By Hunter Dublin | August 26, 2022
A pilot study reveals that people who use medical marijuana to alleviate chronic pain may have a modestly increased risk of cardiac arrhythmias.
Researchers discovered that among 1.6 million persons suffering from chronic pain, that prescribed medical marijuana was 64% more likely to experience a cardiac rhythm disruption in the next six months.
The absolute risk was low: only 0.9% of individuals using medical marijuana suffered an arrhythmia, compared to 0.5% of those who did not use the substance.
Furthermore, experts argue that the findings do not indicate that medical marijuana is to cause.
Moreover, marijuana compounds are known to affect the cardiovascular system, including heart rate, blood pressure, and the ability to produce blood clots. The findings also raise worries about the hazards of utilizing the substance, whether for therapeutic or recreational purposes, according to the study's authors.
"Just because something is 'natural,' mean it's safe," said Robert Page, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Page, who was not involved in the study, was the primary author of an American Heart Association scientific statement about marijuana's cardiovascular hazards. According to the report, a number of studies have connected marijuana usage to an increased risk of catastrophic diseases such as heart attack and stroke.
However, such studies cannot show cause and effect: most look back at the medical records of persons who use marijuana and those who do not and cannot account for all the other variations between the two groups.
That is also true in the current study, according to Page.
He cited a fundamental explanation for the absence of reliable data on marijuana's health effects: the drug was illegal for many years worldwide. It remained a Schedule 1 prohibited substance in the United States under federal law, limiting the study that may be done.
Nonetheless, perceptions toward marijuana are fast changing. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, medical marijuana is now legal in the majority of U.S. states, and 19 states and Washington, D.C. allow people to use the substance recreationally.
Page cautioned that legalization should not be interpreted as proof of efficacy or safety.
He advised individuals to avoid smoking or vaping marijuana because of the other substances they would be ingesting. But, as Page pointed out, "edibles" have their own problems. Their effects take longer to set in, and people may "stack" doses, exposing them to high levels of THC.
Some cannabis products on the market claim to exclusively contain the non-intoxicating ingredient cannabidiol (CBD). However, according to Page, there is no way to determine how much CBD (if any) a product contains.
"The trouble is that they're uncontrolled, so buyer beware," he explained.
The new findings originate in Denmark, where medical marijuana was legalized in 2018. Doctors in the country can prescribe it for persistent pain after all other treatments, including opiate medicines, have failed.
The researchers examined a nationwide database containing medical records from 1.6 million chronic pain sufferers (related to cancer, arthritis, neurological conditions, and other causes). Just under 4,600 of them filled at least one medical cannabis prescription.