The AMA claims cannabis may lead to heart attacks. But was the study valid?
Cannabis made national news this week, thanks to voters in Ohio approving a measure to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state. But one day prior, the plant was in the papers for a different reason—one that had some advocates scratching their heads.
“Marijuana use linked with increased risk of heart attack, heart failure” was a headline seen around the country. Outlets like CNN, People magazine, Bloomberg, and dozens others shared the story. The source was a press release by the American Heart Association (AMA), teasing the findings of two papers slated to be presented at an upcoming conference.
The papers claimed that cannabis consumers had a 34 percent higher risk of heart failure versus non-consumers and a 20 percent higher risk of a “major heart or brain event while hospitalized.” The first study looked at 156,999 individuals enrolled in a national healthcare database. The second focused on 28,835 adults with “cannabis use disorder and high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol. The comparison group included 10,680,000 adults with the same risk factors.”
The AMA data contradicts other research stating that marijuana use does not lead to elevated risks of cardiovascular disease. Sure, research often conflicts, but something about the AMA’s release hit different.
Breaking down the “facts”
Tammy Pettigrew, a.k.a. The Cannabis Cutie, tackled the news in a recent video. Skeptical about the findings (and the fact that they were released one day prior to Election Day when cannabis was on the ballot), Pettigrew challenged the headlines and broke down how people can better recognize legitimate studies from speculation.
Pettigrew first pointed out that the papers were sponsored by the American Heart Association, whose major donors include several pharmaceutical companies. These businesses have often been perceived as having anti-cannabis leanings. Still, with talk of moving the plant to Schedule III, Big Pharma may soon have a vested interest in the emerging industry.
Next, legitimate scientific research should always be replicable, peer-reviewed, and published. The AMA papers did not check any of these boxes.
Pettigrew also noted that the studies in question used observational data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) All of Us database. The authors did not know how cannabis consumers were ingesting the plant, further calling into question the speculative nature of the research.
The clickbaity nature of the AMA press release and its papers definitely pulled in a lot of mainstream attention, but how many actually dissected the information in front of them? The bottom line? It’s crucial to always read between the lines, especially on hot-button topics like cannabis. There are plenty of times when there’s an agenda behind the headlines, but it might not always be obvious. Critical thought is often lacking in the modern world, and you definitely can’t believe everything you see.