In the study, researchers looked at 43,000 adults ages 18 to 44 who had used marijuana within the last 30 days — finding “significantly higher odds of stroke” in young cannabis users as compared with nonusers. The risk was even higher in frequent users: Those who reported using weed more than 10 days a month were 2.5 times more likely to have a stroke than nonusers.
Additional forms of smoking, including vaping, only appear to make things worse: Young people who both used marijuana frequently and used e-cigarettes or smoked cigarettes were three times more likely to suffer a stroke compared to nonusers.
Tarang Parekh, the lead author of the study and a health policy researcher at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., tells Yahoo Lifestyle that there are several possible theories as to why cannabis use may up stroke risk. One is a condition called reversible cerebral vasoconstriction — a sudden constriction of the vessels that supply blood to the brain — that may be triggered by cannabis use, leading to stroke, says Parkekh.
Another possible cause is an increase in the potential clotting effect of cannabis. Parekh explains that THC (the chemical behind marijuana’s psychological effects) can lead to “platelet aggregation, which is a significant risk factor for stroke and is relatively more important in younger stroke patients.” In addition, Parekh notes that cannabis has been linked to oxidative stress, which plays a role in stroke.
Parekh says it’s possible that other habits, such as using cigarettes and drinking alcohol while also using cannabis, could “potentially contribute to stroke risk.” However, he tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “in our study, frequent marijuana use had an independent association with stroke as we controlled for cigarette, e-cigarette and alcohol use in addition to comorbid risk factors.”
With daily marijuana use on the rise in young adults, the risk of stroke is a growing concern. “Marijuana may not be as harmful as other illegal substances like cocaine or meth, but its frequent consumption with other substances critically increases the risk of stroke at a younger age,” explains Parekh.
He recommends that young cannabis users — particularly those who also use cigarettes or e-cigarettes and have other stroke risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, should be aware that using marijuana may raise the risk of stroke at a young age. “Physicians should ask patients if they use cannabis,” Parekh told EurekAlert, “and counsel them about its potential stroke risk as part of regular doctor visits.”
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