By Dr. Anthony Policastro

We have long known that cigarettes cause COPD and lung cancer. However, it took us many years to find that out. The reason is that sometimes it takes many years of following many patients to get enough information to reach conclusions.

We have seen similar things happen with lead paint. The same kind of thing occurs with asbestos. Coal miners develop black lung disease. Lawn workers develop lymphoma from Round Up.

One of the more recent trends in our country is the legalization of marijuana. We can expect that it will take years to get a feel for any long term effects.

In 2012 about 28 percent of the population were users of marijuana (cannabis.) That number increased to 44 percent by 2022. If you do the math that is over a 50 percent increase in usage for that ten year period.

Two recent studies have looked at the long term effects of using cannabis. They looked at 157,000 people over a four year period. Over that period of time 2.3 percent of the daily users developed heart failure. That number sounds low. However, when compared to the non-using population, it was 34 percent higher than expected.

They did not see the same thing in those individuals who were occasional users. Just as with other toxins, the amount of exposure seems to be a significant factor in developing heart failure.

The second study focused on a group of individuals over age 65 years. That particular age group has shown a doubling of use over the last ten years. They looked at 28,525 cannabis users. They looked at them when they were hospitalized.

Of that group, 14 percent developed cardiac issues or stroke during their hospital stays. That amounts to 1 out of 7 individuals. They had higher rates of stroke, higher rates of heart attacks, and higher rates of heart rhythm problems.

The advice to treating physicians was to make sure that they take a history of marijuana use in patients who have heart events or strokes.

The one caution that both studies had was that they did not separate out those individuals who smoked marijuana from those who ingested it in forms like gummies.

Given the increase in use over the last 10 years, it is likely that we will be seeing more studies. There are some users of marijuana who see it as harmless. The data shows that is just denial on their part. It is not actually true.