Article by Angela Stelmakowich, Growth Op
What is being called the first study to consider specific risk indicators for cardiovascular disease (CVD) in young, healthy cannabis users has found that consuming weed when young may increase the risk of later developing heart disease.
So suggests a new study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, out of the University of Guelph (U of G). Investigators explored the associations of cardiovascular structure and function with cannabis use in ostensibly healthy young participants.
The 35 subjects, half of whom were cannabis users, were between the ages of 19 and 30. Of those who used weed, they reported smoking cannabis several times a week over the last several years.
Researchers “found subtle, but potentially important changes in heart and artery function,” notes a statement from the University of Guelph. “Young, healthy and cannabis users demonstrate altered cardiac mechanics and greater aortic stiffness,” adds the study.
Using ultrasound imaging on all subjects, investigators measured arterial stiffness and arterial function, namely the ability of arteries to appropriately expand with greater blood flow, which are indicators of cardiovascular function and potential disease risk.
The findings indicated arterial stiffness was greater and cardiac function was lower in consumers compared to non-users.
The team was surprised to see no difference in artery dilation in response to changing blood flow, notes Christian Cheung, lead author of the study and a Ph.D. student in the university’s Human Performance and Health Research Lab.
Pointing out that cigarette-smokers normally experience 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 reports in the statement.
He did note, though, that the differences may reflect variations in how tobacco and cannabis are consumed, the amounts consumed, the frequency of consumption and the user’s age.
“Collectively, these findings suggest there exist sub-clinical differences in cardiovascular physiology in cannabis users, which may be indicative of greater risk of the development of future CVD,” the study states.
“In the cigarette literature, heavy, long-term smokers show reduced vascular function, but that’s not necessarily the case for younger smokers,” Cheung points out.
“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,” says Jamie Burr, a study co-author and a professor in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences.
As use of cannabis increases worldwide — the second most commonly used substance after alcohol — there is still plenty to learn about the long-term CVD risks associated with smoking weed.
“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,” notes Cheung.
Members of the research team plan further studies. “Future work should prospectively explore causal links between cannabis smoking and altered cardiovascular function, with a goal of characterizing the relationship between cannabis use and the development of CVD,” the study notes.
Findings from studies to date regarding cannabis use and heart health seem to be all over the place.
A study published in 2016 found that “cannabis use is associated with an acceleration of the cardiovascular age,” adding that “this likely underlies and bi-directionally interacts with its diverse toxicological profile and is of considerable public health and regulatory importance.”