Marijuana use may be linked to a weakened heart muscle, a new study finds. The researchers, from St. Luke’s University Hospital Network, found that active marijuana use may double the risk of stress cardiomyopathy, a sudden weakening of the heart muscle that can mimic symptoms of a heart attack. The symptoms can include chest pain, dizziness, and shortness of breath, but the condition is often temporary.
“The effects of marijuana, especially on the cardiovascular system, are not well known yet. With its increasing availability and legalization in some states, people need to know that marijuana may be harmful to the heart and blood vessels in some people,” said Amitoj Singh, M.D. study co-author and chief cardiology fellow at St. Luke’s University Health Network in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Using Nationwide Inpatient Sample from 2003 to 2011, the researchers identified 33,343 patients with stress cardiomyopathy. The data were taken from across the country and represented both men and women of varied ages. Of those, 210 (less than one percent) were also identified as marijuana users. The marijuana users tended to be younger and more often males. Compared with non-users, researchers found that marijuana users also had fewer cardiovascular risk factors that typically cause stress cardiomyopathy including high blood pressure, diabetes, migraines, hyperthyroidism and high cholesterol.
“Despite being younger and with fewer cardiovascular risk factors than non-users, during stress cardiomyopathy, the marijuana users were significantly more likely to go into cardiac arrest (2.4% vs. 0.8%) and to require an implanted defibrillator to detect and correct dangerously abnormal heart rhythms (2.4% vs. 0.6%),” the American Heart Association said of the study in a news release.
The researchers created a model that excluded all of the known causes of stress marijuana to investigate the association between marijuana use and stress cardiomyopathy seeing whether marijuana use alone could trigger the condition. They found a statistically significant relationship between the drug and stress cardiomyopathy, Singh said. “Someone who uses marijuana is almost two times more likely to develop stress cardiomyopathy,” he explained.
“If you are using marijuana and develop symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath, you should be checked by a healthcare provider to make sure you aren’t having stress cardiomyopathy or another heart problem,” Singh said.
Finally, because this was a retrospective study, the researchers were unable to analyze how often participants are using marijuana, or how much time has passed between marijuana intake and the occurrence of stress cardiomyopathy. In addition, researchers didn’t have access to data from all of the nation’s states, but they used regional reports so they couldn’t analyze whether possibly marijuana-related heart problems are increasing where use is legal.