Cigarette Smoking Leads to Heart Disease, But Does Smoking Cannabis?


Cannabis has been the target of a decades-long public relations effort portraying it as a gateway drug, a drug that promotes a lackadaisical attitude, and schizophrenia, a substance that supposedly leads to a life of crime. As cannabis is being made legal in more and more states, a lot of people aren’t taking stock of these arguments any longer. And as more people use cannabis responsibly, the discussion has shifted to weed’s unique health benefits and cons, which are less alarming.



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Cannabis contains cannabinoids that elevate the heart rate and make it work more intensely. It raises the heart rate and makes the heart pump faster. Some studies have shown that smoking cannabis, just like smoking cigarettes, can increase your vulnerability to heart diseases. Though it is likely your heart works harder when using cannabis, more research is needed to know for sure what exactly cannabis does to the health of your heart.

Cigarette smoking is widely recognized as one of the leading causes of heart disease. And as more states join the cannabis legalization train and more people smoke cannabis, it is worth considering how it is similar to cigarettes. Though data on the effects of marijuana on the body is limited, here is what we can gather so far about its impact on the heart.

RELATED: Is Marijuana Bad For Your Heart?

How cannabis affects the heart

Marijuana is filled with cannabinoids or psychoactive chemicals specific to the plant. A cannabinoid termed delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC is the leading cause of a person’s psychoactive effects when they ingest or smoke the plant.

Cannabinoids increase the resting heart rate and make the heart pump more than average. As shown in a 2019 study, the literature gathered on cannabis says it has three significant effects on the heart.

Cannabis Arteritis: Heavy usage of cannabis can cause arteries to swell, blood vessel walls to deteriorate, and the flow of blood to the organs to be reduced.

Cannabis-induced Vasospasms: The contraction of the muscular wall of an artery, which causes the artery to become narrow and decrease the amount of blood that can pass through it, is called vasospasm.

Platelet aggregation: This is when the tiny blood cells called platelets clump together and begin to form clots, which will block blood vessels and decrease the flow of blood.

RELATED: Cannabis Does Not Harden the Arteries, Studies Say

Smoking vs. edibles

A cardiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Nav Bajaj, MD, says smoking cannabis might be worse for your heart than taking it any other way, like through edibles. When you smoke marijuana, it breaks down into a variety of compounds, which, aside from cannabinoids, may have adverse effects on the heart and blood vessels, Bajaj added. However, he points out that there needs to be more research to be certain.

Smoking cannabis has been proven to expose you to the same irritants, toxins, and carcinogens as smoking cigarettes. In addition, when smoking cannabis, users often inhale more deeply than tobacco smokers, which leads to more exposure to tar.

Although Bajaj agrees that smoke of all kinds can destroy the heart and arteries, there simply isn’t enough full-scale research to observe exactly how cannabis will compare to cigarettes in heart health. Cigarette smokers are two to four times more likely than non-smokers to develop coronary artery disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Marijuana and heart disease

Cannabis may lead to an increased vulnerability to heart disease, as seen in a systematic review in 2019. Of the 33 people involved in the study, 28 found out that cannabis use can increase the risk of acute coronary syndrome and cardiovascular disease, which is characterized by a sudden rupture of plaque inside the coronary artery that can result in a heart attack.

Furthermore, Bajaj and his team not long ago published a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology researching how cannabis affects people who have cardiovascular diseases. An estimated 2 million people with cardiovascular disease consume cannabis, although Bajaj points out that the number is likely under-reported.

Cannabis can be hurtful to people with atherosclerotic cardiovascular illnesses, or those that involve the formation of plaque in the arteries, by raising blood pressure and heart rate and rousing the sympathetic nervous system, which in turn regulates the stress response for flight or fight.

Following the study of Bajaj, this response can lead to an increase in the amount of oxygen needed by the heart. When joined with other factors of heart disease, such as the formation of plaque in the cardiac arteries, it can lead to risky heart conditions. For instance, low oxygen levels in the heart along with a blocked heart artery can lead to a heart attack.

Bottom line

There is still a lot of conflicting information on the relationship between marijuana and some cardiovascular problems, particularly cardiac rhythm issues. For instance, some research has discovered that marijuana use is linked with a greater risk of arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation, ventricular tachycardia, and ventricular fibrillation. But other people have suggested that cannabis has no effect on ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia and that it may even lessen the risk of getting atrial fibrillation.

In addition, some professionals say that the use of cannabis does not pose a severe threat to people at very low risk for heart disease. But a different study discovered that young people who smoke cannabis for more than ten days in a month are two and a half times more likely to get a stroke than non-users, even if they do not use tobacco products.

Many of these studies have not yet established any causal relationship between cardiovascular disease, cannabis use, and the occurrence of an association that does not necessarily imply that marijuana is to blame for causing a stroke or arrhythmia. Although there is still a lot we have yet to discover about cannabis and cardiovascular health, Bajaj indicates where the initial data is pointing, saying that it is known that there is evidence of some harm, but it has to be proven beyond doubt.


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