There's growing evidence that regular cannabis use could harm your heart. A recent large study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association revealed that frequent cannabis users face a higher risk of heart disease, heart attack, or stroke. Daily users were found to have a 25% increased likelihood of experiencing a heart attack and a 42% higher chance of suffering a stroke compared to non-users.

This study adds to a series of findings linking marijuana consumption to heart health concerns. However, it's crucial to note that all these studies are observational, relying on participants' recollection of their habits and health conditions rather than real-time monitoring. While memory lapses and dishonesty can affect the accuracy of these reports, the overall pattern suggests a potential cardiovascular risk for regular cannabis users.

This issue gains particular significance as recreational cannabis use becomes more prevalent, often touted as a healthier alternative to alcohol consumption. With Gen Z embracing the "California Sober" lifestyle, trading alcohol for pot, it's important to raise awareness about the potential heart risks associated with regular cannabis use.

Cannabis companies are capitalizing on the perception of health. During Dry January, a campaign to promote re-evaluating alcohol consumption, I received numerous pitches from cannabis firms aiming to fill the gap, a tactic seemingly effective based on Morning Consult data. One company touted their THC-infused beverages as "healthier and more mindful" alternatives to alcohol, promising "relaxation and enjoyment without the potential drawbacks."

While the notion of being healthier is plausible, it hinges on usage frequency, quantity, and consumption method for both substances. However, claiming outright health benefits is contentious. Unlike alcohol, there's less comprehensive data on marijuana's health effects, but this lack of evidence doesn't equate to proof of harmlessness.

In theory, the possibility of cannabis increasing the likelihood of cardiovascular events for certain users isn't surprising. Delta-9 THC, a primary compound in marijuana, consistently raises heart rate and cardiovascular stress in a dose-dependent manner, according to Ryan Vandrey from Johns Hopkins University's Cannabis Science Laboratory. Additionally, some users may experience a significant drop in blood pressure upon quickly changing position, leading to feelings of lightheadedness or dizziness.

This recent study, drawing data from over 400,000 Americans surveyed annually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, begins to unravel a complex issue surrounding cannabis and heart health. Previous studies faced challenges as many marijuana users also smoked cigarettes, known to be linked with heart disease, blurring the data's interpretation. Robert L. Page, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, remarks that the results shed light on a crucial aspect: the increased risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke persists even among those who never smoked tobacco or used e-cigarettes.

"These findings are significant," Page emphasizes. He encounters patients who mistakenly believe that smoking marijuana is safer, highlighting a widespread misconception, especially concerning individuals with existing risk factors or underlying heart conditions.

However, the study leaves several important questions unanswered. For instance, since smoking was the primary method of cannabis consumption among participants, it remains unclear whether popular alternatives like edibles or THC-infused drinks pose similar heart health risks. Although small studies suggest similar heart rate changes between smoking and edibles, and some limited trials indicate a cardiovascular risk associated with edibles, more research is needed.

Furthermore, the potency of modern cannabis raises concerns. Most studies on cannabis and heart health focus on "first-generation cannabis," wild strains typically lower in THC content. However, contemporary dispensaries offer products with significantly higher THC levels. This begs the question: Does increased potency translate to greater risk?

What would be most beneficial at this juncture is conducting a comprehensive study that tracks subjects over time to unravel the relationship between cannabis consumption and heart health. Such a study could also sift through any additional health impacts, whether positive or negative, stemming from recreational use.

The United States urgently requires this type of data. With recreational marijuana legalized in 24 states, decriminalized in seven others, and potentially expanding to more regions, there's a burgeoning industry offering an ever-expanding range of products. However, these products, containing various cannabinoids at different doses and consumed in diverse ways, lack substantial toxicology or pharmacology data. "It's all brand new, and we really do not have a good sense of what the long-term health effects of what those products will be," comments Vandrey.

Despite the limited data available, indications suggest that recreational marijuana users should not assume their consumption is harmless—let alone beneficial.