Pubdate: Sat, 04 Mar 2000
Source: Orange County Register (CA)
Copyright: 2000 The Orange County Register
Contact:  P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, CA 92711
Fax: (714) 565-3657
Author: Daniel Q. Haney, The Associated Press


HEALTH: The increased risk is small,but babyboomer users with other risk
factors should take note.

SAN DIEGO - Warning to middle-age potheads: Smoking marijuana may be bad
for your middle-age hearts.

In the first study to find a link between pot and heart trouble, Harvard
researchers reported Thursday that the risk of a heart attack is five times
higher than usual in the hour after smoking a joint.

Until now, marijuana has not been much of an issue in heart disease, since
older folks do not typically smoke pot. However, this could change as baby
boomers take their pot smoking habits into middle age and beyond.

The researchers said that for someone in shape, marijuana is about twice as
risky as exercising or having sex.

The study was conducted by Dr. Murray Mittleman of the Harvard School of
Public Health and Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He
presented the findings at a conference in San Diego of the American Heart

The researchers questioned 3,882 heart-attack victims - men and women - at
62 locations across the country about their habits and found that 124 were
marijuana users. While pot was uncommon among the elderly heart patients,
13 percent of those under age 50 said they smoke it.

Among those questioned, 37 had their heart attacks within a day of using
marijuana, and nine within an hour afterward.

The researchers calculated that someone's risk of a heart attack is five
times higher during  the hour after using marijuana. After an hour, the
risk falls to twice normal. It soon returns to the usual level.

Whether a fivefold increase is a worry depends on whether someone has other
risk factors, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. The increased risk
is probably insignificant for a 20-year-old, whose chance of a heart attack
is small anyway.

"With baby boomers aging, more people in 40s and 50s are smoking marijuana
than in prior generations," Mittleman said. "The risk of coronary artery
disease increases with age."

In any case, the risk of a heart attack from any single session of
marijuana smoking is likely to be low. Mittleman said that for an otherwise
healthy 50-year-old man, it is about 10 in 1 million.

Marijuana typically makes the heart speed up by about 40 beats a minute.
Whether this is how it contributes to heart attacks is unclear. Mittleman
noted that while marijuana doesn't contain nicotine, the smoke is otherwise
similar to cigarette smoke.

In general, the marijuana smokers in the study were more likely than other
heart attack victims to be overweight and sedentary, but they were less apt
to have diabetes, high blood pressure or badly clogged arteries.

"My advice on marijuana is, 'Don't.'" said Dr. Lynn Smaha of Sayre, Pa.,
president of the heart association. "If they have heart disease, I'd tell
patients they are playing a dangerous game if they smoke marijuana."

Mittleman said the possibility of triggering a heart attack should be
considered when deciding whether to smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes,
such as to relieve the nausea of chemotherapy.

Chuck Thomas of the Medical Marijuana Policy Group, which advocates
legalizing pot for medical treatment, noted that many prescription drugs
can also have dangerous side effects.

"If someone has such a bad heart that they can't run upstairs, they
probably should not smoke marijuana, either," he said. "But that decision
should be left up to the doctor and not the criminal-justice system."
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D