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Apr 23, 2014 10:43 PM EDT

Marijuana Use May Increase Risk Of Heart Problems

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People who smoking marijuana may have an increased risk of heart and artery disease, according to a recent study HealthDay reported.

French researchers found 35 reports of patients who had experienced cardiovascular complications following marijuana use between 2006 and 2010. During those five years, the percentage of heart disease cases among reported marijuana abusers more than tripled, rising from 1.1 percent of cases to 3.6 percent.

Study authors said that in nearly half the cases, the afflicted pot users already had risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

"This unexpected finding deserves to be further analyzed, especially given that the medicinal use of marijuana has become more prevalent and some governments are legalizing its use," Emilie Jouanjus, lead author of the study and a medical faculty member at the University Hospital of Toulouse in France, told HealthDay.

For the study, researchers reviewed cases of marijuana abuse reported to the French Addictovigilance Network. They identified 1,979 reports of marijuana abuse during the five-year period. Of those cases, 35 involved cardiovascular complications.

However, advocates of cannabis use argue that the findings are weak because the percentage of pot users with heart problems is so small.

"If those are the chances of having cardiac complications as a French cannabis user, my first thought is that using cannabis protects people from cardiac problems," Mitch Earleywine, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany and board chair of NORML, a marijuana advocacy group, told HealthDay. "We need a comparison group of people who don't use cannabis to know their rate of cardiac problems, but, as the authors point out, we simply don't have those data."

Previous studies have linked marijuana use to an increased risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.

The findings were recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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