(WSVN) - A new study says people who smoke marijuana are three times as likely to die from hypertension, or high blood pressure, than non-users of the drug.
The findings were published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
The study observed about 1,200 people who had been involved in a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Reuters reports. In 2005, participants were asked if they ever used marijuana, and if they had, how old they were when they started.
Researchers then merged the data with mortality statistics from the US National Center for Health Statistics, finding that cannabis users had a 3.42 times higher risk of a high blood pressure-related death than non-users of the drug. Scientists said the risk grows with every year of use.
However, the study found no link between marijuana use and deaths from heart or cerebrovascular diseases such as strokes.
Barbara Yankey, who co-led the research at Georgia State University, said the study could have implications in the wake of marijuana legalization in several states.
“Support for liberal marijuana use is partly due to claims that it is beneficial and possibly not harmful to health,” Yankey said. “It is important to establish whether any health benefits outweigh the potential health, social and economic risks. If marijuana use is implicated in cardiovascular diseases and deaths, then it rests on the health community and policy makers to protect the public.”
Yankey acknowledged the study had its limitations, including not knowing how often participants used the drug after first use, and not taking into account cardiovascular risks such as diet and exercise. However, she pointed out that cannabis is known to affect the cardiovascular system.
“Marijuana stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, leading to increases in heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen demand,” she said.
While there is a known risk of heart disease with tobacco use, Yankey said marijuana could possibly pose a higher risk than cigarettes.
“”We found higher estimated cardiovascular risks associated with marijuana use than cigarette smoking,” she said. “This indicates that marijuana use may carry even heavier consequences on the cardiovascular system than that already established for cigarette smoking. However, the number of smokers in our study was small and this needs to be examined in a larger study.”
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