As the Canadian Senate officially passed Bill C-45 legalizing the recreational use, possession, and sale of marijuana, the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, a.k.a. UOHI, says that the effects of marijuana on the heart, the conclusion is still unclear.
Widely published experts in the prevention of heart disease, physician and researcher Andrew Pipe, MD, and behavioral scientist Robert Reid, PhD, both from the Ottawa Heart Institute’s Division of Prevention and Rehabilitation, are raising some concerns about cannabis and heart health.
The long-standing illegal status of marijuana has made it a lower priority for health researchers and posed a hurdle to conducting studies. Without this research, and without these studies, it becomes impossible to draw conclusions as to whether or not marijuana helps or hurts the average heart.
As Dr. Pipe put it, “When we consider marijuana and issues relating to the heart we really are steering into terra incognita.”
Terra incognita, meaning unknown or unexplored territory, is exactly where many doctors are regarding marijuana’s effects on the heart. While the 2014 review article in the New England Journal of Medicine summarized the effects of cannabis on many aspects of health, it left a gaping hole when it comes to conclusive evidence that cannabis has negative effects on the heart. It did show that marijuana use has been associated with vascular conditions that increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, but failed to show any direct linkage or the mechanisms by which that happens.
What We Do Know
- We know that a vast majority of the effects of marijuana on the heart are associated with the immediate consumption of cannabis, and aren’t necessarily cumulative. Following a sesh, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, forcing your heart to work harder.
- We also know that a vast majority of the effect of marijuana on the heart are associated with smoking it. For example, if you smoke marijuana, the capacity of your blood to transport oxygen throughout your body, including to your heart, is reduced. To be clear however, the same effect would be noticed after smoking anything. If you breathe in smoke (dirty air) rather than oxygen (clean air), your lungs are going to be pissed, and so will your heart. That phenomenon is not unique to cannabis whatsoever, and not surprising either.
- We also know, thanks to Mr. Reid, that “there is existing evidence that marijuana use may lead to quicker onset of exercise-induced angina,” which is yet again not surprising. The fact that marijuana consumption followed by exercise may lead to chest pain is far less shocking than the fact that someone dragged themselves to the gym after a toke.
While the University of Ottawa Heart Institute is Canada’s largest and foremost heart health center, they shouldn’t be jumping to conclusions about cannabis until there are studies with definitive results. Until this unexplored territory becomes explored, how can anyone jump to the conclusion that cannabis hurts hearts?
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