PLAQUE build-up in heart arteries is associated with tobacco smoking, but not long-term marijuana use, according to research from the University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland. The study found that marijuana smoking was more widespread than expected, and that there was a high prevalence of tobacco use among marijuana users, which could have major implications for public health policy.
Whilst previous research had displayed that tobacco smoking increases the risk of heart attacks by building up plaque levels, there had been no such analysis of the effect of marijuana use on plaque build-up. Analysing 25 years of multiple measures of marijuana and tobacco exposure starting in early childhood, the researchers discovered that of the 3,117 (89%) participants who underwent computed tomography, plaques were detected in 60%. Among those with plaque data, 84% and 6% reported past and daily marijuana use, respectively, whilst 49% reported daily tobacco use.
No Association with Marijuana
The results confirmed the strong association tobacco smoking has with plaque build-up, although no correlation was found between cumulative marijuana use and plaque build-up in middle-aged adults never exposed to tobacco.
Public Health Implications
The high rates of tobacco use among marijuana users, and the resultant health problems is something that needs to be taken into account by policymakers and healthcare providers, according to the authors. “Our study confirms the strong and consistent association between tobacco use and plaque build-up. The broader public health implications of high prevalence of tobacco use among marijuana users is alarming,” commented co-author Dr Stephen Sidney, University of Bern.
Further findings included an increased risk of atherosclerosis among those with very high marijuana exposure, and a small but significant association between marijuana use and abdominal aortic calcifications in those who had used tobacco, although the latter may be due to residual confounding by tobacco smoking.
The team acknowledge that greater understanding of health effects of marijuana is required. “The use of marijuana was surprisingly common. So far, we are seeing the adverse effects due to tobacco smoking or, in other words, the company marijuana keeps. We feel these are important and timely findings, however continued research in this area is warranted,” said senior author Dr Jamal Rana, University of Bern.
James Coker, Reporter
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