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The Real Truth About THC: Separating Fact from Fiction

Lemetria Whitehurst

by Lemetria Whitehurst

July 3, 2024 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
Fact checked by Emily Mullins Medically reviewed by Dr. Abraham Benavides
The Real Truth About THC: Separating Fact from Fiction

Recently, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published a news release suggesting that smoking cannabis might increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. This claim has sparked a lot of attention and concern among users and advocates. As cannabis becomes more accepted and legal across many states, it’s important to examine these claims closely. 

In this article, we aim to provide a balanced view, challenge some common misunderstandings, and consider the broader picture of cannabis use in society today. This will help ensure that our readers are informed and can navigate through the mix of information with a clear understanding. 

So, what exactly did the study find, and how did they go about it? Let’s take a closer look. 

Understanding the NIH Study’s Findings

The 2024 study, published by the Journal of the American Heart Association, examined the health of nearly 435,000 people to see how smoking cannabis might affect the heart. The researchers found that people who use cannabis every day were reported to have a 25% higher chance of having a heart attack and a 42% higher chance of having a stroke compared to those who don’t use it. 

This study was observational, meaning it looked at data from surveys where people reported their own cannabis use and health issues. It’s important to remember that just because two things happen at the same time, it doesn’t mean one caused the other. This type of study can suggest a connection, but it can’t prove that one thing actually causes the other. In other words, correlation does not equal causation.

The Complexity of Cardiovascular Risk Factors

Although it should go without saying, heart disease and increased risk factors don’t just come from one source. Many factors influence them, so let’s acknowledge the study’s several limitations

Genetics can play a big role, meaning some risks are passed down through families. Your lifestyle choices, like what you eat and how much you exercise, also have a huge impact. Environmental factors, such as the air you breathe and the stress you experience, can affect your heart too.

The biggest limitations that are missed is the lack of data regarding cholesterol, triglycerides, lipid profile, and blood pressure. These are well-known and extremely important drivers of atherosclerosis, or heart disease. Missing this undermines the strength of the study results.

Unfortunately, studies like this one don’t fully consider both these simple and complex influences. They didn’t control for things like blood pressure, lipid profiles, diet, activity levels, other medications, or stress, which can confuse the results. This makes it hard to say for sure that cannabis is the cause of the increased heart risks they reported.

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In addition, the data they used came from people’s own reports, which can sometimes be inaccurate. Experts point out that such studies may not always paint the full picture. 

Additionally, other published research offers a different view, suggesting that cannabis might have some benefits for heart health, like reducing inflammation, which is a key factor in heart disease. For example, a study published by the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity Health found that cannabis use, particularly within the past 30 days, was linked to reduced levels of each systemic inflammation-related biomarker.  

Furthermore, cannabinoids have also been shown to help manage stress, inflammation, and pain, which can indirectly support heart health by reducing the strain on your cardiovascular system. Therefore, it’s crucial to look at all the evidence and opinions to truly understand the effects of cannabis on heart health, rather than jumping to conclusions based on one piece of the puzzle.

The Broader Context of Cannabis Use

Since cannabis plays a significant role in both society and medicine, the findings of this study highlight the need for balanced and well-rounded information. Cannabis can offer benefits for certain conditions, but like any medicine or drug, it also carries risks for certain members of the population. 

In this study, patients’ consumption methods are also critically missed. Most importantly, while tobacco smoking was controlled, cannabis smoking was not and accounts for 73.8% of study participant preference. This is very important since cannabis smoke contains many of the same toxins and carcinogens as tobacco smoke –  and there are healthier ways to consume cannabis anyway.

Therefore, it’s essential  for you to consider your own health situation and consult with healthcare professionals, especially if you are already taking medications. Understanding all potential aspects of cannabis use helps people make informed choices that best suit their health needs and helps to dispel misinformation.

Final Thoughts

It’s essential to approach the Journal of the American Heart Association’s findings with a balanced viewpoint, recognizing the complexity of cardiovascular risks and the potential benefits of cannabis. This level of critical thinking and understanding is crucial for making informed health decisions.  Particularly with regard to deciding to smoke cannabis or not, and understanding the potential health risks.

We encourage you to discuss openly with healthcare providers about the use of cannabis, considering all its aspects. There’s also a strong need for more research to thoroughly understand how cannabis impacts health overall, and highlights the confounding potential of cannabis smoking. By continuing to explore and discuss, we can better navigate the evolving landscape of cannabis use in our society.

Note: The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be professional medical advice. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or prescribe treatment based on the information provided. Always consult a physician before making any decision on the treatment of a medical condition.

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