Cannabis Use may be Deadly in Persons with Arrhythmias, Study Suggests

April 23, 2021
Grace Halsey

Among more than 2 million Americans admitted to the hospital for cannabis use, those with a cardiac arrhythmia were more than 4 times more likely to die while hospitalized than those without.

In a study of 2.4 million cannabis users admitted to hospital, those with a cardiac arrhythmia were 4.5 times more likely to die while hospitalized than those without.

The research was presented at EHRA 2021, an online scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

Although it is the most common psychoactive substance used globally, there is limited knowledge on the safety of marijuana or cannabis use in people with arrhythmias, notes an ESC statement.

“People should be aware of this devastating outcome and be careful when using cannabis if they have a concomitant heart problem,” said study author Sittinun Thangjui, MD, an internal medicine resident at Bassett Healthcare Network, Cooperstown, NY, in the statement.

To learn more, Thangjui and colleagues examined the burden of arrhythmias in cannabis users admitted to hospital and compared length of hospital stay and hospital mortality between those with and without an arrhythmia.

The study was conducted using the National Inpatient Sample database, which covers 97% of the US population. The study included 2 457 544 adult cannabis users admitted to the hospital from 2016 to 2018. Of those, 187 825 (7.6%) patients had an arrhythmia. Atrial fibrillation was the most common, followed by bradycardia and tachycardia.

Average age in the arrhythmia group, 50.5 years, was older than in the group without arrhythmia, 38.3 years. Those with arrhythmias also had more comorbid health conditions.

The researchers compared deaths between the groups after adjusting for potential confounding factors including age, sex, race, income, diabetes, heart failure, chronic kidney disease, obesity, and hospital location. Cannabis users with an arrhythmia had 4.5 times higher odds of in-hospital mortality compared to those without an arrhythmia. Length of hospital stay for patients with an arrhythmia was longer (5.7 days) compared to those without (5.1 days).

“Our study highlights that heart rhythm disorders may be a warning sign for an increased risk of death in people who use cannabis,” warned Thangjui, adding that confirmatory studies will be needed. “In the meantime, it seems sensible to screen these patients [cannabis users] for arrhythmias if they present to hospital so that those with a heart rhythm problem can be closely monitored.”

Abstract title: Burden of arrhythmia in hospitalized patients with cannabis use related disorders: analysis of 2016-2018 national inpatient sample.