The legalization of marijuana for recreational or medicinal use has become commonplace throughout the U.S., but the American Heart Association recently issued a report saying the herb may be unhealthy for the heart.

An Aug. 5 post on the association’s website, titled “Marijuana May Hurt Heart, More Research Needed Report Finds,” said marijuana use could harm the heart and blood vessels. The report found no cardiovascular benefits to cannabis use and called for more research into the drug.

“We urgently need some carefully designed, prospective short- and long-term studies regarding cannabis use and cardiovascular safety as it becomes increasingly available and more widely used,” said Robert L. Page, chair of the writing group that produced the report. “The public needs fact-based, valid scientific information cannabis’s effect on the heart and blood vessels. Research funding at federal and state levels must be increased to match the expansion of cannabis use—to clarify the potential therapeutic properties and to help us better understand the cardiovascular and public health implications of frequent cannabis use.”

The report cites observational studies linking the chemicals in marijuana to an increased risk of heart attacks, heart failure and a heart rhythm disorder known as atrial fibrillation. The report also alluded to a recent study stating six percent of heart attack victims younger than 50 used marijuana and cited research that found users ages 18-44 had a significantly higher risk of having a stroke compared to non-users.

Marijuana is now legal for either medicinal or recreational use in 47 states and the District, plus in four out of the five U.S. territories.

In the District, cannabis is legal for recreational and medicinal purposes but cannot be commercially sold. The U.S. Congress, which has oversight over the city, has prohibited the District government from regulating cannabis sales like other jurisdictions that are states.

Ambrose Lane Jr., chairman of the Health Alliance Network, who opposes the legalization of marijuana in the District, said the report doesn’t surprise him.

“The fact that marijuana could be harmful to your heart is more the reason why it should have never been legalized,” Lane said. “I think the District jumped the gun too quickly and there should have been more studies on marijuana. The District didn’t take the time to go through the science.

“Plus, young people who use marijuana are being hurt by it and there is evidence to prove that,” he said. “It is mostly through synthetic marijuana and an increasing number of D.C. youth are using that. Also, there is no financial advantage to selling marijuana legally, from what I see.”

Linda Mercado Greene, president and CEO of Anacostia Organics, Inc., a marijuana dispensary based in Ward 8, expressed surprise at the report’s conclusions.

“This is the first time I have ever heard that marijuana use can damage your heart,” she said. “I think that has more to do with smoking it. There are many ways you can intake marijuana. It can be taken in through topicals, edibles, bath soaps, teas and pain relief sprays. It doesn’t have to be smoked and I think that is where the problem is.”

Greene said cannabis regulated by the government and sold by a licensed dispensary will more likely be safer than the marijuana sold on the street.

“There is a good possibility the cannabis sold out in the street may be laced with PCP and that could provoke heart trouble,” she said.

Page agreed.

“If people choose to use cannabis for its medicinal or recreational effects, the oral and topical forms, for which doses can be measured, may reduce some of the potential harms,” he said. “It is also vitally important that people only use legal cannabis products because there are no controls on the quality of contents of cannabis products sold on the street.”

James Wright photo

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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