The risk grows with every year of use, they said.
The findings, from a study of some 1,200 people, could have
implications in the United States among other countries. Several
states have legalized marijuana and others are moving toward it. It
is decriminalized in a number of other countries.
"Support for liberal marijuana use is partly due to claims that it
is beneficial and possibly not harmful to health," said Barbara
Yankey, who co-led the research at the school of public health at
Georgia State University in the United States.
"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."
Marijuana is also sometimes used for medicinal purposes, such as for
The study, published in the European Journal of Preventive
Cardiology, was a retrospective follow-up study of 1,213 people aged
20 or above who had been involved in a large and ongoing National
Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. In 2005–2006, they were
asked if they had ever used marijuana.
For Yankey's study, information on marijuana use was merged with
mortality data in 2011 from the U.S. National Center for Health
Statistics, and adjusted for confounding factors such as tobacco
smoking and variables including sex, age and ethnicity.
The average duration of use among users of marijuana, or cannabis,
was 11.5 years.
The results showed marijuana users had a 3.42-times higher risk of
death from hypertension than non-users, and a 1.04 greater risk for
each year of use.
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There was no link between marijuana use and dying from heart or
cerebrovascular diseases such as strokes.
Yankey said were limitations in the way marijuana use was assessed
-- including that researchers could not be sure whether people had
used the drug continuously since they first tried it.
But she said the results chimed with plausible risks, since
marijuana 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
Experts not directly involved in the study said its findings would
need to be replicated, but already raised concerns.
"Despite the widely held view that cannabis is benign, this research
adds to previous work suggesting otherwise," said Ian Hamilton, a
lecturer in mental health at Britain's York University.
(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Jeremy Gaunt)
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