A recent American College of Cardiology study says daily cannabis use increases the risk of heart disease. Particularly coronary artery disease (CAD), which is the most common form of heart disease. The study, which analyzed data from 175,000 people, said cannabis consumers are 34% more likely to develop the heart condition.
The researchers claim tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) interacts with the body’s blood vessels promoting inflammation and plaque buildup.
The study did not distinguish between smoking, vaping, edibles, or extracts. The researchers claim to have controlled for other factors, such as alcohol and tobacco use.
Details of the Study
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart disease in the United States. Symptoms of CAD include chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue. Having CAD also increases your risk of having a heart attack.
“We found that cannabis use is linked to CAD, and there seems to be a dose-response relationship in that more frequent cannabis use is associated with a higher risk of CAD,” said Ishan Paranjpe, MD, a resident physician at Stanford University and the study’s lead author. “In terms of the public health message, it shows that there are probably certain harms of cannabis use that weren’t recognized before, and people should take that into account.”
The researchers used existing data from the National Institutes of Health and then put it through Mendelian randomization, which used genetic variants as instrumental variables to investigate a causal relationship between daily cannabis use (which they define as a “disorder”) and increased CAD risk.
Of course, this methodology showing cannabis increases heart disease has its problems.
Does Cannabis Increase the Risk of Heart Disease?
While Mendelian Randomization (MR) has become increasingly popular in epidemiological research, it is not without its criticisms. Some potential criticisms of MR studies include the following:
- Assumptions: MR is based on certain assumptions, such as the genetic variant being strongly associated with the exposure of interest and not related to other confounders. The study’s results may be biased if researchers do not meet these assumptions.
- Limited sample size: MR studies typically require large sample sizes to detect small effect sizes. However, the availability of suitable genetic variants may limit the sample size, especially for rare exposures or outcomes.
- Pleiotropy: Pleiotropy occurs when a genetic variant affects multiple phenotypes, which can result in biased estimates of causal effects. MR studies use several methods to detect and account for pleiotropy, but it remains a potential concern.
- Reverse causation: MR assumes that the exposure precedes the genetic variant, but this may not always be true. For example, a genetic variant associated with a disease may also influence the exposure, leading to reverse causation.
- Generalizability: MR studies may suffer from limited generalizability. The genetic variants used as instrumental variables may not be present in all populations or irrelevant for all outcomes.
- Multiple testing: MR studies often test various hypotheses simultaneously, increasing the risk of false positive results. Appropriate correction for multiple testing is necessary to ensure the reliability of the findings.
Of course, we can’t let the philosophy of how we know to get in the way of Science™.
As the lead author says, “From a scientific standpoint, these findings are exciting because they suggest there might be new drug targets and mechanisms we can explore to take control of this pathway going forward.”
Cannabis Use Increases Risk of Disease?
Mendelian randomization (MR) studies can provide evidence for causal relationships between exposure and an outcome. But they cannot establish causality in the same way as a randomized controlled trial (RCT) can.
RCTs are the gold standard for establishing cause and effect. Researchers typically combine MR studies with other study designs, such as RCTs, to provide more robust evidence for causality.
Does cannabis increase the possibility of you getting a heart disease (CAD) by 34%? It’s possible, but this study isn’t conclusive.
Consider what else increases your risk of CAD instead of blaming cannabis for increase in heart disease:
- High trans-fat diets: A diet high in trans fats, often found in processed and fried foods, has been associated with an increased risk of CAD.
- High-sugar diets: A diet high in added sugars, such as those found in sugary drinks and processed snacks, may increase the risk of CAD.
- Smoking: Smoking damages the lining of the blood vessels, which can lead to atherosclerosis, a significant contributor to CAD.
- Physical inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of CAD, while regular physical activity decreases the risk.
- Obesity: Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of CAD, especially if the person carries excess weight around the waist.
- High blood pressure: Uncontrolled high blood pressure can damage the blood vessels and increase the risk of CAD.
The corporate press will run with the headline “Cannabis Increases Risk of CAD” until their faces turn blue.
But address obesity as a significant contributing factor to heart disease and other health ailments? That’s fat-shaming.
Tell people to quit refined sugar? To exercise? To eat a healthy diet high in saturated fats from grass-fed meat or avocado?
No, far too many special interests are involved in ensuring we eat crap and get sick from it.
Best to blame cannabis for increasing number of heart diseases.