A commonly held belief among the public is that smoking pot is safer than smoking cigarettes, but a new study suggests that the use of marijuana may in fact have a three times greater risk of dying from high blood pressure, than those who have never used the drug.
The two-decade long study included over 1,200 adults in the U.S. who participated in the 2005 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which is a federal survey conducted annually to assess Americans’ diets and health. Participants in the survey were asked if they had ever used marijuana and when they first experimented with the drug.
Researchers, using data from the 2011 National Center for Health Statistics, were able to determine if any of the participants in the NHANES study died during the study period.
Using both data sets, researchers were able to estimate the associations between marijuana use and the length of use with deaths that occurred as a result of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
At the conclusion of the study period, researchers found that 73 percent of participants were still alive. Almost 35 percent of participants reported they did not use marijuana or tobacco; 21 percent said they used only marijuana; 4 percent smoked cigarettes; 20 percent used both marijuana and tobacco; 16 percent used marijuana currently and smoked cigarettes in the past; and about 5 percent did not use marijuana or tobacco currently, but smoked cigarettes in the past.
The data showed that the average duration of marijuana use was 12 years, while the average duration of cigarette use was 10 years.
The study also found that those who used marijuana had a 3.4-fold greater risk of death from high blood pressure during the study period.
Interestingly, there were no statistically significant links between marijuana use and the risk of death from stroke or heart disease.
Researchers acknowledge that there are limitations of the study. For example, the study assumes that marijuana use was ongoing from the time the study participants said they first tried the drug, but that may not be true.
The authors of the study are not disputing the potential medicinal benefits of standardized cannabis formulations, however insist on the use of caution around recreational uses of marijuana.