Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
New Zealand researchers have presented evidence that smoking marijuana may be increasing your chances of having a stroke.
They reported at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2013 that ischemic stroke and transient ischemic attack (TIA) patients were 2.3 times more likely to have smoked pot.
“This is the first case-controlled study to show a possible link to the increased risk of stroke from cannabis,” said P. Alan Barber, Ph.D., M.D., study lead investigator and professor of clinical neurology at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. “Cannabis has been thought by the public to be a relatively safe, although illegal substance. This study shows this might not be the case; it may lead to stroke.”
Researchers studied 160 stroke patients between the ages of 18 and 55 years old who had urine screens upon admission to the hospital. They said that 150 of the patients had ischemic stroke, and 10 had TIAs.
Just 8.1 percent of the controls in the study tested positive for cannabis, and researchers found no differences in age, stroke mechanism or most vascular risk factors between the pot users, and non-users.
“These patients usually had no other vascular risk factors apart from tobacco, alcohol and other drug usage,” Barber said.
He added that it is challenging to perform prospective studies involving illegal substances like cannabis because questioning stroke and control patients about marijuana use could lead to unreliable responses.
During the study, researchers were able to use urine samples from hospitalized patients, but were only told the age, sex and ethnicity of the patients.
Barber said the study provides strong evidence of an association between cannabis and stroke, adding that it is confounded because all but one of the stroke patients who were cannabis users also used tobacco regularly.
“We believe it is the cannabis and not tobacco,” said Barber. “This may prove difficult given the risks of bias and ethical strictures of studying the use of an illegal substance. However, the high prevalence of cannabis use in this cohort of younger stroke patients makes this research imperative.”
He said physicians should be testing young people who come in with stroke for cannabis use, and that people should think twice about smoking pot. Barber claims that it can affect brain development, and result in emphysema, heart attack and stokes.
The research comes at a controversial time in the U.S., as voters in Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana use for adults 21-and-over in the state. Although smoking marijuana is still illegal federally, U.S. President Obama has come out and essentially said that they will not be focusing on this issue. Although laws and systems have not been set up in the states yet, marijuana shops to sell pot to adults may start popping up as early as this year, depending on how the laws are written and the time frame it takes.