November 29, 2023

High Risk: Cannabis Use Disorder’s Link to Increased Risk of Heart Attacks and Cardiovascular Disease

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New research reveals that Canadian adults with cannabis use disorder face a 60% increased risk of their first major cardiovascular event compared to those without the disorder. Based on data from nearly 60,000 participants, the study highlights a particularly heightened risk among cannabis users who perceive themselves as healthy.

Cannabis Use Disorder May Be Linked to Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

A new study has discovered 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 on September 27 in the journal 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.

Research Methodology and Results

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.

Risk Among Healthier Individuals With Cannabis Use Disorder

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.

Expert Insights

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 continually evolving dialogue surrounding the health implications of cannabis use disorder and its potential links to cardiovascular health.

Reference: “Cannabis use disorder and adverse cardiovascular outcomes: a population-based retrospective cohort analysis of adults from Alberta, Canada” by Anees Bahji, Josh Hathaway, Denise Adams, David Crockford, E. Jennifer Edelman, Michael D. Stein, Scott B. Patten, 27 September 2023, Addiction.
DOI: 10.1111/add.16337

Funding: Dr. Bahji has been awarded doctoral studies research funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Fellowship and the Alberta Innovates Foundations from the University of Calgary and has received research funding through the Calgary Health Trust. Dr. Patten is supported by the Cuthbertson & Fischer Chair in Pediatric Mental Health at the University of Calgary. Funding and support for the joint position, held by J. Hathaway, was provided through a partnership between the Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse (CRISM) Prairies Node and the CRISM-Alberta Health Services (AHS) Advancement in Analytics in Addiction Partnership.