Two non-published studies presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions on Monday shed light on the potential cardiovascular risks associated with marijuana use in older adults. The findings suggest that non-smoking older adults who use marijuana may face a higher risk of heart attack and stroke during hospitalization. Additionally, daily marijuana users were found to have a 34% increased risk of developing heart failure.
The studies, presented by researchers at the Scientific Sessions in Philadelphia, have raised concerns about the impact of marijuana use on cardiovascular health. Robert Page II, chair of the volunteer writing group for the 2020 American Heart Association Scientific Statement, expressed that observational data strongly indicate a potential link between cannabis use, whether recreational or medicinal, and the development of cardiovascular disease.
The American Heart Association (AHA) has long recommended refraining from smoking or vaping any substances, including cannabis, due to potential harm to the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Page emphasized the importance of treating marijuana use as a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke and urged individuals to understand the associated risks.
The rise in marijuana use among older adults is evident in recent studies. A 2020 study reported a twofold increase in the number of American seniors over the age of 65 using marijuana or edibles between 2015 and 2018. A subsequent 2023 study revealed a 450% surge in past-month binge drinking and marijuana use among the same age group from 2015 to 2019.
Notably, nearly three in every 10 marijuana users develop cannabis use disorder, characterized by cravings, appetite changes, irritability, restlessness, and sleep difficulties upon quitting, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The impact of marijuana use appears to be exacerbated in older adults who often contend with various chronic conditions by the age of 65. One of the studies, excluding tobacco users to specifically examine cannabis use, found that older adults with cannabis use disorder had a 20% higher risk of major heart or brain events during hospitalization compared to non-users.
Dr. Avilash Mondal, lead author of the study and a resident physician at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia, highlighted the uniqueness of their research in isolating cannabis use from tobacco use.
A separate study followed nearly 160,000 adults for about four years to investigate the link between cannabis use and heart failure. The results revealed a 34% increased risk of heart failure among daily marijuana users compared to non-users, irrespective of age, sex, or smoking history.
Dr. Yakubu Bene-Alhasan, lead author of the heart failure study and a resident physician at Medstar Health in Baltimore, emphasized the need for more research to understand the health implications of marijuana use, particularly on cardiovascular risk.
As marijuana use becomes more prevalent, especially among older adults, these studies underscore the importance of considering the potential cardiovascular consequences and the need for further research to inform public health guidelines.
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