Marijuana Linked to Heart Disease and Depression

Pot may raise cardiovascular risk; the government is concerned about the drug's psychiatric effects.

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Chronic marijuana use may affect the heart's health as well as the brain's. A study published yesterday in the journal Molecular Psychiatry found that chronic marijuana users—those who smoke on average nearly every day—may up their risk of both heart attack and stroke. That finding comes on the heels of a government report that linked pot use to psychiatric problems, including depression.

Compared with non-users of the drug, heavy marijuana smokers in the new study had significantly higher levels of a specific protein in their blood known to increase triglycerides, which are fatty molecules linked to vascular and coronary disease risk. Previous studies have tended to focus on marijuana's cognitive, behavioral, and psychoactive effects, including impaired memory and learning deficits. Long-term and chronic marijuana abuse has been associated with adverse effects on the heart, too, says lead author Jean Lud Cadet, a molecular neuropsychiatrist at the National Institutes of Health, but scientists are only beginning to understand how the drug impacts the cardio- and cerebrovascular systems.

The best way to prevent any potential health effects is to refrain from heavy, chronic use, according to George Kunos, an NIH researcher specializing in substance addiction and cardiovascular health, who wasn't involved in the study. He says the increased presence of the protein in heavy marijuana users may also predispose them to metabolic disorders like diabetes. The study did not analyze occasional or recreational use of the drug.

Interventions. Parents who are concerned about possible substance abuse by their teenagers have resources, including these pointers on how to talk with your kids to prevent future use. Though the most recent data show that 4.3 percent of young adults between 18 and 25 use marijuana daily—and only 1.1 percent of teenagers between 12 and 17—understanding peer pressure and social influences on teenage drug abuse can make a world of difference in prevention and treatment. It's also important for parents to be aware of over-the-counter and prescription medicines, like Ritalin, that teenagers may abuse.