Study shows higher rate of stroke among pot smokers

As the use of marijuana is growing, with Canada legalizing the drug
just this week, a new study that ties pot to a raised risk for stroke
might give users pause.

risk for any stroke could increase by 15 percent and it could jump 29
percent for an ischemic stroke -- the most common kind, said lead
investigator Dr. Krupa Patel. She is a research physician at Avalon
University School of Medicine in Willemstad, Curacao.

Patel cautioned that the study can't prove that using marijuana causes strokes, only that the two are associated.

can't establish causation, but what we can say is that recreational
marijuana users are at higher risk in terms of stroke," she said.

addition, the researchers don't know if the risk is tied to smoking
marijuana or ingesting it in other ways, and whether it depends on the
amount of the drug used or if it is due to other psychoactive
ingredients mixed in with the marijuana.

Patel said the
risk may be exacerbated by chronic medical conditions of the marijuana
users who had strokes, such as diabetes or obesity.

the researchers could not tell from the data whether marijuana users
used other drugs like cocaine or smoked tobacco, she said.

more strokes occurred among marijuana users than nonusers, which leaves
open the question of what accounts for the increase in risk.

"At this point we can just say there is this increased risk," Patel said.

best way to sort out whether marijuana is truly associated with an
increase in stroke is in a clinical trial, said Dr. Thalia Field, an
assistant professor of neurology at the University of British Columbia
in Vancouver.

"It's too early to say that this is causative," she said. "It has to be borne out in other studies."

the study, Patel and her colleagues found that among more than 2.3
million American recreational marijuana users who were hospitalized, the
risk of stroke rose, compared with people who didn't use the drug.

2010 and 2014, strokes among marijuana users steadily increased, even
though the overall stroke rate remained unchanged, Patel said.

marijuana users in the study, more than 32,000 had a stroke --
including nearly 19,500 who suffered an ischemic stroke. Ischemic
strokes occur when a clot blocks blood vessels in the brain.

five years, the rate of all types of stroke increased from 1.3 to 1.5
percent among marijuana users, and the rate of ischemic stroke rose from
0.7 to 0.9 percent, the researchers found.

increase in strokes among marijuana users was across all age groups --
for people in their teens to those in their 80s, Patel said. In
addition, costs to care for these patients rose between 2010 and 2014,
from $71,000 to $92,000, she said.

The findings were to
be presented Friday at the World Stroke Congress, in Montreal. Such
research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the
marijuana advocacy group NORML, said, "This finding is inconsistent with
other population-based studies, which failed to identify cannabis as an
independent risk factor for stroke in younger subjects."

however, recognizes that the data on this subject is evolving and that
cannabis smoke can cause a cardiovascular response, he added.

with a history of heart disease or stroke may be at an increased risk
for adverse side effects from marijuana, particularly smoked cannabis,
Armentano acknowledged.

"As with any drug, people
should consult their doctor before deciding whether the medical use of
cannabis is safe and appropriate," he said.

More information

Visit the National Stroke Association for more on strokes.

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