women were the most common group to suffer from TVRB.

While the findings do not provide a conclusive link between TVRB and marijuana, those who do use the drug "should be aware that certain cardiovascular abnormalities and complications can occur from marijuana use," said Dr. Amitoj Singh, chief cardiology fellow at St. Luke's University Health Network and a co-author of the study.

"If you are using marijuana and develop symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath, you should be evaluated by a healthcare provider to make sure you aren’t having stress cardiomyopathy or another heart problem."

Additional research is needed to clarify the exact nature of marijuana's link to TVRB; research has suggested that high levels of stress hormones may be a factor in the development of the condition, and while increased levels of such hormones can be found in individuals who use marijuana, the connection between all three factors remains unclear.

Additionally, marijuana users were more likely to have a history of numerous factors that can increase stress hormone levels, including depression, anxiety disorder, tobacco and alcohol use and multiple substance abuse, than non-users.

Singh also notes past studies that have shown that marijuana can have a positive effect on health, which are not discounted by his research. Simply put, both the drug and its impact on TVRB require more studies.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.