Researchers identify possible link between cannabis use and structural changes to heart

December 18, 2019

Researchers identify possible link between cannabis use and structural changes to heart.

Regular cannabis use could affect the structure and function of the heart, research led by a team at Queen Mary University of London suggests.

Analysing MRI images from the UK Biobank population study, the team identified an association between regular cannabis use and an enlarged left ventricle - the heart's main pumping chamber - together with early signs of impairment of heart function.

The results are published today in JACC Cardiovascular Imaging.

Lead author Dr Mohammed Khanji, Senior Clinical Lecturer at Queen Mary, said: "Our findings are not conclusive but the research took place against a backdrop of decriminalisation and legalisation of recreational cannabis use in many countries. We urgently need systematic research to identify the long-term implications of regular consumption of cannabis on the heart and blood vessels. This would allow health professionals and policymakers to improve advice to patients and the wider public."

The study analysed cardiac scans for 3,407 individuals with an average age of 62 who did not have cardiovascular disease. Most (3,255) rarely or never used cannabis, 105 had used it regularly but more than five years before they were interviewed and 47 were current regular users.

The latter group were more likely to have larger left ventricles and show early signs of impaired heart function, measured by how the heart muscle fibres deform during contraction. However, there appeared to be no difference between the three groups in the overall mass of the left ventricle or the amount of blood ejected with each heartbeat.

No changes were identified in the size and function of the other three chambers of the heart.

The analysis also found that people who had used cannabis regularly but given up had similar heart size and function to those who had rarely or never taken the drug.

Although the study took account of factors such as age, diabetes, blood pressure, smoking and alcohol consumption, Dr Khanji acknowledged it did have limitations. These included the over-representation of Caucasian participants (96%), the relatively low number of regular cannabis users, the reliance on self-reported usage of a drug that remains illegal in the UK and the possible impact of unmeasured confounding factors.

However, Dr Khanji, who is also a consultant cardiologist at Newham University Hospital and Barts Heart Centre, part of Barts Health NHS Trust, said: "We believe this is the first study to systematically report changes in heart structure and function associated with recreational cannabis using cardiac MRI, which is a very sensitive imaging tool and the current reference standard for assessing cardiac chambers.

The World Health Organisation has warned about the potential harmful health effects of non-medical cannabis use and called for more research specifically around the cardiac impact."
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Notes to Editors

Association between recreational cannabis use and cardiac structure and function, Khanji, M et alJACC Cardiovascular Imaging DOI 10.1016/j.jcmg.2019.10.012.

The article is available here after the embargo lifts: http://imaging.onlinejacc.org/content/early/recent

UK Biobank is a national and international health resource with unparalleled research opportunities, open to all bona fide health researchers. It is following the health and well-being of 500,000 volunteer participants and provides health information, which does not identify them, to approved researchers in the UK and overseas, from academia and industry.

For more information or a copy of the paper, please contact:

Chris Mahony, Interim Communications Executive (School of Medicine and Dentistry) Queen Mary University of London.
E: c.mahony@qmul.ac.uk Tel: +44 (0)207 8825315

About Queen Mary University of London

At Queen Mary University of London, we believe that a diversity of ideas helps us achieve the previously unthinkable.

In 1785, Sir William Blizard established England's first medical school, The London Hospital Medical College, to improve the health of east London's inhabitants. Together with St Bartholomew's Medical College, founded by John Abernethy in 1843 to help those living in the City of London, these two historic institutions are the bedrock of Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Today, Barts and The London continues to uphold this commitment to pioneering medical education and research. Being firmly embedded within our east London community, and with an approach that is driven by the specific health needs of our diverse population, is what makes Barts and The London truly distinctive.

Our local community offer to us a window to the world, ensuring that our ground-breaking research in cancer, cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, and population health not only dramatically improves the outcomes for patients in London, but also has a far-reaching global impact.

This is just one of the many ways in which Queen Mary is continuing to push the boundaries of teaching, research and clinical practice, and helping us to achieve the previously unthinkable.

Queen Mary University of London

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