A new study carried out by researchers at the University of Guelph, Canada, says young people who smoke cannabis stand increased risk of developing heart disease later in life, Punch Newspaper reports.
The research, experts say, is the first to look at specific risk indicators for cardiovascular disease in young, healthy cannabis users.
The findings, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, revealed that subtle but potentially important changes take place in the heart and artery function of cannabis users.
According to the authors, cigarette smoking is known to affect cardiovascular health, causing changes to blood vessels and the heart, but less is known about the impact of smoking cannabis on long-term CVD risk.
The team pointed out that cannabis is the most commonly used recreational substance worldwide after alcohol.
The lead author, a PhD student in the Human Performance and Health Research Laboratory, Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, Christian Cheung, said, “Cannabis is really widely used as a recreational substance all around the world and is becoming increasingly so.”
On how they arrived at their conclusion, the researchers explained that they studied 35 subjects, aged 19 to 30, half of whom were cannabis users.
They revealed using ultrasound imaging to look at their hearts and arteries, and measured arterial stiffness and arterial function, or the ability of arteries to appropriately expand with greater blood flow.
The researchers explained that all three measures are indicators of cardiovascular function and potential disease risk, and that they discovered that arterial stiffness was greater in cannabis users than in non-users.
The team said they further measured how fast a pressure wave travelled down the artery, and discovered that stiffer arteries transmit a wave more quickly.
“In cannabis users, cardiac function—inferred from how the heart moves as seen in echocardiographic images—was lower than in non-users,” they revealed.
Cheung said the team was surprised to see no difference in artery dilation in response to changing blood flow.
She said, “All three measures normally change in cigarette smokers, with stiffer arteries and lower vascular and heart function.”
“We don’t yet know why in cannabis users, there’s no difference in vascular function.”
Cheung suggested that differences may reflect variations in how tobacco and cannabis are consumed, as well as amounts and frequency and the user’s age.
“We looked at young cannabis users. In the cigarette literature, heavy, long-term smokers show reduced vascular function, but that’s not necessarily the case for younger smokers,” she said.
The team said they plan to carry out further studies to learn about potential impacts of the changes and disease risk in people who use cannabis.
“This is exciting new data, suggesting that even before more overt signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease are present, there may be more subtle indications in altered physiological function,” said Dr. Jamie Burr, one of the authors.
He believes the study will pave the way for their next study, aimed at understanding the direct effects of cannabis consumption, and how it may interact with common stressors of everyday life, like exercise.
Cheung said few studies have been done on the impacts of cannabis use on cardiovascular health, adding, “This is an exciting field of research given the ubiquity of cannabis use and the knowledge gap that exists. It’s a field ripe with opportunity.”
Reacting to the study, a medical practitioner with over 10 years of experience in family medicine, Dr. Gabriel Omonaiye, said the adverse effects of cannabis on the cardiovascular system are due to the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (psychoactive substance that produces the high associated with smoking marijuana) on the heart and the blood vessels.
He explained that the substance can cause damage to arteries including those in the heart, clotting abnormalities and vascular inflammation, when used at high doses, and over a prolonged period of time.
@ Punch Newspaper